Interview: Meet the teacher - Hakeem Onibudo
Hakeem Onibudo is a street dance performer, choreographer, director, mentor, founder of Impact Dance Company and professional host/MC at red carpet events, who began teaching dance in 1995. He is now the artistic director of the LIVE VIBE performance platform and was made an ambassador for the British Council Cultural Leadership International Development Programme in 2009. This month he received an Arts Council England Change Maker Award to undertake a training placement at The Place, the home of the Contemporary Dance Trust in central London, with the aim of increasing the number of Black and minority ethnic people who engage with the organisation, whether as audience members, staff, artists or students.
Hakeem has been teaching his Xpress Yo’Self at DanceWorks, in the West End, for over 20 years. Participants learn fresh routines dancing to an eclectic mix of music. Whatever the level of class – Beginners or General – he always aims to create a non-intimidating, supportive environment.
How did you start dancing?
I was always dancing from a young age with my brothers and sisters. They used to go clubbing a lot and I would dance with them before they went out. At university I used to run the Afro-Caribbean Society and one day I choreographed a routine. That gave me the appetite for it. Then in 1995 I stumbled across Danceworks by mistake and decided to make a cheeky phone call with no dance experience what so ever. The lady laughed at me but gave me a class. The rest, as they say, is history.
Who have been your heroes and inspirations in dance and in life?
In dance: Michael Jackson, Kate Prince (Zoonation), Kenneth Tharp (Chief Executive, The Place)
In life: Will Smith, Tom Hanks, Nayomi Onibudo (my daughter)
Your motto is “Motivate, lead, inspire”. What drives and motivates you in your work with young people?
My family didn’t support me in my career path. I had no one. So now I use that negative to look for the good in people. I try to let my story inspire other people and show with hard work and determination anything is possible.
You’ve been teaching classes at Danceworks for over 20 years, and your classes are always popular. How do you keep it fresh?
I focus on the most important people: the participants. I continually stay in touch with trends and evolvement. I do not allow an intimidating environment within my class.
Where have you been as a British Council Ambassador?
Lebanon, Morocco, Tunisia, San Francisco , Hong Kong, Zimbabwe, Jordan
You’ve just received an Arts Council Change Makers Award – a scheme aimed at increasing cultural diversity in the arts. What will it mean for you?
Receiving the Change Makers award comes at a pivotal point in my career. The last 20 years have proved I can deliver projects and make considerable change to the sector. But this new partnership with The Place, with its support, expertise and exemplary track record in the dance sector, provides a firm platform for me to further develop my skills and, in return offer my extensive experience to hopefully create new projects and conversations.
I am very grateful for the support of the Arts Council to further the Creative Case for Diversity. With this award I hope to bring lasting change to the sector and shape important interventions for BAME creatives. I hope I can inspire young and old to be the best they can be in terms of leadership and allow the empowerment of many more in future years.
How do you spend your down time?
I love going to the cinema with good company. Also love my box sets. But I also love switching off all electrical appliances eg phones tvs and radios and meditating.
Hakeem’s Xpress Yo’Self classes are open to all, minimum age 11
Monday: Beginners 6pm – 7pm; General 7pm – 8pm
Danceworks, 16 Balderton Street, London W1K 6TN
(Opposite Selfridges Clock)
Watch a clip of the 20th anniversary Xpress Yo’Self class last year…
A version of this interview appears on the Danceworks website