Category Archives: Dancers

Akira Uchida: Born to Dance

Professional dancer Akira Uchida
Dancer Akira Uchida shot by Taylor James Photography

Since the time when our ancestors danced around fires performing ceremonial rituals and entertaining their tribe, the transformational power of dance and movement in general has been around for thousands of years. Most of us have felt it– the way stress or emotional pain seems to fade away the second the music hits us and we begin moving our bodies. While many of us love to dance, there’s a huge difference between just ‘loving’ to dance and turning this magical art form into a career.

A career as a dancer is a massive undertaking that requires intense training, dedication and an insane amount of talent, something that Canadian dancer Akira Uchida has in spades. Uchida first began dancing at the age of 3 and he hasn’t stopped since.

He says, “Dance was always freeing to me, it felt natural and right. I only ever recall the feeling of pure joy stepping on to the stage and taking a dance class. I was extremely passionate and driven from the very beginning and loved devoting myself to learning. I can’t pinpoint a particular moment when I decided to pursue it professionally… I simply could never have imagined it apart from my career.”

In 2010, Uchida leaped into his professional career as a dancer with relentless fervor, and what he’s accomplished since is nothing short of amazing. Last year Uchida was selected as one of 22 finalists out of 200 to present his work and perform at the Capezio A.C.E Awards, a choreography competition that is held in New York and judged by some of the most recognizable dancers in the industry internationally, such as Emmy Award winner Mia Michaels, Primetime Emmy nominee Warren Carlyle and the Editor in Chief of Dance Magazine, Jennifer Stahl.

The previous year Uchida was tapped to perform in the emerging choreographer’s showcase Fresh Blood. For the competition he created a mesmerizing routine he calls “Interconnectivity,” which he says, “explores the fundamental concept that everything happens for a reason; every action happens at a specific time and place to provoke another set of actions – a snowball effect of pre-determined fate. In a physical sense, the dancers embodied atoms breaking and forming chemical bonds, constantly in flux.” The performance definitely turned heads and in the end Uchida earned Fresh Blood’s coveted Audience Choice Award.

While Uchida grew up fully immersed in the world of competitive dance where he earned quite a bit of success, he is one of the rare dancers who has actually managed to transcend the competition world and turn his work as a dancer into a full-time career. One area where he’s made an indelible mark as an exuberantly talented professional dancer has come through his work in television.

In 2012 he landed a key role as a featured dancer on the hit series Canada’s Got Talent, which followed two-time Primetime Emmy Award winner Martin Short (Saturday Night Live), Meahsa Brueggergosman (Project Runway Canada) and Oscar Award nominee Stephen Moccio (Pitch Perfect 2), three judges who travel across Canada to find the country’s best talent. The popular series brought chosen competitors, which included dancers to comedians, into the spotlight and give them a chance to win a $100,000 cash prize plus several other awards.

As with all performance driven reality competitions, having an entertaining production take place as the competitors take the stage is paramount to keeping viewers engaged and getting the audience excited about the show, and that is exactly what Uchida did for the series as one of the lead dancers. Uchida’s expert skill as a dancer, the mesmerizing way he moves his body and his ability to quickly learn a routine is what ultimately helped to land him a role on the show so early on in his career.

“We would learn a routine to go along with certain acts in each episode, and add energy and excitement to the performances,” recalls Uchida. “Being on ‘Canada’s Got Talent’ was an invigorating experience at the time because it was the first season for the Canadian edition of the ‘Got Talent’ series. The American rendition of ‘Got Talent’ was so successful and revered by all, which made being a part of the Canadian version a fresh experience. It made those of us involved feel like we were embarking on a project that was full of potential.”

After his success on the series Canada’s Got Talent Uchida was tapped to take on a starring role as a lead dance on the series Over the Rainbow. Another one of Canada’s performance driven reality series, Over the Rainbow followed Andrew Lloyd Webber as he searched across Canada for the girl to play Dorothy in Mirvish’s production of “The Wizard of Oz.” The performances on the series varied greatly week after week meaning that Uchida had to easily adapt and quickly learn the new routines without much time to practice. But for a dynamically talented dancer such as Uchida, immersing himself in a new routine each week was nothing new– for him the challenge was actually playing characters during dance performances on the series, something that both pushed him as an artist and proved his capacity to tap into unique roles on screen.

