Category Archives: Dancers

Brazilian triple threat Rita Shukla is an indomitable force on stage

Rita Sjukla
Brazilian Performer Rita Shukla

You may have seen performer Rita Shukla on stages across Los Angeles as a lead singer with the classic rock band Lloyd Moss & The Rock Collective, singing jazz-style Brazilian bossa nova with the Electrobossa band, or heavy rock n’ roll with Redemptrix. Her strength and dynamic range as a vocalist coupled with her lively and magnetic stage presence has made her a go-to performer for a number of bands in need of a strong lead singer.

As part of Lloyd Moss & The Rock Collective, Rita is a vocalist alongside Andrey Tsvetkov Nazarbekian, who made it to the semifinals on the incredibly popular TV series “The Voice Russia” season 2, and was also a contestant on the 8-time Primetime Emmy Award winning “American Idol” season 15.

“Working with Rita is a constant exchange. Her vast knowledge in music and her stage experience are the factors that give all of our band members a new perspective on the way things should be done, how harmonies should be written and songs should be sung,” explains Nazarbekian. “What really makes her good at what she does is her natural gift for music supported by the education and training she acquired in Brazil ”

Rita began cultivating her talent as a performer at the age of 4 whilst growing up in Campinas, Brazil where music and performance are a vibrant part of the country’s colorful culture. First immersing herself in music classes, Rita immediately fell in love with the way music made her feel.

It’s just like being in nature for me… I feel joy when I sing. it brings me so much peace and happiness, as if I don’t think of anything else. I’m just there present in the moment,” admits Rita. “For you to be able to sing well, you first need to breathe well… the whole process of singing is just therapeutic and healing.

Knowing the competitive nature of being a lead singer, Rita didn’t rely solely on her natural vocal strengths as a high soprano. Instead she devoted herself to perfecting her skills by training with some of the best in the industry internationally, including vocal coaches such as Molly Rocklind (who’s shared the stage with the likes of Stevie Wonder, popular classic rock band America and Chaka Khan), Dawn Bishop (who’s performed with household names like Brian McKnight and the Black-Eyed Peas,) Brazilian soprano Lucila Tragtenberg and maestro Thiago Gimenes, among others.

It didn’t take long for Rita to be tapped to begin performing on stages across Brazil. By the age of 16 she was playing starring roles in popular theatre productions such as “A Receita” by Jorge Andrade, followed by “Um Cadillac Para as Estrelas” and “Quero a Lua” at the Tao Theatre.

With many of her major theatrical projects back home in Brazil utilizing her talent as an actress and singer, she quickly stood out as a rarely gifted performer capable of flawlessly executing both with equal pizazz. But there’s another area of Rita’s ‘gift’ as a performer that has made her so unique amongst others in the industry– and that is her skill as a dancer.

In the same way that her impressive vocal range and natural rhythm has led her to lead bands with musical styles ranging from jazz and bossa nova to classic and hard rock, her skill as a dancer has given way to a multitude of dance performances ranging from flamenco and belly dancing to jazz and tap for musical theatre.

Beginning flamenco dance training at 11 and belly dance at 13,  Rita explains, “First, I fell in love with flamenco, for its strength, rhythm, passion, and history, but dancing in general makes me feel good as I feel the energy of the music and the beat flowing through my body.”

The way she translates music into her movements as a dancer, embodying the rhythm in human form on stage, has not only been a highlight for the audiences who watch her, but a draw factor for those who cast her in their shows. Whilst in Brazil, she was cast as a lead dancer in numerous shows such as “Noche Caliente,” “Bombardeio de Dança” and “Noite Flamenca” with leading Brazilian flamenco dancer and choreographer Karina Maganha. She also made a name for herself as a lead dancer with the Jimena Lourenço Dance Company, starring in shows like  “A Arte Milenar Da Dança Do Ventre,” “1° Festival de Dança Do Ventre,” “2° Festival de Dança Do Ventre,” “Clip” and many more.

By college Rita had not only perfected her individual skills making herself known among the country’s best young performers in each area, but she had blended all of these talents, making her an undeniable triple threat– an asset that boosted her reputation within the world of musical theatre.

