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Stepping beyond hip hop

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In the groove: Eston Rawlins (centre) joins with two other dance crew members. The group has 15 members who combine the latest in hip hop with more classical genres like ballet, tap, jazz and modern

Dancing in the annual Bermuda Day Parade had lost its excitement for Eston Rawlins.

Then a year ago, he was encouraged to put together his own dance crew for the event. Mr Rawlins accepted the “challenge”.

He is now the founding member of Challenge Dance Crew.

Its 15 members combine hip hop moves with classical genres like ballet, tap, jazz and modern dance.

They came together primarily to perform for the May 24 parade, but feedback was so positive they kept at it.

“People came up to us to tell us we were very energetic and different from what they normally saw on May 24,” Mr Rawlins said.

“We tried to dance facing the crowd, rather than away from them like other groups, and got noticed. They appreciated that we were interacting with them and really stopped to perform.”

The youngest member of the crew is currently five years old, but the group generally targets dancers from age 16 up to 40.

When asked, Mr Rawlins said the crew offered something different than a regular hip hop class would.

“With a class you are learning a routine for a stage show,” he said. “You learn that dance in the way it was taught and then go about your way.

“But with Challenge we try to have fun while learning the dance and we try to single certain people out so the focus is more on them and their particular style, rather than the group as a whole. I feel every dancer should get their shot in the spotlight so they can show off something they are comfortable with, their niche.”

The group will be showing off their skills in an “Old Skool, New Skewl” event at the new Berkeley Institute cafetorium on Sunday at 7pm.

It’s a fundraising event to help three of the group’s members — Mr Rawlins, Talisa Marks and Yosefyah Williams — pursue their educational goals overseas.

Mr Rawlins said it was important for him to organise one last event before going off to train in auto body repairs in Sacramento, California.

“I wanted to do one last big thing before I leave in January,” he said. “I sat the crew down and asked if they wanted to do a party or maybe go on a vacation and they liked that idea, but funds were tight. We decided to do a show that would benefit us and give us more publicity as well.”

He’s hoping to surprise people by hosting a dance event around the holidays.

“It’s not something people would normally expect,” he said.

Mr Rawlins has been dancing since age five.

By age ten he had stopped his formal dance training and started honing his free style moves in his spare time.

He was inspired to become an entertainer after watching his parents in their respective crafts.

“My dad [Eston Rawlins Sr] actually had a group back in his prime called ‘The Gentlemen’ and they put on shows all over Bermuda,” he said.

“They would put on martial arts shows and stage shows and when he had me he was still doing a bit of dancing as well. My mom, Aneesah Furqan, was also a singer. So that’s what got me into entertaining, just seeing them do it.”

He hopes people will come out and show their support at this weekend’s event.

“We are a new group and need the support from the Island,” he said.

“I want people to come and see young people coming together to do something positive instead of the violence you hear about or guys sitting on a corner, not doing anything.

“This is proof there is still hope and there are still young people looking to do better in Bermuda.

“There are still people who are actually trying to better themselves and make a change on the Island. And the other thing is it’s not just about dance. There will be singing, acting and martial arts demonstrations as well, so there will be a lot of talent on display.”

Tickets for the ‘Old Skool, New Skewl’ event are $25 or $35 at the door of the new Berkeley cafetorium. For more information e-mail challengedancecrew@hotmail.com.

We’ve got the moves: Eston Rawlins (centre) with two other dance crew members