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Jordan Clark winner of “So You Think You Can Dance Canada” season 4 (left) and Akira Uchida (right) on set of “Over the Rainbow”

“I loved the excitement of learning new routines every week. Every week we performed with different contestants, a new pairing of dancers, and an original theme and song. It kept the rehearsal process fresh,” says Uchida. “In one of the dances, the contestant played Cinderella. I was her Prince at the ball! In another, myself and dancer Jordan Clark played a celebrity couple at a movie premiere… Playing characters was challenging but very fun!”

A phenomenally talented dancer with a powerful stage presence, Uchida’s performances on the small screen have continued to attract the attention of audiences around the world. In 2013 and 2014 he was cast as a lead dancer on several episodes of the incredibly popular four-time Primetime Emmy Award nominated series Degrassi: The Next Generation. In the episode “Hypnotize,” which guest starred Niamh Wilson (Maps to the Stars, Hemlock Grove), Uchida was one of two featured dancers who performed in a full-length contemporary dance piece that was integral to the storyline in the show. During one of the main scenes Uchida and Wilson’s character Jack Jones, the love interest of one of the main characters, performed a complex dance routine, which was a major highlight of the episode and required immense skill.

“Niamh Wilson, the guest star, was a trained dancer and we were able to engage in relatively advanced choreography for the piece,” explains Uchida.  “This was also distinctive because the piece was featured and shown in its entirety. Definitely a rare sight in TV and among my favourite moments of my career…To be able to step on the set of an iconic show for Canadian youth was a very cool experience.”

His dance performances on a plethora of hit television shows over the years have definitely helped Akira Uchida establish a flawless reputation as a sought after dancer who is able to seamlessly take on any routine with style. Aside from his lead roles on television, Uchida has also had definitive success as a lead dancer in several popular music videos. In 2015 he starred in the Much Music promo video for Sam Smith’s “That Much Closer.” Considering that Sam Smith has earned an Academy Award, a Golden Globe Award, as well as several Billboard Music Awards and Grammy Awards, being chosen to be the main performer in the video for “That Much Closer” is a tell-tale sign of the caliber of work Uchida has become known for.

Caroline Torti, who choreographed the routine in the video along with dancer Bree Wasylenko, explains, “Akira is a chameleon and is able to replicate any style given to him by a choreographer. He is able to expertly take direction and create meaningful moments on whatever job he works on. Beyond that he is an artist in his own right and his unique movement quality makes him a very special member of any team.”

 

In 2015 Uchida choreographed the music video for solo artist Lights’ hit song “Same Sea,” one of the single’s off the album “Little Machine,” which earned the prestigious Juno Award for “Pop Album of the Year” (Canada’s equivalent of a Grammy Award in the U.S.) and debuted at No. 5 on the Canadian Album Charts.

The music video for the song “Same Sea,” which has garnered over 800,000 views on YouTube since its release, starts off in the year 5057 with Lights first appearing as a voyeuristic cyborg  observing the previous versions of herself over the centuries.

As the choreographer and one of the featured dancers in the music video Uchida, who handpicked the other dancers in the video as well, did a marvelous job of creating a routine that is fun and full of life. The video cuts back to the year 2011 where Lights, Uchida and the other dancers are fully involved in a dance class. Uchida infuses the routine with a lively energy that creates a stunning dichotomy between the futuristic version of Lights, who surrounded by robotic machinery and devoid of other humans, and that of her previous self.

“I sought to make the work powerful and uplifting, and chose to utilize high energy movements that would build moments of euphoria. I focused on creating strong visuals to highlight Lights and played with imagery based on the lyrics,” explains Uchida. “The song repeatedly talks about ‘the arms of the same sea,’ and inspired me to incorporate fluid wave-like movements in the piece. I wanted to involve elements of the sea and have her ‘swim’ amongst her dancers.”

Not only did Uchida choreograph a lyrically relevant routine that made the video for “Same Sea” entertaining to watch, but he was also tasked with teaching Lights the dance routine.

“Lights had little to no experience in dance before shooting this video, so I was responsible for coaching her on how to execute the movements properly and to help her feel as comfortable as possible,” recalls Uchida.

