Plymouth hosting ground-breaking hip hop dance festival
Two of the leading names in the Plymouth street dance scene are coming together in May for the groundbreaking festival of hip hop dance theater Breakin’ Convention. Chris Gilchrist and Drew Shears are both representatives for the event, helping to shape and promote the two-day spectacle which will be held at Theater Royal Plymouth (TRP) on 23–24 May.
This will be the 20th year of Breakin’ Convention and audiences can expect stunning performances from internationally celebrated poppers, lockers, b-boys and b-girls, alongside talented local artists and bands. Chris was a founding member of Plymouth’s first street dance crew Beat-Breakers in 2002, and later, Devon and Cornwall’s first dance studio dedicated to street dance styles, Rhythm City.
Drew has been teaching street dance since 2009 in the South West. He currently runs The Groovement Project Dance Company, which has grown to become one of the most successful dance companies in the UK. His team won more titles than any other in the country.
Chris never thought he would have a career in dance. He said: “It was just a hobby, it kept me out of trouble and I enjoyed it. Getting into dance kept me away from all the negative stuff. I would practice and put all my effort into dancing.
“Then I started teaching some young kids in the local park where we trained. I became addicted to teaching and imparting knowledge and decided to open a safe space where people can come and learn.”
Chris has won numerous local and national awards for his work and was also selected as one of the Queen’s baton bearers for the Commonwealth Games. He was also a Pride of Britain Award finalist in 2017.
He continued: “Through dance I grew in confidence and people skills. I never knew how to gauge myself when speaking in different settings. It’s the same with many of the young people we work with. They don’t just grow not as dancers, they grow as people.”
While Drew had always enjoyed dancing, it wasn’t something he thought of as a career either. He explained: “I’ve been dancing since I was six years old. I was a big fan of Michael Jackson and my parents took me to a dance class. I later got into Ballroom and Latin which also helped my street dancing.”
Since October 2020, Drew has also been a member of the world-renowned Chicago footwork team Creation Global. He is one of only two members based in the UK and is one of only a few distinguished ambassadors for the entire European footwork scene in Chicago.
He added: “I never thought dancing would be a career option to be honest, but if you find a passion and can have it as a career, it’s definitely something to pursue . Even if I tried to escape dance, I think it would always draw me back.”
Chris said it was very rewarding to see young people dancing: “Our students have gone on to open their own dance schools and run their own projects, and it’s been great to see them keep the scene alive. They don’t always become dancers. We I have people who are police officers, doctors, dentists, vets, social workers.”
Drew’s internationally recognized dance school The Groovement Project currently has around 80 students and he often teaches six days a week. His students have trained with world-leading dancers in Los Angeles and performed at Disneyworld and Universal Hollywood.
“We’ve also had people who are going to be in the West End and UK tours of shows like Matilda. One of the girls we teach is going to be in a Hollywood Disney movie soon,” said Drew.
“But it’s more than just teaching, we also do a lot of pastoral work. A lot of young people are struggling with their mental health at the moment, so we try to be there for them as much as possible.”
Chris remembers the first time he visited TRP when he was watching a show on The Drum. He said: “It was when I first started breaking and there was a show called Skate. It was a hip hop piece. They had some break dancers in it, some MCs, a DJ. It was really cool and the first thing I experienced here. The next time I got involved with the theater was the first time Breakin’ Convention came to town in 2009. It’s great to be involved now as a representative, it shows the evolution of what we do.”
Drew also performed at the first Breakin’ Convention in Plymouth. He said: “I was only an artist in the first one, but it was a very pleasant experience. It’s great to bring so many people together and it just helps to build community and promote the scene in Plymouth.”
Chris added: “It’s always good to see my friends from all over Devon and Cornwall get on stage and perform and get that opportunity to show what they’re all about.”
This is the 20th year of Breakin’ Convention, and tickets for the two-day festival at TRP are now on sale via the website.
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