Tū Move is a groundbreaking free dance course from The New Zealand School of Dance aimed at Māori and Pacific Island boys and men between 14 and 18. The classes combine contemporary dance, street dance and kapa haka and give participants a taste of what a career in dance could be like.
Charlotte Wilson talks with the director Paula Steeds-Huston and 19 year old dancers Connor Masseurs and Toa Kohatura Paranihi.
Read an edited excerpt of the interview:
Charlotte Wilson: When did you discover that dance made you happy?
Connor Masseurs: I was always in kindergarten the first one to stand up if the radio was on. Ever since I was eight I begged my mum to let me do dance classes. It’s not the same for you, eh?
Toa Kohatura Paranihi: Dancing wasn’t a massive factor until I took classes in primary. As a little kid I was always dancing to Mum’s jams – Come on Eileen, The Vengaboys… A hip-hop group came and performed at primary and I was like ‘Yo, that’s me’.
Paula Steeds-Huston: I felt the need for ‘where to from here?’ for these guys. They’ve done the Worlds, they’re into their hip-hop. What other avenues are there? Then there was this other side of the industry going ‘Where are all these amazing males to feed into the industry, to show that Māori and Pacific island people can stand and have a voice and have a story to tell?’ I felt like there was a real need for us to find an avenue to help these young men venture forward into the industry. Tū Move seemed the perfect avenue to find a way to come in, to experience what it’s like to be a dancer, what it’s like to dance all day, to experience other people in the same boat going ‘Where to from here?’
Charlotte Wilson: What is different with Māori and Pacific boys dancing? What is it that makes these guys so amazing?
Paula Steeds-Huston: I think it’s that the pathways aren’t set yet. There’s a passion for what they want to do and they’re discovering, as well, what that is. And the voice – there’s a difference voice that is wanting to come out and how else can they express that through their movement, not just through types they already know… There’s enormous passion. In the Tū Move programme we find this energy that’s just bounding – and what do we do with that?
Charlotte: Tell us about your heritage, Toa, and how dance is involved in that?
Toa Kohatura Paranihi: I’m Ngāti Tūwharetoa and Ngāti Porou so obviously everyone knows the haka, pōwhiri, how we express our feelings and our ancestors through song and dance…
Connor Masseurs: It’s in your blood. You’re asking us why we have a passion for dance and it’s really hard to put into words. I think our actions speak louder than our words. The fact that we roll up to school 9 to 5 every day Monday to Saturday and then we’ll still dance after school, as well, in these trainings… it’s in us, you know?
Toa Kohatura Paranihi: We’re like a vessel for another being. It’s just what we do and we end up loving it.
Charlotte Wilson: When you found out about the Tu move programme did you think ‘That’s for me’?
Toa Kohatura Paranihi: The first time I heard about it was through my mum and I was like ‘nah’ ‘cause I wanted to just take hip-hop. Gotta be a G and everything like that. But my mum was just like ‘Just go try one day and if you don’t like it come home.’
Charlotte Wilson: How does hip-hop differ from contemporary dance?
Toa Kohatura Paranihi: A lot of ways. For one, the industries are completely opposite almost. In hip-hop it’s very competition-based. If you’re doing hip-hop classes you’re most likely going to try to get placings at nationals and represent new Zealand. Not that you can’t create in hip-hop, but it’s very rare to have hip-hop shows creating just for the fun of it. I think that’s what pulled me in to Tu Move.
Charlotte Wilson: Was there ever a battle between rugby and dance for you guys?
Toa Kohatura Paranihi: Yeah, I’ve played rugby ever since I was a little boy up until college, until Paula snatched me up. I was very focussed on rugby, not necessarily as a career. It was something I had a deep passion for…I’d say yes, definitely [there was a battle between rugby and ballet in my mind]. You have this persona as a dude that plays rugby. Dancing isn’t ‘all that’. You don’t see many dancers here in New Zealand. You actually do now - it’s really grown and it’s awesome.
When you play rugby that’s what you live and breathe. You go out and play Saturday rugby, you come home. Then all the family and friends would come over and you’d watch the All Blacks or Crusaders or something on TV every Saturday night. I still love it. It’s not like I’m gonna push that away now. It’s still a part of me.
Charlotte Wilson: What do your mates and your whanau make of you dancing?
Toa Kohatura Paranihi: I used to be a very nervous kid, like ‘Oh, yeah. I dance...’ Now I say that I dance because I’ve been to Worlds and that- I’ve represented New Zealand and danced. They’re accepting. It was very hard for me to say that I danced when I was a little child. They’re all good with it now, they respect it. I think I was just nervous.
Charlotte Wilson: How about you, Connor? Have you ever been confronted with that stereotype of ‘boys don’t dance’?
Connor Masseurs: I did see it as a kid, but I just didn’t really mind about it. From 8 to 11 I was the only boy in the hip-hop class and there was 15 of us. But I didn’t care. I thought I was pretty cool, you know? I just loved it… I was quite outgoing so I didn’t mind what anyone else’s opinions were on it. My family were really supportive so that’s cool, that was a big help.
Charlotte Wilson: Paula, do you think that stereotype is changing now?
Paula Steeds-Huston: Yes. I definitely do. Contemporary dance is getting way more accessible. World of Wearable Arts – which these guys have been involved in – helps support and show it’s an avenue you can go into... I do think it’s really normal for males to dance. If you’ve got something to express, do it.
Charlotte Wilson: What are your dreams? Connor? Toa?
Connor Masseurs: Dreams… oh, wow. The big goal is just to work with everyone as I can in the industry, create as much work as I can. As long as I’m participating strongly and heavily in the contemporary [dance] industry I’ll be happy.
Toa Kohatura Paranihi: I’m the same, I’m not really one to settle on one thing. I just want to be out there exploring and taking in as much as I can from anyone and everyone and everything that I see. It’d be nice to travel the world, but who knows what life is gonna throw? As long as I’m loving it I’ll keep doing it.