While he is still quite young, Akira Uchida has accomplished more over the past seven years than most professional dancers will in a lifetime; and we can’t wait to see what he does next!

BRIAR NOLET HAS TAKEN “THE NEXT STEP”

While the entertainment industry is for the most part based around youth, it’s rare that we see someone truly grow up on camera. Ron Howard, Drew Barrymore, and a select few have come into their own and lasted in the business. In what would appear to be the most recent individual to fill this template is Canadian Briar Nolet. An artist of impressive dance and acting skills, Nolet appears on Temple Street Productions “The Next Step” about a group of young dancers. The Canadian program is equal parts astounding dance and a (fictionalized) depiction of the lives of the characters. As the youngest cast member of this program, Briar began as a member of J Troupe (the in-training group) but was so skilled that she was quickly was moved up to A Troupe and cast on the show. Throughout the several seasons of “The Next Step”, fans from across the globe have seen Briar grow from a young girl into a woman, mirroring the evolution of her acting and dance abilities. As a fan favorite, Nolet has traversed the planet with the live performances that “The Next Step” has toured with including; the UK, Australia, Europe, Canada, and many other destinations.

“The Next Step” has won many awards (Canadian Cinema Editors Award, BAFTRA, Canadian Screen Award, etc.) and received numerous nominations, but that’s not what made the show an international success. Fans from different cultures connected with the young cast members, the stories, and their struggles to pursue their dream. Frank Van Keekan (Creator of “The Next Step”) confirms that Briar was a focal point of this reaction and the show’s success. He states, “Briar Nolet burst onto the scene of The Next Step as a member of J-Troupe. J-Troupe was the junior troupe in the dance studio. We specifically designed J-Troupe to be a training ground for new actors, getting them ready to move into A-Troupe once they were old enough and if they showed enough talent. Briar was one of the few actors that made it through the ‘system’. Her dancing and acro abilities were unparalleled. We were continually gob-smacked by her performances. After a couple of seasons, we quickly had plans to grow her into one of the main cast members. As soon as she arrived there, Briar excelled, becoming one of the show’s regular cast members. During that time, and with very little effort, she grew a massive fan base and quickly became one of the stars of The Next Step. She has gone on the live tours which travel the world over. Briar is easily one of the show’s most beloved cast members and one of the show’s most in-demand characters. It’s been amazing to see how she has gone from a young J-Troupe member, to being one of the show’s stars. It’s all due to her amazing work ethic, her immense talent, and her star quality.”

Briar’s role on “The Next Step” is Richelle, a feisty and talented dancer who is singularly focused to become the greatest dancer she can. Possessing more attitude than friends, she exemplifies determination. Nolet describes, “Playing Richelle on The Next Step, really grew my skills as an actress. I have similar characteristics to Richelle; however, she does have an edge that I don’t really share with her. In saying this, it’s fun to experiment and portray emotions that are different than how I [as Briar] would react to certain things.” It is notable that one of the reasons Richelle has become such a favorite to fans of the show is for this unique personality. Richelle doesn’t fit the mold of the status quo, which many of the show’s admirers appreciate in both the character and Briar’s portrayal.

Something that Nolet does share with her character is the sacrifices which a dancer must make to pursue this passion. The life of a dancer, whether real or fictional, is one of giving up time with family and friends to hone your craft. The same cause and effect applied to Briar’s work as an actress. Richelle was perhaps communicated so well by this actress because she could completely empathize with the character.

The immense talent of Briar’s dance abilities is well documented and displayed on “The Next Step.” Pushing the limits of where dance stops and acrobatics begin, her performances on screen were often unbelievable. Briar is more than amused to share as she states, “I would say something that sets me apart from everybody else is that I have no fear. As a dancer, I will always take risks and try different things that sometimes nobody could even think was possible. It’s a shock to everyone that such a little body can do that. I also have a crazy amount of energy and determination and I think that helps separate me from other people. I am one to of course be safe but at the same time just go for things. Sometimes I honestly throw my body somewhere and hope that I find my feet. Ha. A lot of my tricks that not many people can do come from just trying the impossible. These are moves I have been doing for a long time and am very comfortable with, to the point that sometimes I don’t even have to think about it. The difficulty level is the same no matter where I do them. Obviously, on camera they can edit if I mess up a trick they can make it look like I didn’t but,  on stage you can’t do that so you’ve just gotta go for it. I get super pumped up and excited when I am doing these things, I absolutely love it.”

