Irava and Makea Upu are gearing up to perform at the World Championships of Performing Arts in June this year after being selected by the New Zealand audition panel. Scholarships worth a total of $130,000 (US) are awarded at the prestigious event which boasts colourful opening and closing ceremonies similar to the Olympics.
Published: Wednesday, 8 February 2017 | Rāapa, 08 Huitanguru, 2017
“They’re braver than me!” says mum Jackie Davies (Rongomaiwahine, Ngāti Kahungunu) of her still primary aged children who have been dancing their way across the world over the last two years. “Makea (10) is more of a front man but Irava (12) is really focused and knows what she wants to do.”
Dancing began for the South Auckland pair when Irava was 4 years old and showed an interest in dancing. Soon they were both attending local dance classes.
“Things just grew from there,” says Jackie who credits any performance talent to their father Teaukura Chuck Upu (Cook Island Māori) who now lives in Australia but remains a proud supporter. “We went from one dance class a week to sometimes six. Makea was always there and they both just loved it. ”
At just 9 and 7 years old the siblings were dancing in a music video with Stan Walker and Ria Hall and were part of internationally renowned hip-hop dance studio The Palace. A turning point was when Irava was chosen for their Bubblegum troupe in 2013. “That was a huge achievement. The Palace is really competitive and the focus is excelling in hip-hop. Irava learnt a lot from them. That’s when I could see she was really starting to make decisions for herself.”
So much so in fact that after her year with Bubblegum Irava decided she wanted to leave The Palace so she could pursue other dance forms. That’s when things really started to happen.
In 2015 the pair signed up for a performance workshop run by LA Tribe. “They’re a group of working dancers, choreographers and directors who want to grow young New Zealanders and give them opportunities. Through them Irava won a scholarship to attend Millennium Dance Studio in LA. That was the beginning really. Through attending that workshop a new door opened for both of them – and amazingly that door has led to lots of other doors!” says the proud (and a little bewildered) mum.
In 2016 the siblings were recognised in national and international dance competitions. They also attended a 3 week Hip-hop intensive program at the Joffrey Ballet School in New York. While there they danced in a music video called ‘Snatch Yo Wigs’ for Hawaiin-born rapper and choreographer Sharaya J and were part of a flash mob performance in Central Park.
“Orignally it was just Irava who had a position on the New York programme. Two weeks out from her leaving Makea had the opportunity to audition as well and won a spot. That was amazing.” Luckily Nanny, Betty Taurima, was available to escort the mokos on their big adventure. Irava also received support from a Te Puni Kōkiri Rangatiratanga Grant. “The Rangatiratanga Grant was the clincher really. Two weeks was just too much time for me to take off work. If it wasn’t for Mum and TPK’s support they just wouldn’t have been able to go,” says Jackie.
2017 holds the biggest challenge yet for Jackie and her whānau. “The World Championships of Performing Arts is another step up for us. It’s an invitation only event so expectations are quite a bit higher in terms of costumes and performance level.” Fundraising has been kicked off by the sibling’s dance studio Jete Dance in East Tāmaki who has already held two fundraisers for Irava and Makea. “We still have a way to go to get to our goal but we’re really grateful for the support of our whānau and Jete Dance Studio,” says Jackie who has booked out two weekends a month to do sausage sizzles at Mt Roskill’s Grub Hub towards the June 2017 event.
Jackie is happy both her children don’t take any of their successes for granted and are prepared to put in the work to get to the World Championships in LA. “They know they are going to have to work hard this year but they are both so motivated all I have to do is keep up with them!”
Check out Irava and Makea on their Facebook page.