RACHEL JONES looks at the world of streetdance and meets some performers from Portsmouth group 2nd 2 Nun
With timing that could rival the inner workings of a watch, the nation’s favourite street dance acts dazzle audiences with their talent, energy and precision.
Glued and gobsmacked television viewers watch eye-popping acrobatics and performers moving together as though they’re one human machine.
On a Tuesday evening in a room at Southsea Fire Station, a group of talented dancers no doubt have half their minds on the perfection of top telly acts like Diversity and Flawless. But they’re also concentrating on their own routines because it’s practice night and their chance to polish their acts and make it as real street dance contenders.
These are the dancers of Portsmouth performance and choreography group 2nd 2 Nun. They’re laughing, joking and enjoying this session as a social occasion. But they’re also keeping in mind one very important thing – practice makes perfect.
‘It’s all about the practice. Obviously these groups you see on the telly are incredibly talented but they’ve worked so hard. It’s all about how much they practice. That’s how they get that immaculate timing, ’ says Gareth Smith, who set up 2nd 2 Nun .
Street dance stems from an urban counterculture but has moved to the forefront of popular culture with hit shows Britain’s Got Talent, which begins again this evening, and Sky1’s Got To Dance, which recently finished its third series. New movie Streetdance 2 is in cinemas from Friday.
‘If you look at this year’s Got To Dance, there were six street dance acts in the final, that’s incredible. And the amazing thing about these crews is they have to turn it around in about a week. When you know how much time it takes to choreograph and perfect a routine, that makes what they do phenomenal,’ says Gareth.
The 2nd 2 Nun crews (as groups are known) practice at Southsea Fire Station where Gareth is a fireman and can hire out the conference room which acts as a great dance studio. The crews are the original 220 Kru, duo Embrace Ent, girl group Allure, 220 Youth and 220 Juniors. Together they range in age from about eight to their early 30s. At 35 Gareth is the oldest.
It can take about two months to choreograph and improve a two and a half minute routine and longer to perfect it, reveals dancer Jordan O’Neill, one of 2nd 2 Nun’s choreographers.
Dancers generally meet up for practice twice a week and also offer lessons to anyone who wants to learn the moves. But it isn’t primarily a dance school and performers are selected by audition.
The crews must be doing something right as they have been performing and doing well in some prestigious competitions. 220 Kru and 220 Youth have come fourth in the All England Championships in London for their age groups, 220 Juniors have come first in the United Dance Organisation South Coast Championships (under 14) and Allure have come first in the UDO South Coast Championships (over 18 intermediate).
Last year crews and soloists qualified for and did well in the International Dance Organisation European Championships in Hip Hop, Electric Boogie and Breakdance in Denmark and the World Championships in Austria.
‘I’m really proud of how everyone’s done. It’s fantastic to see the younger ones coming through and doing really well,’ says Gareth.
Gareth had always loved the music, moves and styles of hip hop culture but didn’t start dancing until he was 28.
He decided to set up 2nd 2 Nun in 2008. His partner Becky is also in the group and the couple are getting married later this year. But he can’t reveal the details of their first dance. ‘I can only say that it probably won’t be your standard wedding dance,’ he laughs.
It should be quite a sight as street dance routines incorporate the moves of urban dances like breakdancing and funk dance styles popping and locking (see history).
Gareth says the purists of these original dance styles can be protective of them and some aren’t keen on the commercialisation of street dance.
But he sees a wider appreciation of great dancing as a good thing, although he points out that there are a lot of fantastic crews winning international competitions who are just as good as high-profile Britain’s Got Talent favourites like Diversity and Flawless.
And the Portsmouth crews have some pretty impressive skills. To Michael Jackson’s Working Day and Night, some of 220 Kru demonstrate locking, using funky movements that are jerky but also somehow flow to the rhythm. Then they’re on to the robotics, gliding and body waves of popping to electro funk sounds.
The juniors must learn all the styles that these dancers have mastered, says Gareth. But all performers are constantly working on new techniques.
The routines include many styles and even acrobatics. Some 2nd 2 Nun dancers are taking gymnastics classes so they can introduce more spectacular moves.
And many of the performers come from traditional dance backgrounds. Becky, for example, also teaches tap, modern, musical theatre and ballet.
Now 2nd 2 Nun are getting ready to go to this year’s UDO World Championships.
‘There’s a lot of variation in the group, we’re quite versatile,’ says Gareth.
‘If you’ll excuse the pun, we like to show our diversity.’