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Briar’s fans will be happy to know that the upcoming season of “The Next Step” shows Nolet (as Richelle) to be one of most focused upon leads for the new storyline. As Briar Nolet’s star continues to rise, admirers of her acting and dancing can be certain that this talented young woman will be pushing herself to the surprise of all who watch.

Justine Gera and the Stars That Guide Her Path in Dance

Dancing side by side with your mentors every day while fine-tuning your dance skills and perfecting your ability to absorb new choreography quickly — sounds like a dream come true, doesn’t it? It has been for dancer Justine Gera.

“I have met so many amazing people — choreographers I look up to,” explains Gera. “I’ve learned a lot about their career paths and knowing that they are supportive of my career and want me to succeed is the greatest feeling.”

For six years, Gera has taken the stage next to world-renowned dancemakers Tyce Diorio, Napoleon & Tabitha D’umo, Sean Cheesman, Luther Brown, ShoTyme, Megan Lawson, Jillian Meyers, Tina Landon and others as an assistant with Triple Threat Dance Conventions. It’s her job to demonstrate and lead the movement given to students by whichever top choreographer(s) she is assisting that day.

Dancer, Justine Gera

Versatility is key. It’s not uncommon to be performing contemporary dance in one session and transition to a completely different style in the next. Gera must also absorb the choreography as quickly as a thirsty sponge and immediately execute it flawlessly to provide students with a clear model of technique and of the quality of movement and style each choreographer desires.

Though the job demands a machine-like accuracy when it comes to mastering new dances, Gera’s dancing is far from robotic.

“Justine has a flare and character in her dance that is unique to her and is rarely seen,” says Triple Threat director Carolina Lancaster-Castellino. “She truly is one of the most exquisite and extraordinary dancers we have seen over our 18 years traveling across Canada.”

It is these qualities that have helped this stand-out make her mark outside the convention circuit as well. Gera has performed with Canadian pop artist Victoria Duffield and in music videos featuring Amanda Blush and Tristan Thompson. She’s also enjoyed time at sea as a dancer with Royal Caribbean cruise lines and appears as a dancer in Disney’s Descendants 2 movie.

A personal and professional highlight for Gera was performing “Rhythm Nation” with the legendary Janet Jackson during her Unbreakable World Tour. After a brief but intense audition process, performing with the superstar was exhilarating.

“The whole performance was a complete rush of adrenaline and I got a bit teary eyed when we finished,” recalls Gera.

Kelly Konno, who has worked with international music stars like Janet and Michael Jackson, Justin Timberlake, Prince, Pink, and*NSYNC and is director and co-owner of Triple Threat, has witnessed Gera’s development as a professional first-hand.

“Justine is one of the most hungry, driven, passionate and talented dancers that I’ve seen in a long time,” she observes. “She is the perfect representation of the next generation of professional dancers in Canada and the U.S..”

Justine at convention

It’s clear her dedication and talent are why Gera has been hired again and again by the convention to assist.

“We look for dancers who are not only at the top of their craft, but who are committed to all of the behind the scenes work as well,” says Triple Threat president and co-owner Dorie Konno. “Justine has been one of Triple Threat’s greatest assistants. Her passion for dance and the entertainment industry shines through.”

Despite the long hours and minimal sleep a dancer gets while working in this role, Gera is happy to go back for more each year.

“The best part is that it is just like a family reunion. Sometimes I don’t see a lot of these people until we reconnect at conventions and they are like my family,” she explains.

Gera’s dance family and her biological family encourage her to follow her dreams despite the obstacles that are part of a life in dance. Physical toll and the risk of injury are ever-present challenges but dance is often an emotional journey for performers as well.

“There have been many times in my career when I have thought that I wasn’t good enough or talented enough to ‘make it’ and reach my goals,” says Gera.

In those inevitable moments when her confidence is shaken, Gera recalls the advice of her supporters to never give up and channels her feelings into her dancing. Given her success in the dance industry, it’s a method that has clearly served Gera well.

Though she will continue to explore new heights, Gera is humble and thankful for the continued opportunity to develop professionally as a choreography and teaching assistant at conventions under the watchful eyes of the star choreographers who have been her mentors.

