It’s a pretty big deal to be able to say you’ve empowered hundreds of women to shine through dance, but that’s exactly what Amrita Hepi does for a living. Among being selected as one of David Jones’ up-and-coming talents in their Watch This Space campaign and teaching Beyonce inspired dance classes, she’s found the time to launch Hollaback – a new dance class intended to offer an inclusive and enjoyable environment for those who just want to dance unreservedly. Drawing from her experiences as a female performer and reflecting on her Indigenous heritage, she’s got some serious wisdom to lay down.
Tell me about Hollaback! When did it start and how will the classes run?
Hollaback was born out of the Beyonce dance classes that ran at Goodgod (RIP) – those classes hold some of my fondest movement memories. Some nights we would have about 150 people come through class and it was such a powerful energy to be a part of. So often I would hear young women saying “I love coming to this because it doesn’t feel like a dance class” – so I wanted to take some responsibility and make dance, and the experience of learning it a bit better and more inclusive. I wanted to make a safe space where people felt positive about their body whilst moving it – whether it be in a body roll or just standing tall and proud. I also love rap music, Beyonce and playing it loud in dark places…….that’s Hollaback.
When did it become apparent that dancing was going to be a career for you and not a hobby? Have you been a dancer since you were very young?
My earliest memories of dancing were just listening to mum’s jazzamatazz CD’s and going ham in our tiny loungeroom at age three or four for hours. Then contact improv class, going to corroboree and watching Janet Jackson. Then at age 5, the creation of my first dance work “Emu, Lizard, Spirit, Janet Jackson”. Later in the game, after not getting into a school dance group, I started ballet, contempoary, jazz and did all that eistedfodd stuff at age 8 and just kept going until I was about 18. I stopped for a little while then the passion was reignited. I started working at a local dance school in Surry Hills called Dance Central. I then studied at NAISDA and at uni, I travelled, trained and performed in the US. I guess it became a career because I literally wasn’t doing anything else. If I wasn’t physically dancing, I was talking about it, writing about it, watching it. I was and am obsessed – I think that was evident and effective. And now its all I do!
Congratulations on being featured as one of David Jones’ up and coming talents for their Watch This Space campaign! 2015 has been a big year for you, what are your plans for 2016?
Awww thank you! S/O to DJ’S and Radge and the team for making me look kewl. In 2016 I’m co-creating my first full length dance work called Passing for Nextwave festival in Melbourne, I’m expanding Hollaback (we’ll still be at Goodgod and beyond) , I’m teaching with Heaps Decent and in remote parts of Oz, learning more about my beautiful indigenous heritage, writing for my faves at Junkee and Oyster, theres a madi gras float in the mix, radio segments, making more performance art, Learning Ausland, video stuff, a fun project with the Sydney Opera House, being a better WoC feminist activist and so many beautiful collabs. Bring it!
So you taught Beyoncé dance classes at Goodgod, I’m guessing you’re a big fan! What do you think we can learn from Queen Bey?
Someone once told me that Beyonce speaks to everyone, she’s an international icon – especially for minority groups and the oppressed. Generally the only people that don’t really like her or who don’t “get it” are: white privileged, cis, men who are like; “she’s a bit full on isn’t she?” – yeah well you know what?……….so is oppression. Bow Down.
I’ve heard people criticise contemporary female dancers for being too ‘sexualised’, even when the dances are choreographed by women for women. Has this misinformed criticism been something you’ve witnessed in your industry?
Ughhhhh, so much and it makes me sick. It’s about the gaze and the way it’s watched that’s the problem – not the choreography or the dancers or their gender. And so what if it’s sexy? Contemporary dance can be as sexy or as funny as it wants – it’s all still valid and worthwhile.
When you teach a dance class, what is the most important thing that you want your participants to get out of it?
An unbridled sense of self through movement – even if it’s only for five seconds. It’s illuminating.
What advice would you give to those who want to dance but are too nervous (or uncoordinated)?
Nobody is expecting you to be the best, or Beyonce – just do it to better yourself.