ANYBODY ZINE writer Kopano Maroga had the opportunity to sit down with choreographer, teacher and dancer Rudi Smit and get the low-down on this incredible individual who is taking South African dance and hip-hop to the next level…
“I started dancing when I was nine. Popstars was on TV at the time. And 101 originated from the show. I saw them dance for the first time and I just had that moment where I was like – this is amazing, I absolutely love this. I just connected with it immediately.
My parents happened to record that show for some crazy reason. And I started putting that tape into the VHS every day and just watching it, learning the choreography of the entire show… then I went on to doing silly little shows in the living room for my family when they came over and these kind of things.
When I was 12, eventually I decided I wanted to perform in front of my school. I was very nervous about it. Because it was weird for a boy to dance all the time… and then I danced and everything was really cool and it was received really well. I think it was something I needed so much. I was the awkward kid in school and I was bullied all the time. Never really physically, but oh my gosh… I would be made fun of so much.
That was my moment and I needed that. It kind of made people understand that I have my thing that I’m good at. And people started respecting me a lot more after that and the issues that I had in school started to die down (which was really great.)
And ja – from there I went on to join a studio. When I was twelve years old, after six months of being at the studio, I started teaching. The teacher saw that I liked creating and at that point, I didn’t know I was choreographing. I didn’t know what that meant. To me I was just making moves.
She gave me the opportunity to create on her students. From there, thing’s just kind of blew up. I started working for a lot of other people and I started choreographing for a lot of other people and I started doing workshops in Cape Town and people just started noticing my talent, I guess. I just started doing more and more and more from there.
It’s kind of like what I specialised in for a very long time in Cape Town. 2007 came around and I competed in a competition called ABC with a group of friends. One of the judges, Kumari Suraj from LA was at the show. She saw us and she was like, “You need to come and audition for my show I’m doing next year in South Africa.”
We were all like, “Oh my god! This woman from America wants to audition us!” It was crazy! We ended up going to the audition shortly after. I was on holiday, actually, in Cape Agulhas with friends at the tender age of 14 or something. My parents drove all the way from Cape Town to Agulhas to come fetch me, took me to the studio, the next day I auditioned. Then we waited two or three days (me and my friend auditioned together.) We found out we made it in and then a week or two later we started with training and then that was my introduction to everything else. Waacking, voguing, popping, locking, breaking, krumping – everything.
When I saw waacking and voguing, I was like – this is me on a platter. I love this… I just loved it! And I was so terrible at it for so long! I went home and I just worked, worked, worked the whole time to get it done. (Laughs).
Ja. I worked so exceptionally hard. I practised every day and then I just became much better at it. And then I was like, shit, okay, well now I like this – here’s another thing that I’m really passionate about.
Having been introduced to all these different styles, it changed my vocabulary of dance tremendously. I started choreographing crews of my own, around fifteen, sixteen years old. When I was fifteen we entered Hip Hop International for the first time. We won in Joburg, this was with Untamed (the first group I had created.) We went to Vegas to go and compete in the World Hip Hop Dance Championships. Our very first year we placed 13th out of 42, which was not bad at all. We were very happy with it.
Having done a lot of research on YouTube at the time, I asked my parents if I could stay on in LA for two weeks and knowing Kumari, I had a place to stay because she was living there. She opened up her apartment to me. To cut a long story short, ever since then I’ve been going to LA every year from 2009 until 2013.
I matriculated in 2010 so from then on, I started staying longer and longer each time. I missed school for two weeks. My parents were fine with it, my teachers were fine with it. My teachers always kind of knew I was very ambitious and this was my career and they respected that because I kept my grades good and I would freak out if I had bad grades, they knew I was a good student.
So, ja! Going to LA opened a lot of doors. I got the opportunity to take class a lot, to train, have teachers see me and see my work. I got to build up my own portfolio in LA by teaching classes there. Once people started recognizing me they started asking me to teach. I subbed for teachers that I knew at studios like Debbie Reynolds and Millennium Dance Complex and Movement Lifestyle and it was just a crazy whirlwind! It was insane!
I moved on to doing Carnival in LA, which is a really huge deal: Carnival Choreographers Ball. I did three pieces, 2011, 2012 and 2013. That also helped me a lot with exposure. Things just spiralled. This kind of escalated really quickly but I think I was around a lot of hard-working dancers when I was young.
When I was very young, I was in a place where people pushed very hard in rehearsals. Work was what you did. You didn’t come to play games and I think the right values were instilled into me from very young age. It helped me work very hard for what I have today.
Today I’m travelling around the world, teaching, choreographing for shows, choreographing for video projects for people. I’ve travelled to 21 countries in the last three years. Some of those countries I’ve re-visited over seven times already. So I’ve been travelling a lot. It’s been incredible. It was one of my biggest goals, since I was very young – to teach and travel
There was a lot of weirdness around the fact that I was travelling and teaching when it first started happening, I often felt like people [in the dance community] were not very supportive and it was a weird time.
I just felt like the energy that I received back was sometimes very shady. But that has changed a lot and I don’t feel that anymore. I think people have gotten to know that this is my path, my career, this is what I do and they respect that.
YouTube has helped me tremendously and Facebook has helped me tremendously in booking work, because I post my videos on Facebook and YouTube and people have happened to see them. Through that, people have contacted me to do work for them and I think that is one great aspect of social media… I absolutely love it. The thing I don’t like about social media is all the drama and all the shadiness.
The world is seeing that there is a lot of potential and talent in Cape Town, not even potential, there is a lot of greatness in Cape Town. It’s not about potential anymore, there’s a lot of greatness in Cape Town and there’s a lot that’s been happening in Cape Town that makes me feel that way. There are massive opportunities coming to Cape Town and I think people are starting to see that we have a lot here and all the talent is not just in LA. LA is just beyond, but we have incredible talent here and I think that’s awesome.
“One of the most powerful messages that we can carry across within dance or through dance is that there is just endless potential to the stories you can tell with your body.”
“We can comment on any subject or topic through movement and that is something that I really love about dancing.”
Some tips to help you be a fierce and successful dance practitioner from Rudi Smit:
Know your aesthetic, what you want to do, what you want to represent, what you want other people to take from watching you. Know your purpose and intention.
Have a voice.
Be honest with yourself. Know when you suck, know when you’re good. Know how to fix the sucky moments and how to make yourself great. Also – know that just because you suck at one thing doesn’t mean you suck point blank.
Understand your craft. You need the knowledge and information about what you’re sharing with other people. (Especially when there’s a style, a term, a history behind how you’re moving.)
And you need to know it’s okay to not know everything.
It’s very important to be absolutely fearless in the presentation of yourself. You need to be comfortable with being uncomfortable.
If you want to make a video one day where you are wearing, I don’t know… a pineapple on your head, and you’re wearing sunglasses made out of cigarettes and you’re wearing a pink tutu and that is your vision – then you need to be comfortable enough to say:
“I realize that this is uncomfortable and the world out there must think I’m crazy, and this is going to be strange but… this is my vision. This is my artistry. And this is what I’m going to put out. “
I mean, that’s a crazy vision or visual I gave you there… But I think it’s important to just have that fearlessness when it comes to putting your work out there. It’s very important to stand up for what you believe in as an artist and to show people that.
I think that’s what makes us magical. The fact that you thought about that, nobody else thought about the pineapple and the cigarette glasses… and the pink tutu.
–Interview with Rudi Smit by Kopano Maroga