About her beginnings, Rita explains, “Growing up studying and doing theatre [in Brazil], and feeling on my skin the importance of embodying the character as a dance, the music as a text and the acting as music, made me a very open, strong and vulnerable actress and singer.”

After completing her bachelor’s in drama at the Pontifical Catholic University of São Paulo, scholarship offers began rolling in from schools in the U.S. for her to continue her education in the performing arts. And in 2013 she packed her bags and relocated to California on a scholarship to study Musical Theatre at the American Musical and Dramatic Academy.

As a singer she’s quickly became a lead member in several bands in the states, while also writing her own songs and embarking on many other fruitful collaborations. After being recognized by music producer and songwriter Ted Perlman, who’s known for his work with renowned stars such as Whitney Houston, Harry Belafonte, Bob Dylan and Diana Ross, the two collaborated in writing a praise and worship rock tune.

Perlman recalls, “As soon as she sang one note, I knew she was special… Rita is one of the most soulful white girls anywhere! She has everything- talent, beauty, brains, and joy. She’s as close to perfect as it gets.”

In the states her seasoned skill as a performer coupled with the fiery nature of Brazilian culture pulsing through her veins, led her to be viewed as a unique talent in the industry.

Last year Rita was personally invited to perform as a singer and dancer alongside some of the most recognizable Broadway stars in the world in the production of “Broadway to the Rescue.” A concert gala for charity, Rita shared the stage with the likes of Tony Award Winner LiLlias White and Tony Award nominees John Tartaglia and Sharon McNight where she gave a memorable performance in numbers from the hit Broadway shows “Hair,” “Memphis,” “Hairspray” and more.

“Training and performance skill once you reach a higher level is not hard to find in Los Angeles. But one thing that I look for in performers, and Rita is one of a few that has it, is personality and unique instinct,” explains Rodrigo Varandas, one of the choreographers behind “Broadway to the Rescue.”

“I feel that her Brazilian culture makes her unique already. But she is able to incorporate American culture in her performance as well and that is just impossible to find. She mesmerized me every time she sang and danced.”

Rita Shukla is one performer who’s managed to excel as singer, actress and dancer, and while she spent years training in order to get where she is today, the natural and vibrant energy she brings to the stage is something that just can’t be taught– and it’s definitely something that has set her apart from the pack.

 

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Australia’s Pauler Lam dances in Hotel Indigo’s newest national commercial

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Dancer Pauler Lam

When Pauler Lam was 14 years of age, he did what most teenagers did to entertain themselves at the time; he watched MTV. Upon seeing the music video for Jason Nevins & RUN DMC’s hit song “It’s Like That”, the Australian native watched the two teams featured in the video breakdance, battling each other and executing incredible dance moves. It was from that moment on that he knew he wanted to learn how to breakdance. From there, he practiced almost every day with his high school friends, doing back flips and dancing on the grass. He began watching music videos not just for entertainment, but to watch the dancers and study their moves. He came across Korean Pop (KPOP) videos, which were filled with outstanding choreography, only expanding his passion from breakdance to dance itself. Now, he is trained in multiple genres, and as a celebrated Bboy who is also extremely skilled at Hip Hop choreography, he has achieved his dream that he set out on at just 14.

“For me personally, I love being a dancer because it is fun, and it is the most genuine and positive way that I can express myself as an artist. I love the feeling of bringing music to life through movement. It is when I am the happiest. I love performing too, whether it be on camera or for a crowd of people. I also love making people happy when they watch me dance and perform. I am confident in my skills as a performer that I know that I can make people enjoy themselves while I dance.

Lam quickly rose to fame on the 2016 season of Dance Network’s hit show Steady Mobbin’, where he was a principle dancer for several episodes, and in one episode had a feature about his life and career. Since then, he has been in several Buzzfeed dance videos, amassing over a million views each, and a national commercial for American Crew. Despite such success, the highlight of Lam’s career came when he danced in the national commercial campaign for Hotel Indigo last year.

