Bits 'n' Pieces: Well-traveled choreographer returns to Vancouver for visit

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photoA meet and greet with Hudson’s Bay High School graduate Kumari Suraj and Professor Lock from the program “So You Think You Can Dance” will take place Wednesday.

If you go

What: Meet and Greet with Kumari Suraj & Professor Lock of “So You Think You Can Dance.”

When: 5 to 7 p.m. Wednesday.

Where: Marketplace Courtyard, 210 W. Evergreen Blvd.

Cost: Free.

Information: Kumari Suraj

Kumari Suraj, a pioneer in the hip-hop form known as “waacking,”has traveled the world, performing and teaching in 20 countries on five continents. Now she’s coming home to Vancouver for a visit.

As the hip-hop choreographer from the Fox television show “So You Think You Can Dance,” the 2001 Hudson’s Bay High School graduate is recognized the world over for her signature waacking dance moves. The dance form waacking emerged from Los Angeles during the disco era.

The trajectory on which Suraj, 28, has risen since creating and choreographing Hudson’s Bay’s first official competitive hip-hop team is impressive. She said hip-hop “absolutely” has gained acceptance since those early days.

Her hip-hop team was the first ever to perform at the high school state competition. “The judges threw their hands in the air. They didn’t know how to react,” she said.

“The umbrella term ‘hip-hop’ covers a range of styles not born in a dance studio: locking, popping, hip-hop, house, waacking, vogue, krump and more,” Suraj explained. “It is a universal language. I have taught in Russia, Taiwan and Italy, where the language barrier is difficult. However, since we are sharing the same body language, it allows us to communicate effortlessly.”

During the TV show’s hiatus, she spent two months performing in China with her dance crew, The Waackers, and another month dancing and teaching workshops throughout Asia.

“Last weekend I judged the world-renowned Hip-Hop International qualifiers in Russia,” Suraj relayed via email. “Today, I am waiting to board my flight to Australia to teach workshops and to choreograph a show.”

Suraj’s impressive professional dance credits include founder/director of The Waackers, The Jungle Jills and LA.’s International Waackfest, and creator of the London Waacktitioners. She was the first to bring waacking, vogue and house movement to South Africa.

Her most unexpected experience so far has been “the effect and influence I have had in people’s lives the world over with dance. People have told me they felt stronger and more encouraged to conquer life after experiencing a class.”

She recalls a student in Africa who she later learned had planned to commit suicide the day she took Suraj’s dance class.

“But when she heard what I had to say during the class, she was encouraged and decided to press on to a new day,” Suraj said. “That was six years ago. She is still alive today. It’s a humbling feeling to have such an impression on someone’s life. To actually know that you made a little difference in the world.”

“Hip-hop dance is global,” she added. “For the youth who participate, it is an outlet for social/political change in their communities. And they use it as such.”

When she isn’t traveling, Suraj makes her home in Los Angeles. Her busy schedule allows her to return home to Vancouver only about once per year. The daughter of photographer Kate Singh, Suraj arrives in Vancouver today. Over the next week Suraj will perform at a fusion showcase in Portland, and teach a private dance class at the Vancouver School of Arts and Academics and two public workshops in Portland.

“I love to give back what I have learned,” she said. “Where better to do it than home?”

-- Susan Parrish

Bits ’n’ Pieces appears Fridays and Saturdays. If you have a story you’d like to share, email bits@columbian.com.