“It’s just a really good feeling to be relied upon. Certain choreographers have watched me grow up [at conventions] and having their support has made me believe that I am on the right career path.”

The dance world never doubted it.

Dancer Jackson Williams has conquered the United Kingdom

 

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Jackson Williams as a barber during the Take That 3 Tour.

Jackson Williams has already had an extraordinary career. He has toured the world doing what he loves, performed on national television, and worked with those that inspire him. He truly is one of the best dancers in the United Kingdom.

After performing on Simon Cowell’s The X Factor television show, Williams went on tour with the artists around the UK. He journeyed around Europe dancing for Whitney Houston, and went around the Eastern Hemisphere with Kylie Minogue and her Aphrodite Tour. Last year, he travelled all around, performing alongside Ellie Goulding’s Delirium World Tour. But what he says may be the most fun he ever has had on tour was for the celebrated boy band’s Take That 3 Tour.

“They were my favorite boy band growing up. I had posters. I had cassettes. I was young, and I would watch TV and they were in a boxing ring doing break dancing. I remember Take That. They hit the world by storm. They were like The Beatles 2.0. They still pack out stadiums for eight nights,” said Williams. “It was one of the most successful tours that have ever come into the UK. You are on stage with the best, and you can’t complain.”

The stadium tour was entirely indoors, and very theatrical. It allowed Williams to not just be a dancer, but a true performer as well. He went from a sea urchin, to a ninja, and then a barber. They incorporated a variety of styles when dancing, including contemporary, break dancing, puppetry, and even judo.

“There is so much to do when you do a show like this. The stage moves in a circle, the B stage goes up and down, it has ramps, the screens are some of the biggest screens you can get. The manpower is like 250 techies. It is the most creative virtual experience. It doesn’t matter if you are a kid or an adult, it is pleasing to the eye. My dad hates stuff like this, but he went and watched the Take That tour and said that was one of the best things he’d ever seen,” said Williams.

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The Take That 3 Tour Stage.

The 3 Tour was Williams’ third time touring with the band. The experience for him is particularly enjoyable because it is always the same people touring. Some of the people on the tour have been with the band for over fifteen years. The creative director and choreographer of the tour, Kim Gavin, has worked with Take That for the last 20 years  and Williams says he has learned more from Gavin than he has with any other choreographer he has worked with.

“Some of the things Kim asks you to do you think is impossible and he wants it to happen, and it does, you adapt. He always pushes you to the limit. He is just a genius. When he tells you stuff, you think it will never happen, and then it comes alive and you are like how did that happen?” said Williams.

Gavin likes pushing Williams to his limits, and describes him as one of the most renowned dancers in the U.K., always in high demand, and says Williams was a critical factor of the success of the tour.

“Jackson backed the group up with extraordinarily skilled and distinct dance moves and incredibly energetic flow that gave the shows explosive energy. He completely stood out among the rest of the dancers as a leader in every routine, and helped the group captivate the masses with an unforgettable concert experience,” said Gavin. “Jackson was always able to pick up on choreography very quickly and was even able to recreate every dancer’s routine in the shows, and would consequentially step in as the replacement of any dancers who were absent and would perfectly execute these routines due to his diverse vocabulary of styles and ability to handle high pressure. He has an incredible audience connection and has shown a unique ability of bringing his own personality to the stage, and this has made Jackson invaluable to the reputation of the shows that keeps fans coming back for more.”

The audience connection is one of Williams’ favorite parts of touring with Take That. The screaming fans that have loved the band for decades create a high when dancing on stage that is contagious, and dancing alongside the same people that he has been for years is like being with a second family.

“I was dancing for the biggest boy band in the country that everyone loves and knows. If there is any tour I would want to do again, it would be with Take That. It is like putting the Piri Piri sauce on. It’s exciting. There is something about it. You never have a dull day. It always feels different,” said Williams. “Sometimes I wish I wasn’t in it; I wish I was out there watching it.”

One of the most unique and exhilarating nights of the tour involved doing a world exclusive in the cinema. There was a night doing a show at the O2 that streamed a live feed to cinemas all over the world.