“What made it the highlight for me is that I, an Asian male, was cast to be the star. This is a big deal to the Asian American community in Hollywood. We, as Asians, are usually cast to play stereotypical roles or aren’t considered appealing to the mainstream media, so this definitely was the highlight of my career. After speaking to the team behind the project, I knew that they believed in me because of my skills as a dancer and performer, and did not care about image,” he said.

Lam was cast to play the lead role in the project, where he was followed dancing around the hotel and the surrounding attractions of Los Angeles. There were hundreds of applicants for this lead role. The production team needed the best possible candidate out of all those applicants, and Lam was the stand out. He had sent footage of himself dancing, videos showing his personality, and several photos. It wasn’t long before he was approved by all parties to lead the campaign. Everyone believed that he was the best candidate for the project and that he would be able to bring their vision to life through his artistry as a dancer. His high level of skill and versatility as well as his vibrant on-screen performance and personality that were shown in his video reel and resume made him the right choice.

The commercial, which premiered last September worldwide, was a large success for the Downtown Los Angeles hotel, and Lam’s dancing was a large part of that. His work ethic was also vital, as he is someone that can adapt quickly to any situation. He has a tremendous positive mindset, something he considers one of his best assets outside of his sense of rhythm.

“Pauler and I were like a dream team when it came to this campaign. His incredible skills as a professional dancer are out of this world. We spent a few days together planning and mapping out some dance moves and camera shots so we would all feel comfortable come shoot day. Pauler was able to make my vision come to life through his art and movement and I couldn’t be any happier with the result,” said Harrison Winter, Director of the commercial and Filmmaker at Co.Mission Content.

Winter hand-selected Lam to played the lead role for his project. They began with Skype meetings along with the producer, Dan Tundis. After easily agreeing on what they all wanted for the shoot, they spent two days together location scouting and rehearsing ideas on the spot regarding choreography. The teamwork between the three of them made everything very effortless for Lam.

“It really meant a lot that Harrison and Dan both trusted me with their vision. They even went with my recommendations for other people to be used on the shoot as other featured dancers.

Because we got along so easily and well, come shoot day, it made everything very smooth and fun. The hotel clients were also present and it didn’t take long for them to relax and trust in all of us too after seeing what we were capable of,” Lam described.

Any suggestion that Lam had for dance moves that he could perform, he was able to execute them easily, which highly impressed everyone he was working with. His friends, Bianca Vallar, Alvin De Castro, Savannah Marco, were other dancers featured in the commercial. In the end, they were all able to achieve the best possible result that they could have with the project. Working with Harrison Winter, Dan Tundis, Kris Young, Sam Nuttman, and everyone at Hotel Indigo made the experience for the principle dancer.

“I loved being able to showcase my personality and skills as a performer on such a large platform. Hotel Indigo is an internationally recognised establishment. And for me to play the lead role in their campaign was such a blessing,” said Lam. “I also loved working with all the people involved in this project. From the production team, the clients, to my friends who were featured dancers. We all did our best to achieve the best results for this project. It was a big validation on why I love being a professional dancer.” 

Lam knows that dance is a tough industry to break into, and he is extremely grateful for the success he has achieved. He never gave up on his dream, even when it seemed like it was the easy way out. However, he believes the best way to achieve success as a dancer is to simply be yourself, and to have fun, and working on this campaign gave him to opportunity to do both.

“It feels absolutely incredible knowing that people all over the country saw my work on this project. I love how the campaign turned out. I feel it definitely captures myself as a person on camera and I hope it makes everyone watching as happy as it made me feel performing that day. It’s work like this why I love doing what I do for a living. I wouldn’t have it any other way,” he said.

You can watch Pauler Lam’s impressive dance skills in the Hotel Indigo commercial here.

Maria Akpan Scouted by Mark Anthony for Prince Revelation Tribute Show

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Maria Akpan

When most parents ask their children what they’d like to be when they grow up, they expect to hear answers like professional “actor” or “dancer” and simply hope that the novelty will wear off with age. This, however, was not the case for Maria Akpan’s mother and father. From a very young age, Akpan knew that she had a gift and over the years, she has been determined to share that gift with the world. The talented dancer and choreographer is passionate about not only keeping the art of dance alive, but ensuring that it remains fresh, engaging and entertaining. She has creativity soaring through her veins and is eager to continue shedding her greatness before aspiring dancers everywhere.

