24 year-old Michael Metuakore was born to dance. It’s evident from his role in New Zealand film Born to Dance, killing it as a member of award-winning dance crew The Royal Family, and now, his stint in Las Vegas dancing for the one and only Jennifer Lopez (no biggie!).
Dance has always had a huge presence in Michael’s life. In fact, you could say it all started with The Macarena! Now he’s in Las Vegas, performing in J-Lo’s three-year All I Have show.
Through it all, it’s clear that Michael has stayed true to his roots and values, and continues to dedicate himself to his passion. We spoke with him about his journey so far, about being a young dancer growing up in small town Tokoroa, and his tips for other aspiring young dancers.
How did you first start dancing and what drew you to hip hop over other dance styles?
I had an interest in dancing from a very young age. I was always around my Polynesian family and was involved with the primary and intermediate school Polyfest performances. I was drawn to the style of hip hop because I knew it was something that I was comfortable with. I started busting out routines from music videos at school socials and just knew hip hop was the one for me. I love all styles of dance, I love the way the body moves to express a language, but hip hop is for me.
What is your first memory of dance?
My first memory of dance would be attending the Strathmore Primary School Social with my brother in our matching Cook Island shirts, forming a circle of just me and him and busting out routines to S-Club 7 and doing The Macarena which attracted the entire hall to join in.
When did you realise that you wanted to be a professional dancer and is this something you ever had reservations about?
This came very late in my dancing experiences. I didn’t know what it took to become a professional and what I had to do. It was always a hobby and a passion of mine that made me feel good. It wasn’t until I joined The Royal Family and trained under Parris Goebel that I realised dancing can be a professional job and a career. During my time with her I grew as a dancer and learned the industry, eventually becoming more aware of what I needed to do.
Which dancers have inspired you most throughout your life?
Obviously Parris Goebel.
What has it been like dancing with Parris Goebel and the Royal Family?
It’s definitely been a learning curve for me. When I first joined I wasn’t the dancer I am today. It hasn’t been an easy road. A lot of hard work, sacrifices, time and patience. I’m happy to come out on the other side and thank Parris for being the mentor I needed throughout the last four years to get me to where I am today. The Royal Family is a family. We come from different backgrounds and experiences, yet we collectively form a family that kill it on stage.
What was it like being in Born to Dance? Do you have a favourite memory from set?
Absolutely amazing! It was my first film, never acted before and was blown away by everything that goes into a movie. My favourite memory from set would be performing the final scene in front of all our friends and family. It was only two takes but we’d been rehearsing all this time and to finally deliver it felt surreal. I gave it my all and was happy with the final result.
You’ve been selected to dance for J-Lo – did you ever imagine it would happen and what was the audition process like?
I imagined I would become a dancer. For who and when wasn’t very clear, but now that’s all become a reality. To be given this opportunity from 300 guys to the final 7 is… I can’t explain the feeling. It’s more so relieving to know that all my hard work has paid off and anything is possible.
The audition process was very intense. I literally flew in the night before [and] attended the audition the next day. I was surrounded by the best in the industry, dancers I followed on social media that danced for the likes of Chris Brown, Rihanna, Lady Gaga, Beyoncé, Nicki Minaj, Iggy Azalea and more. This initially made me feel intimidated, knowing that they’ve been through this process before. They were so casual about it and here I was all the way from NZ attending my first audition without a clue what to expect.
We were called in, learned the steps and auditioned the piece to Get Right in groups of eight. You were given a whisper in your ear – either a “thank you” or “come back at 4pm” – once you had finished. Luckily I was given a “come back at 4pm” and the first cut was made. From here I knew I had to book this job and I didn’t travel all this way for nothing. Those that were called back at 4pm auditioned again and another cut was made.
After an intense two-day process, I was fortunate to book the job.
What are your goals for your dream dancing career?
Now that I’ve achieved the dream of back-up dancing for an artist, my next goal is to book for a world tour.
What do you think is the most important quality for a dancer to have?
How much time is dedicated to practice?
I wouldn’t give it a time period. It’s a lifestyle! Although I’m at rehearsals for eight hours a day I still go home and practice and run routines just to make sure I know the steps and I’m confident to do the steps with my eyes closed. The same when you wake up. There will always be steps running through my mind, regardless of the time of day or where I am.
What advice do you have for young dancers?
Believe in yourself. Have confidence to believe in yourself. Set yourself goals! Surround yourself with the right people [who] are going to help you achieve these goals. WORK! WORK! WORK! Perfect practice makes perfection!