“You aren’t just doing it for the people in theatre. You are doing it for 30 million people watching at the theatre,” said Williams. “There are cameras everywhere and people running around. You think about the safety of yourself and the band. We have birds flying around the sky with puppets, and we are dodging cables but the audience doesn’t see that, they see these beautiful birds. It was mental. It was hard work, but it was the best.”

Working side by side with his idols since childhood was a surreal experience for Williams. He was part of the choreography, and the band members would ask his opinion on how things should be in the show. Not many get to have their idols turn to them for advice.

“I know all their songs. I couldn’t help but sing along when I was dancing,” he said.

Williams has conquered the dance field in the United Kingdom. There is not much more he can do in his country that he has not already done, which is why he is heading to Vegas to dance in Channing Tatum’s Magic Mike Live after turning down the opportunity to tour once again with Take That’s tour this year. In his words, he is “ticking off the boxes” to a career of perfection.

Anton Engel is living the dream with The Dreamboys

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Anton Engel photo by Daniel Jaems

When Anton Engel was a young boy, he would watch music videos, dreaming that one day he would somehow be a part of them. He was like most children, watching TV, wanting to be on the screen one day too. But it was this initial spark that led to his interest in dance, and now Engel is a celebrated dancer all over the world.

Initially starting as a competitive break dancer at just 13, Engel began studying and mastering all types of dance, wanting to be able to do whatever he felt was best for the performance. This led to performing with chart-topping pop group Fifth Harmony at Heaven in London earlier this year, as well as his appearance in the opening for the BBC Music Awards with almost five million people watching on television. He danced on the famous Alan Carr’s New Year Specstacular for two consecutive years, and once performed for none other than the royal family as part of the Royal Variety. Most recently, however, he lived his childhood dream quite literally, dancing with The Dreamboys in their tour of the United Kingdom.

“It was great to have the opportunity to dance and travel at the same time,” said Engel. “The Dreamboys have extremely good dancers who are a part of it and I wanted to prove to myself that I was at the same level.”

And prove himself he did. The Dreamboys are one of the world’s biggest glamor shows, and the most successful and celebrated in UK history. Engel not only excelled at his role, but stepped into the shoes of other’s when they were absent, which is called swinging people, ensuring the audience had the same experience at each tour location.

“This wasn’t easy since sometimes we only had an hour before the show would start. I would usually find a quiet room and go through every number to make sure there wasn’t anything I was missing. I always found a way to make it work,” said Engel.

This determination and professionalism was not missed by his counterparts. Not only did Engel work alongside a few celebrities from reality shows like Scotty T and Gaz Beadle from Geordie Shore, and Rogan O’Connor and Joss Mooney from Ex on the Beach, he worked closely with had well-known dancer and choreographer Jordan Darrell. Darrell describes working with Engel as an absolute delight.

“We have had so many ups and downs and Anton has always been ready to help. His professionalism and dedication to his work is outstanding,” said Darrell. “Anton dealt with rehearsals very well and the pressure of learning the choreography one-on-one with me in a studio, and there was a short time frame of which he had to learn a lot of choreography and spacing. Not once did he falter or waver his responsibilities, and he remained calm and professional throughout, soaking up the pressure with a smile.”

“Throughout the run of the show Anton has never backed down from a challenge such as a quick re-block or even a track change, which he then covered,” Darrell continued. “Anton has never deviated from the content or feel of a number, which I set as choreographer, and the audience response has always been one of the strongest towards him. He is talented, a hard worker and a pleasure to work with. In my experience this combination is one that can be added to any team, in any work environment, and will always be an asset.”

The audience attention that Engel received did not go to his head, but was actually a humbling experience for the young dancer. Touring for months on end three to four times a week, he saw the letters, messages, presents, t-shirts, and flowers he constantly received from the audience as support.

“It was so much fun to get the opportunity to dance for such big audiences. The feeling on stage is incredible. After the show, we gave out autographs, which was a really fun experience. It makes me happy knowing that when people watch me dance they leave with a smile on their face,” said Engel.

Despite the challenges that can come from touring, like never being able to have the comfort of your own bed, and having to adapt to a different stage with each show, the travelling was a highlight of the experience for Engel, and being on a tour bus is a unique way of doing it.