Only a small fraction of human beings can confidently say that they get to do what they love for a living, and Akpan is one of those few people. In living out her dreams, Akpan has built a strong career full of invaluable experience. Her exceptional reputation has earned her a vast amount of achievements. For instance, Akpan performed as a lead dancer for the production Thriller Live, where she was tasked with taking the audience on a journey through Michael Jackson’s childhood and career. She has also appeared in a number of hit music videos, like Funky Twinz featuring N. Kay’s video, Entertain You, where she choreographed each dance number and subsequently acted as the lead dancer in the video. Her exposure to high quality productions and performances has allowed her to showcase her skill set before the eyes of several major production companies and fellow dancers. As a result, she has been recognized for her talents and even won an award in 2014 when Shirlene Quigley, a former dancer for Beyoncé and Rihanna, was looking for a dancer that wowed her enough to donate $500 toward a scholarship for the Broadway Dance Centre in New York. Unsurprisingly, Akpan blew her away and won the competition by a landslide.

One of Akpan’s most notable career highlights was when she choreographed and danced in a lead role for Mark Anthony’s, Prince Revelation Tribute Show. When Anthony was looking for talent to not only choreograph dances for the show, but also star in the show alongside him, he demanded that Akpan come on board. He was astounded by her natural affinity for choreography and dance when he stumbled upon her website online. Akpan was thrilled to be able to lend her talents to the show, as Prince was one of her favorite artists. The job allowed her to dance in well-known venues all over England and she thoroughly enjoyed all of the various aspects that the job entailed.

“Working on this project was so awesome. Contributing my skills and work to this show made it feel like my own. It was even more fulfilling when crowd members would approach us after the show to let us know that they thought Prince would’ve been proud watching it. It was surreal doing the festivals because you knew people had travelled miles to be there just to see the show. The energy coming from the audience was addicting and Twitter views were at an all-time high after each show,” recalls Akpan.

20170607_174958Akpan is no stranger to the world of choreography and her unique delivery and storytelling are what set her above her competition. She has had to fight for every opportunity she has accomplished thus far in her career and has developed a certain strength through her perseverance, a strength that every dancer sticks around long enough to develop. It is a grueling profession, but it is one that Akpan excels in. Her unprecedented skills as a dancer are the reason that she is a perfectionist, holding herself to the highest standard possible, as she knows what she is capable of. In stressful situations, she thrives and her drive is at an all-time high.

Lucie Camelo, who was fortunate enough to dance alongside Akpan in the Prince Revelation Tribute Show, witnessed first-hand Akpan’s profound ability to take a production or performance to the next level. She knows of the quality of work that Akpan is capable of delivering and considers herself lucky to have worked with such unparalleled talent.

“Working with Maria was definitely uplifting and enlightening for me. To be able to work closely with someone of her caliber was intense and just to get a glimpse into what it takes to be successful in this industry was a blessing in itself. She is a true inspiration to many. Her drive, commitment, and discipline for her work is unlike anything I’ve ever seen. Working with her left me inspired,” says Camelo.

So, what is in store for this extremely talented dancer? Akpan created her own dance class called “#LinesNsaucewithmimi” which is taught in heels and has earned her great success so far. She also teaches children’s dance classes and continues to audition and perform for productions that interest her. On top of that, she is often called upon to teach private lessons for individuals of all different levels, from beginners and non-dancers to professional artists. In future, she hopes to dance with iconic artists like Janet Jackson, Beyoncé, Madonna, Usher, and Christ Brown. So long as she is teaching, choreographing, and dancing, she will be content and motivated to continue along her successful path.

Dancer Ivan Prokhiro talks dancing with Cher at the BBMAs

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Ivan Prokhiro, photo by WanderlustCreatives

When Ivan Prokhiro was just five years old, he saw something that changed the course of his life forever. It was Michael Jackson’s hit music video for Smooth Criminal. At the time, watching the screen, captivated by Jackson’s ability to dance, Prokhiro made the decision that would determine his future. He wanted to be able to do what he saw on screen. He wanted to be a dancer, and he wanted to be on stage. That was his first inspiration, and since that moment, that is exactly what Prokhiro has done: dance.

