Taking a seat at the judges table once again for the new season of Step Up or Step Out on etv, Emile Lester Jansen aka Emile YX is as passionate about dance as ever, having been on the scene since the 80s in the first official b-boy crew in SA. We picked his brains about the dance reality show, what it means to be a judge and so much more!
HYPE: Do today’s dancers stick to the authenticity of the dance
Emile: Back in the day we did not have as much access to information or visuals as they have these days. I can honestly say that it made how we danced very different from the dancers from the USA. This was a good thing because it represented the difficulty of getting access. The down side was that it took much longer to master things. The up side is that we were naming it by our ideas of what it should be called and how it fit into our perception of things. I remember first travelling overseas and people saying how different we look and original our flavour was. These days many dancers anywhere in the world look alike when they dance. Authenticity of the basics are always important, but what is not being taught is that you have to end up dancing and looking like YOU. I always ask: “what are you contributing to the culture of hip hop, if all you are doing is copying others and never creating?”
What’s the first style of dance that you mastered?
Before I started popping, I was dancing like Michael Jackson; like most kids globally. I had no idea that he was copying street dancers like Poppin’ Taco and Jeffery Daniels and even taking classes from them. I don’t believe in the word “mastering”, because it’s an ongoing learning curve for the rest of your life and I never want to feel like that’s it. So, I started out with Popping and then soon afterward started b-boying. My first crew was called Pop Glide Crew in 1982, because we started as poppers and then as we learnt b-boying we implemented it into our shows and battles. This was directly related to how the information about the dance styles arrived here in South Africa. Popping first and then b-boying.
How do you want to be perceived on the show as a judge?
For me, nothing is more important than your ability at that moment in time. As a street dancer from back in the day, that actually danced for money on the streets of Cape town, I know that you have to make the most of the moment to entertain people or they will walk away and continue doing what they were doing. So it’s about the technique, yes, but it’s also about entertaining and making the viewers, including me, feel like you are having fun, loving what you are doing and inhabit the music. You, the dance and the music are lost in each other. As a judge, I really don’t care what people think of me, because I have no control over that and I am on the show to do a job. I have to select the best street dance crew in South Africa irrespective of dance style, race and language. It’s all about bringing your best and that’s it for me. When we have selected the best 3 crews it’s all in the hands of South Africans and I hope and pray that they vote according to DANCE and nothing else.
What do you hope the viewers take away from watching the show?
I hope that the viewers realize the time and effort put in by these dancers to bring their creations to the country and give them respect for being creators. I would hope that our country could learn more about CREATING ITS own from the show, but that’s just me being too deep about it I suppose [laughs]. Politicians could learn that you turn thought into action from this, instead of talking about what they going to do, JUST DO [laughs]. I hope that the country sees how much passion dancers have and how much they are willing to sacrifice to attain their dreams. Lastly, I hope that they go out and hire some of these dancers to create work for them so that they may be positively employed and make dance an actual career in this country for the people that are the most creative and not just those with the money to own studios.
What are you most looking forward to in this season?
My favourite part is always “sweat week” because it creates interesting new dance moves and blends. It also exposes the dancers to new dance styles and that expands their creative ability and potential to get work. I LOVE THAT PART OF IT. I’m all about mixing things up and creating something that you can only get to see in South Africa. As a country we need to take more advantage of our diverse mixture and create new things instead of sticking to the illusion of purity. All humans come from Africa and thus all creativity sprung from here and spread to the rest of the world. There is no need to see things separated when they all have a common root. Mix it up already …
New album will be released soon, will you use the show to release it?