“It was amazing to see so many different parts of the UK. I had never been outside of London before I joined The Dreamboys, and now I have been in every major city and a lot of lovely small places that I never heard about,” said Engel. “I met so many different people and it’s such a pleasure to see that I have so many fans not only in London but all over the country.”

The Dreamboys experience is one that Engel will never forget, and helped him prepare for his upcoming show in Las Vegas, with Channing Tatum’s Magic Mike Live.

“Being on tour with The Dreamboys taught me a lot and helped me improve in every dance style. By switching dance styles from number to number it really let me use my full capacity, and I really enjoyed it,” concluded Engel.

Dance Is a Way of Life for Belly Dancer, Nataly Hay

Nataly Hay has never even considered what she would do if not dance. The Israeli belly dancer has been dancing all her life. From the age of three she started, as many dancers do, with ballet, jazz and other forms of stage dance. Then, at age 16, Hay took a belly dance class for the first time and fell in love.

Hay began taking belly dance classes regularly, was soon recognized for her considerable talent and received an offer to work as a teacher.

“I started teaching classes for students from kindergarten to adults and meanwhile studied my degree to become an official belly dance instructor of the Israeli Sport Institute. Since then I haven’t stopped belly dancing,” explains Hay.

Bellydancer Nataly Hay
Nataly Hay shot by Dvir Lahar

 

Teaching may have been the start of her professional career in belly dance but Hay didn’t stop there.

Hay’s ability to captivate audiences with her unique beauty and talent have made her a well-known dancer in Israel. According to Gilad Malkin, an Israeli TV producer, her television performances shine because Hay knows how to work with the camera and it shows on screen.

“Nataly is a very good dancer, very talented, beautiful, responsible and professional,” remarks Malkin. “We can always count on her for the best performance we expect. Nataly is the top dancer in Israel.”

Hay’s talents aren’t limited to belly dance. Well-versed in Latin dance styles and the Spanish language, she was a winner in Israel’s Kizomba competition, and has received invitations to perform for fans in the United States, Brazil and Mexico. Hay also took home a trophy at the European Belly Dance competition in Amsterdam last year and is a frequent performer and instructor at International Bellydance Festival, a four-day event held in Eilat, Israel that is host to dancers all over the world.

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Nataly Hay shot by Dvir Lahar

“Nataly is a very talented dancer;” says Yael Moav, the organizer of the festival, “compelling and charismatic as well as being wise and serious. Working with Nataly, I know the job is done with accuracy and on time as required [of] a professional and a true artist.”

In order to maintain her physical skills and perform for a long time on stage without much physical effort, Hay works out consistently.

“The strength of the body helps me develop new dance movements and improve my technique more easily,” explains Hay.

Hay insists a supportive family has also been part of her success, providing mental strength in addition to her physical strength. Commitment to her art, a positive attitude and belief in herself have also elevated Hay’s career as a dancer. Her performances have become a feature in high-profile events.

Just months ago, Hay was invited to perform for 100,000 people as part of the Juno Reactor international tour. The trance-oriental musical act includes deejay, Stephen Watkins, two singers, a drummer and guitarist, and Hay, who adds her own blend of belly dance, African, modern and Latin dance to the performances.

“Nataly is one of the most graceful of dancers I have seen or worked with,” says Watkins. “Sensual and captivating, she has forged her own style and personality to fit inside Juno Reactor. She is also a pleasure to work with.”

The group is invited to perform in festivals worldwide. Last August, as headliners at the Ozora festival in Hungary, Juno Reactor produced a show with 20 more dancers from Russia and the Ukraine and Hay onstage as a belly dancer.

“The outfits, accessories, choreography and chemistry on stage were outstanding,” Hay recalls of the experience.

Traveling the world has been a dream come true for Hay, who enjoys getting to know new artists, singers, composers and dancers, and appreciates the exposure to cultures outside of her own. This is a good thing because the offers to teach and perform internationally keep rolling in for Hay, particularly since a bellydance video of her went viral on YouTube, reaching 22 million views and counting.

Clearly, though the massively popular video demonstrates Hay’s strong dance technique, it appeals to more than just belly dance lovers. The response has been phenomenal.

“Many belly dance lovers have tried to study this dance at home and perform it in their home countries. Moreover, I’ve received a lot of invitations to perform and teach around the world thanks to that video,” remarks Hay.

