From dancing at a young age with his friends in his neighbourhood to winning the first Red Bull Dance Your Styles qualifier in New Zealand, hip-hop dancer John Vaifale, aka Happyfeet, shares his story on how he started dancing, his experience competing at the Red Bull dance battles earlier this year and making his way to Frankfurt, Germany for the Red Bull Dance Your Style world finals.
Red Bull Dance Your Style is a global all-styles street dance event series with a unique battle format. With over 4,000 dancers from more than 45 countries having competed, Happyfeet, the young Samoan hip-hop dancer from South Auckland, will be the first and only New Zealander to compete in the world final, where he'll go head to head against the best and most entertaining dancers in the world.
TIA SAGAPOLUTELE Thanks for chatting with me today. Would you mind introducing yourself to start with?
HAPPYFEET Sure. My name is John Vaifale, aka Happyfeet. I'm Samoan, born and raised in Manurewa, South Auckland and I'm a hip-hop dancer and freestyler representing Projekt Team, HLGNZ, Hyperush Empire and Instance Movement.
TIA How did you get into dancing?
HAPPYFEET My old man used to break-dance back in the '80s when Beat Street (the movie) came out and I guess it got passed down to me. I had always been quite fidgety as a young kid so I guess it translated into dancing. In 2009, I started to take it more seriously and learn how to break-dance with my friends. We would watch videos in our local library then head to the carpark next door and practice everything we saw. From then on, the rest is history.
TIA You competed at the Red Bull Dance Your Style NZ competition earlier in the year which was held here at Britomart. How was the process leading up to it?
HAPPYFEET The lead up to Red Bull Dance Your Style NZ was really stressful. When something is super important to you, you get nervous. I got to a point where I was losing a bit of sleep because I would be laying in bed at 2am and then I'd get this random urge to train. I would research and watch footage of previous Red Bull Dance Your Style battles and see what it would feel like. A lot of sleepless nights and long hours in the studio to train and practice creative ideas. For me, the main worry I had was knowing that everyone in the competition had just as much of a chance as I did, so I knew that I would have to fight for the title.
TIA Have you been to a Red Bull Dance Your Styles event before the one you competed in?
HAPPYFEET Yes, four years ago, myself and my crew Projekt Team had travelled over to America for the Hip Hop International dance championships. We had two extra weeks after the competition and ended up going to L.A. On the day we arrived, we had seen on social media the L.A Red Bull Dance Your Style qualifier was happening and decided to go. We bought some tickets and the atmosphere was crazy! The lineup of dancers were people that I looked up to, so it was crazy to see them dance in real life. I remember walking out of the competition and thinking I'd love to bring this comp to New Zealand one day. Fast forward to today and I won the first qualifier in Aotearoa, New Zealand - a full circle moment.
TIA That's amazing! Congratulations on winning the Red Bull Dance Your Styles New Zealand qualifier. Can you share your experience of the battles?
HAPPYFEET It was so good. When I arrived at the event, it was already crazy seeing how everything was set up. All the dancers were called up and once the first battle started, my heart started to beat fast. I was up next against dancer and popper Sejoo who is a killer in the scene. To have him as my first battle was nerve-wracking because he's such a skilled dancer. During the battle, I realised I needed to be more explosive but also entertaining to pull the crowd in. Fortunately, I was able to take the win from the first round. For my next battles, I went up against dancers Honey, XII and Avneil Mohan. Every battle was different so I made sure before every round, I planned everything and kept my mind in the zone.
When it came to the final round, Avneil and I left everything on the floor. I remember standing there while the emcees were talking and thinking this is the moment I've been working hard for and now I'm going to find out the result. The audience decided who the winner was by putting up a red or blue card and when it was time to announce the winner, all the cards went up and all I saw was red. I couldn't believe it! Such a crazy feeling. I ended up thinking back to the years I spent in Manurewa, Clendon Library and the carpark where my friends were using $2 speakers to play our music. Fast forward, 13 years later and standing with the Red Bull trophy as the winner was a surreal moment. I felt relieved and I was able to breathe again.