In the late 1990s, breakdancing saved Tauranga's Rush Wepiha from a life of crime. Now, 20 years later, he's bringing his craft home to try and help other young people stay on the straight and narrow.
Rush, 34, is an established figure in the hip hop world, with his dance crew five-time winners of the Australian B-Boy Championships. He's also a judge at international breaking competitions, and was a choreographer for season one of the American television show ‘So You Think You Can Dance'.
He has lived in Australia for most of his career, working largely as a youth mentor, but has come home to Tauranga and is launching his work here with hip hop and breaking workshops.
“I was always into dance,” he says. “As a little kid I was into Michael Jackson and hip hop music. In 1997/98 there was a resurgence in breakdancing and I jumped on that. In 2002 I decided to move to Australia and pursue a career in dance.”
He taught at dance studios in Sydney before competing in and judging competitions in Europe and America. While the competitions bring with them great prestige in the dance world, Rush says he gets great satisfaction from youth work.
“When I started dancing it gave me something to focus on and put all my energy into. It was a massive thing in my life that got me on track and helped me channel my frustration and expression.
“It helped teach me the basic principles of life and how to improve myself. I push the same messages in my classes with kids.”
“Me and my brothers started dancing together but they got caught up in other stuff and spent a lot of time in prison. That's another reason I want to work with kids, to catch them early before they get to that stage.”
Rush says he was heading in the same direction as his brothers, but his competitive nature won out and he decided that in order to be the best, he had to be fit and healthy and practice every day, which didn't leave him any time for getting up to mischief.
“It was the main factor in getting me on track.”
Rush returned to Tauranga from Australia in December and plans to work with young people here as much as possible. One of his first dance workshops will be at the Vector Group Charitable Trust's youth and community centre in Te Puke on Saturday, February 24.
Vector Group director Stephen Fawcett says the community is “excited” to be hosting Rush and hopes to offer more youth events this year around deejaying, graffiti art, music and dance. “We also have Ceroc and other dance forms in the pipeline and we're excited about the facility becoming well-utilised for youth engagement and development,” says Stephen.
To find out more about Rush's dance workshops and to register, message Rush on his Facebook page: www.facebook.com/rush.wepiha or email: email@example.com