Still, her global success is only a perk of the job. It’s the dancing that Hay truly loves and finds most rewarding. In fact, she says that sometimes she gets chills or sheds tears of happiness while performing.

“For me dancing is the most powerful feeling,” muses Hay. “When I am dancing I am the happiest person on earth, I forget everting and my soul and body are free.”

 

See more of Nataly Hay’s incredible dancing at her website or YouTube channel which has 17K subscribers.

Navid Charkhi Dances Into His Second “Descendants” Movie

Working 15-hour days is nothing when you love what you do and you’re having a good time doing it. For Iranian-Canadian dancer, Navid Charkhi, it is working with esteemed director, Kenny Ortega, the cast and the choreographers on Disney’s Descendants 2 film that makes long, grueling days fun in front of and behind the camera.

Navid Charkhi and Kenny Ortega
Navid Charkhi with Kenny Ortega on the Descendants 2 set.

“The way Kenny talks to the actors and dancers, and presents his acting or movement ideas to the cast– I feel he sees everything happening already and when he gives direction to the cast it is usually brilliant. There’s always a wow factor when you see his demonstrations,” says Charkhi.  “I watch closely and follow his steps behind the scenes.”

Who wouldn’t when working with a three-time Emmy award-winner who has directed projects like High School Musical, choreographed timeless films such as Dirty Dancing, and collaborated with heavy-hitters Michael Jackson, Bette Midler and Gene Kelly?

Charkhi and Ortega actually have similar reasons for getting into show business. Both were inspired as boys by dancers they idolized. For Ortega it was Hollywood screen legend, Kelly that moved him toward a career in the entertainment industry. Charkhi grew up watching Michael Jackson on television and was mesmerized, copying and learning from the popular recording artist and dancer’s moves. Charkhi admits to being a bit starstruck by the Descendants director’s history with the King of Pop.

“Kenny has worked with Micheal Jackson himself. Hearing stories of them working just brings tears to my eyes.”

Ortega is pretty impressed with Charkhi, too. The director recalls that Charkhi proved himself a standout right from the very beginning.

“I could not believe how much talent and skill he demonstrated at the initial auditions for the production,” remembers Ortega. “Usually dancers take a few takes and auditions before beginning to impress the director and the production crew. However, this was not the case for Navid.”

Dancer Navid Charkhi

Indeed Charkhi’s natural instincts when performing complex dance moves became an asset during the three-day Descendants 2 audition.

“On the first day over 400 people showed up and more than 200 of them got cut,” he says.

Co-choreographer, Tony Testa, explains that those who could not keep up while learning a new piece of choreography each day were cut from the production. Charkhi, on the other hand, has quickly made himself an “irreplaceable asset to the film,” according to Ortega. Not long after the initial auditions Charkhi was assigned to working alongside Testa, as he was the only dancer able to keep up with the changing challenges throughout the production.

“[Navid] is able to instantly adapt to any type of dance depending on the style of the production, which is an extremely important characteristic for a Descendants 2 dancer to have,” explains Testa.

In addition to versatility, characterization is also extremely important for a dancer working in the film industry. Ron Oliver directed Charkhi in the film Mostly Ghostly 3, for which Charkhi was promoted as assistant to choreographer, Richard O’Sullivan and helped to create choreography and prepare the cast for filming the sequences in just three days. Oliver is quick to express how well Charkhi works under pressure but, as a director, also gives insight into Charkhi’s acting abilities.

“Navid’s dance aesthetic is extremely distinct from the rest of his peers as he is able to portray character emotions through his dance moves,” states Oliver.

In the first Descendants movie, Charkhi got to play a baddie that wreaks havoc on a village. For Descendants 2, which is set to premiere in summer 2017, he still gets to explore his dark side, this time as a pirate. According to Paul Becker, who co-choreographed the original Descendants film, it’s a far cry from Charkhi’s real-life personality, however.

Navid Charkhi

“Navid is a generous spirit and great to work with,” insists Becker. “His giving nature comes across in his dancing. I have had the pleasure of hiring Navid as a dancer on [multiple] projects and always welcome the opportunity to work with people like him.”

Charkhi’s combination of generosity, work ethic, talent, and ability to adapt to any style or genre makes this Descendants dance principal one to watch as he ascends to great heights in Hollywood.