Tell us a bit about your career path and how you came to teach hip hop?
Overall, my career path has been highly unconventional, and I am incredibly proud of the fact that it has been. I did not study at a conservatoire or do full-time training at a vocational school, but I was part of Swindon Dance’s Centre for Advanced Training (CAT) programme from an early age, until around the age of 18, so that really set the tone for my future in the Arts as a movement artist. I focused on the street dance pathway whilst I was on the programme, which consisted of core styles breaking and popping but had a variety of styles introduced throughout.
Being on the CAT gave me great teachers who taught me solid foundations across various movement practices, and who also gave me ‘tools’ to explore within, around and between them. At first it was a little bit daunting for me, as I was not used to the style of training on the programme. I did not take it seriously for a few years, and then eventually I had this moment where I was asked to freestyle(improvise) in a cypher (a freestyle dance jam where a circle is created, and people take turns dancing in the centre). I could not take part comfortably because I did not practise. From there, that was the starting point of everything, in terms of my career. I went home and practised, I got better, and my other dance styles got better too. Eventually, my CAT tutors saw my development and asked me to get involved in new projects or enter battles which is how I made a name for myself within the hip-hop community.
My understanding of movement comes from working on the job. I went into the battle scene, competing and winning competitions. I then went onto becoming a battle guest and judge. My first teaching experience was with Dickson Mbi. He asked me if I wanted to come with him to support a workshop. I ended up teaching a segment of the workshop and after that, I remember Dickson’s teacher told me ‘Paris you have something for teaching.’ I really took that on board, and I went on to teach.
I also took on more commercial work, dancing for artists like Rita Ora, Dua Lipa, and Little Mix, in music videos and at festivals. It was super fun, but I felt a strong passion to explore the more artistic element of movement. So, I have now shifted into the realm of dance theatre. I feel like it gives me more inspiration, more growth and progression in my craft.
Since then, I have been dancing nationally and internationally, in hip hop and contemporary companies. This has enabled me to grow with myself and other people. It has helped me to come more in tune with other people in the space and shape movement for other people to learn.
One of my first popping teachers, Robert Hilton, had a more traditional, contemporary, and classical way of thinking about movement. When he taught popping, he was coming from that angle. So, my approach comes from this angle too, and because of that, I was able to go more into the contemporary realm of movement. It expands your movement pool and gives you a broader scope of dance extension/lengthening.
What drew you to the dance form of popping?
Popping is a street dance style. It comes from the US and was imported over to Europe. The roots of popping come from funk and social dances. It is characterised by contracting your muscles and releasing them to the rhythm of beats in the music. You have different nuances and accents between the rhythm which you can play with. Inside the popping genre, you have different techniques including waving, animation, and tutting.
I did not like popping to begin with because it felt really alien to my body, but when I started to practice, I really started to love it. The music was so vibrant and funky. I also loved finding the hip hop community. Being a part of the community grounded me and assured me it was something I wanted to progress into.
I have met so many strong and powerful women in the community. They have taught me to explore the more feminine aspects of popping. This has helped me understand there is no one way to explore the movement of popping, being a woman dancing a male dominated style of dance means I can bring something different to it. It is exciting to explore how I can translate that into the context of my body.
You studied at the Swindon Dance Centre for Advanced Training (CAT), how did this help shape you and your career path?
It gave me a very solid foundation and taught me what technique means to myself (to have but to also break). My teachers also taught me explorative tools and ways to approach movement. Having more than one teacher made me appreciate the difference between styles. It was a good balance of different teaching styles and different movement flavours, having those partnerships in teaching helped to ground me and my peers.
Swindon CAT was one of the only programmes teaching hip hop at the time. Being on the CAT, it was great having guest tutors come in and teach us from the industry. We got a flavour of a variety of ways of working and got to find out more about the industry. That really connected me with the industry from an early age and gave me role models. Clara Bajado was my first house teacher on CAT and I have since worked with my peers on CAT since finishing, including Frankie Johnson.
What is currently inspiring you to create?
Everything! Art is life and life is art for me. I can look across a room and see two shoes falling apart and that alone is inspiration. That’s just how my brain functions.
Currently, working with Russell Maliphant has really inspired me. Watching him direct the warm up and his free flow teaching is great. Seeing the energy in the space and catering for everyone’s individual styles has also been great.
Practising in general inspires me. I like to move my body daily. My partner is a b-boy, watching him break and being around his dance style is inspiring me to do more floor work. We have been exchanging on our styles which has been great!
I love art and going to exhibitions. I’ve been going to lots of exhibitions on indigenous cultures, philosophies, and ways of life. Researching all about that has inspired me and naturally that relates back to how I can use this in my life and again reflect in my movement.
I recently travelled to Italy. Walking around, looking at the environment, and taking photos of images that was contrasting (e.g., beautiful flowers poking through a gated window) really inspired me.
What tips would you give to a young person wanting to join the DanceEast CAT?
Before you go, prep your body and mind (breathwork, meditation, stretching, practice) beforehand/leading up to the audition so you feel calm and relaxed.
Get to the front of the class, so the teachers can see you and can feel your energy and see the dedication and commitment you can offer.
Don’t take yourself too seriously – be present and natural.
Know why you’re auditioning – knowing your purpose will help you perform as your authentic and best self.
Try and have some fun! That will keep you invested for the rest of the audition and make the auditioners catch you.
Just shine and smile – enjoy yourself!
You’ve recently worked with Joseph Toonga and performed at DanceEast, tell us more about this.
I have performed at DanceEast with Julia Cheng before so was familiar with the space. I love the DanceEast theatre, it is intimate but strong.
I performed in Born To Exist, it’s part of a three part trilogy by Joseph Toonga. It is about three strong women and explores the BME experience. You have three different women from three different backgrounds on stage.
You’ve almost gone full circle, being a student on the Swindon Dance CAT and now teaching on the DanceEast CAT. Why are the CAT programmes important?
The CAT programme gives you great technical foundations which you need in dance training. It gives you access to great teachers and ways of exploring being a young artist in training. It preps you for the future in general. It shows young dancers what they can expect before they decide whether to pursue a career in dance training.
It is also accessible as you can access means-tested grants to help fund your time on the programme. That is so important, there are a lot of different programmes around right now, but they expect you to pay full fees. Dancing in a creative and high-quality environment is an outlet away from the academic environment of school, it is a great contrast.
You are an Associate Artist at DanceEast, what are your plans for the coming year?
Next year, I hope to be working more in the building and focus more on creating my own work. I am happy to have had the opportunity to work with the CAT at DanceEast too. It’s been a nice introduction to get to know the building and the students.
What’s your favourite song to move to at the moment?
Ummm there are so many songs haha but the last things I listened to…. Olivia Dean – UFO (acoustic version) is a great vibe for a summer bike ride and a house track called Fly Away by Nastee Nev gets my soul moving!
Find out more about the DanceEast Centre for Advanced Training (CAT) programme here and DanceEast’s Associate Artist programme.