Now, Prokhiro is an internationally renowned professional dancer, with an outstanding career. He danced on the summer and Halloween shows for Knotts Berry Farm, worked on E-Plus Productions New Year’s Eve shows two years in a row, was Erica Jayne’s back-up dancer in the Fort Lauderdale Pride Parade, and just this year he danced alongside pop-sensation Katy Perry at the Grammy’s one of the world’s largest stages. His talent is evident from the moment he steps on stage.

“I first met Ivan on a project I was assisting on. He was a dancer for a choreographer’s So You Think You Can Dance submission. Since then, I have had the pleasure of hiring Ivan for four productions including: two Hallowe’en spook-tacular’s for Thee Mistress of the Dark herself, Elvira. Elvira’s Asylum & Elvira’s Danse Macabre both at Knott’s Scary Farm were very well reviewed & received shows. In addition to theses, Ivan has performed in the summer circus show that has now run for two seasons at Knott’s Berry Farm, the Circus of Wonders,” said Melena Rounis. “It is such a pleasure to work with an artist like Ivan. He is so professional and hardworking, always willing to go the extra mile which is a choreographer’s dream! He is uninhibited and passionate about his craft and his work. Ivan takes great pride in everything he does and it shows in rehearsals transcending to the stage when he is in front of an audience. He has given so much to the many audience members in the multitude of shows he has performed in and had the opportunity to touch. I look forward to creating on and with him every time I have the opportunity. Ivan’s work ethic, focus and knowledge of various dance styles truly sets him apart from the masses. He is a quality artist and I am fortunate enough to have had the pleasure of working with him on so many diverse projects over the past couple years.”

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Ivan Prokhiro, photo by Oleg Leshonok

Earlier this year, Prokhiro dazzled the world once again when he danced at the Billboard Music Awards with none other than Cher. The choreographer, Denise Faye, had previously met Prokhiro at an audition for a different show in Las Vegas. She remembered Prokhiro from that audition and asked him to be a part of the BBMA performance, knowing Cher needed to be accompanied by the best dancers possible.

“It was amazing to get so huge of a project without any auditions,” Prokhiro described. “It’s one of the biggest awards show. Also, it’s the greatest place to perform, the T-mobile Arena in Las Vegas. And, of course, to dance as a backup dancer for Cher is huge honor.”

The Billboard Music Awards premiere on May 21, 2017, and was watched by millions in America on ABC, and different stations around the world. The cast for Cher’s performance was seven boys and seven girls, but only two dancers were selected that were outside of Cher’s residency Vegas show. Prokhiro was one of them.

“It was a big responsibility to perform in front of this audience, which were mostly celebrities. A lot of cameras around made me excited and a little bit nervous. Working with Cher inspired me a lot. I saw her during rehearsals, she is a great example how humble and hardworking an artist should be. She is an icon of pop-industry, I learned a lot from our week of rehearsals,” said Prokhiro. “All my friends were so jealous.”

Prokhiro and the rest of the dancers accompanied Cher on her hit single “Believe” and were considered to be one of the best performances in the show. Prokhiro’s dancing was a large part of the success. He spent time studying Cher’s performances before the show, and went to her residency show in Las Vegas three times, saying once was not enough. Each time, he learned something new about how she worked.

“I was feeling a huge responsibility because I knew it was a live stream on TV. You do not have a chance to make any mistakes. You know that all eyes stare at you, and you need to be a star as Cher as an equal. I got a lot of feedbacks about this project. My friends and family watched this performance, some of them even didn’t know about it, and saw it randomly on television, which made it more exciting for them,” he said.

The performance was show stopping, and Prokhiro’s commitment and talent were evident to all who watched, as they are with every performance he does. There is no doubt why he has conquered the dancing industry in Russia, and is on his way to conquering the world.

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.

Akira Uchida
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.

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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.