For Omari Edwards, one particular art form has stuck with him his whole life. Getting noticed early as someone clearly suited to hip-hop street dance, his abundant talent has led to roles in stage shows and a featuring in the music video for a well known pop song. We had a chat to reflect on his journey so far.
When did your passion begin? Was it from a young age?
OE: I’d say it began when I was 10 years old, since primary school. One memory I have is a dance teacher coming in to show us a routine and he thought I was pretty good. He recommended this dance school for me to go to, and I ended up going for about two to three years, which led me to join this company called ‘Step into Dance’ and starting doing dance there. That’s the journey more or less summed up.
Was it out of the blue or did you get involved through a family member?
OE: This more more or less out of the blue because it was in primary school. It was more or less my teacher noticing me in classes and thought I could do pretty well. I wasn’t really something my family thought I could get involved in, they actually didn’t think I could dance at the time!
Do you remember your first competition and are there any vivid memories of it?
OE: Oh wow. My very first one was I think in Brighton in 2010. I think I came second in that. It was the first time competing and it was a one-on-one street dance battle. It was very intimidating and I had to try my best in that. It went really well! I remember the judge saying “you were really good” and that kind of pushed me to try harder and go even further. I remember the next year, my second competition in 2011, I came first in that, so that helped to motivate me when I didn’t come first in the first competition.
Were they any performers that you took heart from? People will look back to that year on Britain’s Got Talent where two dance crews — Diversity and Flawless - battled it out to win, which inspired many people to take up street dance.
OE: Groups like Flawless definitely. I found them to be technically so good as dancers. Diversity have improved a lot more now. That’s what gets me as a dancer, seeing the foundations of street dance styles, like locking and popping… Those kind of styles are what inspire me as a dancer. When I see groups like Flawless and Zoonation Dance Company… that’s what I aim towards to get better, so yeah.
“I also had to learn the routine in less than ten minutes, which is crazy.”
How did it work out in secondary school? Did it help having supportive people around you?
OE: I didn’t expect it to continue into secondary school, but I’m glad it did because it opened up loads more opportunities. I remember my Drama/Geography teacher, Ms. Sharkie, she got me involved with ‘Step into Dance’, the company I was involved with for two years — I think they actually have their tenth anniversary coming up this year actually— but it’s ’cause of her I actually joined that company and improved a lot as a dancer. The performance at my school, St. Marks, in 2012 was kind of the turning point in my confidence as a performer, as a dancer. Everything went up from there, just in general really. It was a really good experience. It was terrible that day though! We lost four other people so it was just the four of us that were left that had to do the routine and sort out the formation changes on the day but we made it work.
How did it evolve from ‘Step into Dance’? You’ve told me that you’ve gone into other things after that. Was it a case of wanting to take advantage of other opportunities?
OE: It more like luck really. After ‘Step into Dance’, I did some work with some talent group called ‘Living the Dream’, they do a lot of like flash mobs. We did one for ITV, and some smaller stuff for a guy in a restaurant who was going to propose to his girlfriend! *Chuckles* There was also some other work involving a group Bird Gang, who got me involved with my first ever music video, which was by Jungle, called Busy Earnin’. That was a really big one for me because I had never done music before and loads of people had to see and said ‘ahh that’s really cool!’
Let’s get into it actually, because that video has 13 million views on YouTube. Tell me the whole story behind that! Did you apply or did someone come and contact you to get involved?
OE: This woman from Bird Gang, Kendra, texted me saying ‘can you make recall’, which is a call back thing when you do an audition, but I didn’t do the previous one for this music video. I didn’t know what it was but she just told me the address to go to and where it would be, so straight after sixth form on either a Monday or Tuesday, and got the train and went to the place. I was like probably half an hour to an hour late which is really bad! I also had to learn the routine in less than ten minutes, which is crazy. The guys sorting out the video and everything came to me and said “hey, I like your look!” I was in my sixth form uniform as well at the time. So it kind of went from there and I was allowed to be a part of the video. We had to do two more rehearsals before we shot anything. We got paid a little bit too.
Was the whole thing surreal?
OE: It was stressful. *Laughs*. But no, it was stressful getting there. I remember trying to find the location but they had to change the location of the shoot. We were initially meant to do it in a park but we had to do it in a huge abandoned warehouse. Eventually I found it, and I remember it being really nice and cool — which is nice because I sweat a lot when I dance! It was helpful that it wasn’t boiling hot in there. It was a lot of fun, I got to play around a lot with how I was performing things, being silly with it and just doing the dance really.
From that moment, did you get calls from other people spotting your talent? It was a massive platform to showcase your skills.
OE: Not entirely. With dance, you’ve got to have a lot of skill or find the work yourself. It was a big platform, I won’t lie, but I didn’t really get a lot of work from that but it definitely a was a good starting point. I was also focusing on my A-Levels at the time, so I couldn’t really go for other types of works or gigs and whatever. But I did a small show after that called Club Vertigo, and got involved with that because of the music video. I was also part of a Facebook ad with a friend of mine.
Club Vertigo was something different wasn’t it? Was it a step in the unknown doing the show as it had elements of burlesque and was it something that you weren’t used to?
OE: I’m trying to think! I didn’t know what to expect. I knew it was going to be a dance show, so I was okay with that side. It was a different experience in terms of the types of dances that we did, so there was a bit of jazzy stuff — but nothing too technically difficult as I have a bit of a background in jazz as well. It was really good in terms of different types of dances and it was fun as well. I was playing a member of the paparazzi with two other guys.
You have also been teaching others the foundations of street dance. Is that something you see yourself continuing?
OE: It’s always important to give back what you’ve got. You’ve got to keep an open mind for things. If you’ve got something to give back, you should go for it. I’m not entirely certain now in terms of the future (when I’m in my later years), but it’s something I could do.
You’ve broadened your horizons in dance as well, getting involved with both swing and tap to name a few. Have you matured as a dancer?
OE: It helps you mature as a dancer, and makes you have better respect for other styles and keeps you disciplined. I started tap this year, and it was so out of my comfort zone but I enjoyed it so much. Latin dance styles as well. These are social and helps you meet people from different dance backgrounds and inspires you to keep pushing forward with what you are doing.
You were recently involved in a project, with a friend of yours, where you went around London landmarks and filmed a routine. You weren’t too complimentary about your efforts but I know you hold high standards! How did you find it?
OE: I loved it. I’m used to performing in front of audiences. But when you’re in public spaces and you never know — people may say ‘you can’t dance around here’ or something like that. We did a little bit in Vauxhall Tube station and we were worried about being in people’s way. The experience was fun. You just have to go out there and say ‘I don’t care’. It was a concept idea showcased through dance, that’s an interesting way to represent an idea or story through dance. It adds a layer to what the story is about.