Can't knock the hustle

Can't knock the hustle

Local street dancers overcome obstacles to thrive on stage

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Lam Sze-wai, better known as "yellow", says most locals don't appreciate street dance.
Lam Sze-wai, better known as "yellow", says most locals don't appreciate street dance.
Photo: Marvin Ng

With elbows locked and body twisting slightly to the left, Lam Sze-wai raises one of his arms, while moving the other towards the floor. It's hard to visualise such a move in the head, but when popping dance artist Lam, aka Yellow, performs it, it's as if a robot has just come to life.

"Popping has a strong focus on effects, such as robot moves," says Yellow, who was crowned champion in the freestyle category at the Dance@Live Hong Kong over the weekend.

Originating from Japan, Dance@Live is a global street dance competition, with qualifiers in 15 countries, including the United States, Australia and South Korea. The contest was held for the first time in Hong Kong this year. Besides Yellow, two other champions were crowned - Yu Yuk-man, better known as Monkey J, who won the breaking category, and Li Zhe, or Lil'G, who ruled the hip-hop section.

Yellow's journey to the top has not been easy - for one, Hong Kong isn't exactly supportive of street dance.

"Hong Kong isn't really ready for the street dance culture, let alone for the government to support and promote it," the 24-year-old says. "And it's very disappointing."

Yellow believes the artform is being treated unfairly here.

"Perhaps it's because the dance comes from overseas, with a sort of ghetto origin, so some [locals] have a negative image of it," he says. "However, people overseas consider street dancers as artists, and show them as much respect as they would to those who work in an office."

He believes Hong Kong's busy lifestyle prevents people from enjoying forms of self-expression like dancing.

A resident of Tung Chung, Yellow used to practise dancing with friends at a shopping mall in his hometown. But when people left trash all over the floor, the dancers - whom Yellow insists were innocent - were blamed for the mess, and were banned from the mall.

For a while, they took to the streets, using empty cardboard boxes as padding. They eventually found a new stage - the amphitheatre at Yat Tung Estate in Tung Chung.

Even then, they weren't free from being stereotyped. "We would be dancing and every now and then a social worker would approach us and try to talk to us, because they just assumed we were at-risk youths," recalls Monkey J, who owns Mind Studio in Kwun Tong.

But the situation is slowly improving, Yellow says, especially with the opening of the West Kowloon Promenade. This is an open area where street dancers can practise without causing unwanted distractions or attention, he adds. "It's like those abandoned car parks overseas, where people would gather for a competition."

Now a full-time electrician, Yellow went to Australia two years ago to teach street dance.

He says he's happy to see more underground venues opening up in Hong Kong, such as the one at Polytechnic University and the vibrant scene next to the Olympic Station. There are also a few dance studios tucked away inside industrial buildings in Kwun Tong. A new dance venue recently opened under the flyover next to the Kwun Tong Promenade.

Yellow is preparing for the Dance@Live World Cup, which will be held in Taiwan in June.

"My popping style is quite different because it doesn't seem like popping at all," he says.

"I'm just applying my popping skills to other types of dance, such as Latin, house, and hip hop.

"For now, I'm going to listen to more music to get my body used to the beats."

This article appeared in the Young Post print edition as
Can't knock the hustle

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