Victoria Shulungu

Updated: Jun 10

Southbank Centre, London, March 2018



Victoria is a versatile and accomplished dance artist who works through Hip Hop to embody character and emotion, taking her art beyond the physical. She has been a company dancer for Far From the Norm since 2012. Victoria is also the Executive Producer for company Spoken Movement, led by Artistic Director Kwame Asafo-Adjei, successfully raising the company's profile and reach. She performs with the all-female UK  popping group A.I.M Collective, led by Shawn Aimey. Her versatility has allowed her to cross over to theatre performance, and has worked with the likes of Talawa and Birdgang as well as being a lead performer for the short film Don't look at the Finger led by Hetain Patel.



IA: Hey Vicky. First question. Where does self-care come in your process as a maker, creator, producer and dancer?


VS: I’m kind of figuring that out. It’s crazy that you don’t put yourself first. You don’t. As an artist in a company you have to provide a service of creating that’s at the level of the choreographer; that’s the standard people expect of you. As a producer it’s different. The artistic director tells you what they want - they want dance, they want acting or whatever. As a producer it’s not even a role, you cover everything else that’s not the dancing...that’s really hard. I’m still new at this and it’s really hard to put yourself as the priority and say 'Let me figure out what I need to do first in order to help others.' You don’t think like that because there’s a million and one things being asked of you - emails, sorting out artists, funding - that I’m still not used to and there’s never enough hours in the day to re-evaluate yourself. Except...recently I said to myself 'You know, I’m still very young and I don’t want to be in this mindset where I’m not enjoying it. Take time out to train, even if it’s a few hours.' Those moments make a big difference. Even if it’s to go and watch a show by myself. It might not mean a lot, but it’s a lot; I get information, I get inspired and I get to network with people. In dance it’s really hard to give time to yourself because you feel like you’re being selfish and at the same time you could be doing more. In any form of art or work you always want to do more to prove yourself to others; I have a time limit as well...not just when you’re ready to talk and ready to work. It depends on your priorities, whether you wanna put yourself first and say 'I can do this, but you have to give me something as well.' Whether it’s time off or something else that makes me feel like what I’m doing is worth it. It’s not just about money...before any of that it was just dance for me and I want that passion to carry on. How do I do that if I’m just doing everything else?


IA: So you’ve started to carve out time for yourself...has something triggered that?


VS: There were a few triggers. You know it deep down. You tell yourself ‘When the show’s finished I can take a break.’ But then there’s no break because you’ve got something else going on. Through talking to people, there’s a few of them saying they want me to push myself as an artist more. Not to rely on the companies I work for. Before all of this I was Victoria Shulungu...the dancer who does this. I thought the older you get, depending on what avenue you take, there’s a façade and people try to make you into this image...you don’t get to explore anymore. Talking to people like Kenrick (H2O Sandy) or Botis (Seva) they said to me 'You know what, don’t lose yourself, make sure you are pushing yourself first.' Sometimes it’s better to hear it from someone else. Even though I know it because I’d be the one to say it to other people...it helps to hear it and for someone else to go 'Wake up. Think about it.' I’m 26. Do I want to go another couple of years drawing myself away from the art form because I’m figuring out everything else? I could be anyone. If I have creative juice why can’t I use that? Also injuries. The way my body is working around what I’m doing; if I take time away physically I can’t just go back into it. You have to warm the body up and my body is adjusting to circumstances. I’m prone to injury now and because of that I’m thinking 'OK. I have to keep going bit by bit.'


IA: Away from the care of the self to the care of others. With your role with Far From the Norm and Spoken Movement, can you talk about how you try and put systems of care in place for them? What are the pressures in those spaces?


VS: I think it’s subconscious because I want to give; I’m a giver in any circumstance and I don’t create as much as I should. I know that I provide something that pushes others; in Far From the Norm, I’m an artist who is a representation of females, other than Lee - who has had a child - there’s no other females. I know I need to step up to serve the company in terms of my role. Botis might say 'I can’t do it because I have this going on or the child...Vicky could you?' I’m like 'Cool. I’m ready.' It’s assisting him in other ways even if it’s promoting. There’s so much more that you have to do with a small company; so many hats you have to put on. I’m always open...whether it’s technology, admin, promotion, rehearsal...to give because it’s for the good of the company. It’s different in Spoken Movement because the numbers - up until what we’re doing now - have never been consistent. It’s not just about sorting things out, it’s about finding answers, speaking to the right people and bringing it to the table. Kwame’s my partner as well...so there’s a different attention you bring. You wake up...I always say you don’t see it as work, you’re thinking ‘What’s the situation? What needs to be done? Can we do this?’ It’s almost like that’s our child and we want to make sure the child is being brought up well. You protect it. In the weirdest possible way that’s how we see it. I feel I’m in the right circumstances and giving is normal.


IA: From who do you receive?


VS: It’s a very hard question...I don’t know...I’m still Vicky. (pause) I’d say through conversations. Like Botis, as much as he’s the artistic director, he’s also like a mentor because we’re the same age; he’s experienced things and he’ll say 'Are you ready for that?' Then there’s times where I’ll be like ‘OMG Botis.’ He’s like ‘Yeah this is what it was.’ I’m like ‘OK I get it now.’ Botis is a brother figure and he gives as much as he can, especially because he’s got so much more going on. With Kwame it’s different. Nobody says to Kwame 'Well done.' It’s just the role you do. It’s the same with me. It’s just the role that I do. Things make sense when we talk things through, like there are times I have issues and I don’t understand some things...but because we’re going through it together we may disagree but we’ll be working on it together. For me to validate what we do other people have to say ‘What you two are doing is this and it’s good because of this.’ I think the validation makes me understand he’s giving something to me and to the company as well. If I take both companies out it’s hard. It’s really hard. People look out for me in the sense of saying ‘I know what you’re capable of doing, you can do more, don’t lose yourself.’ Because of what I’m doing with other companies. Don’t limit yourself. Don’t say no to things. Sometimes it’s not an insecurity but you don’t know how far you can go with something. Conversations I have with Kenrick, Ivan (Blackstock) and Jonzi D...they say you can do this. I don’t wait for those conversations to happen but I know in the weirdest way the industry is looking out for me. We’re looking out for each other even though we’re not always around each other. There’s always that conversation...recently I had a conversation with Robert Hylton - obviously everybody knows who he is - he knows me from Far From the Norm and Spoken Movement. But I didn’t know he knew me...so it was very surprising when he said 'Vicky. I’m watching you and you’re doing this.' I’m like…the first thing I say is 'It’s because of the company I’m doing this.' He says 'No. I’m watching you.' I don’t like to accept that because I don’t think I deserve it...



IA: Do you find praise difficult?


VS: Yes! Very difficult. That’s not why I’m in it. I do it because it takes me out of what this world is about. I like to explore and be inspired by someone else, by sound, by music and through conversations or jams or these moments here. It can be small. In Scotland having that conversation with Astrid it’s like OK, I’m not from that background but I’ve learned so much from that person. Those types of conversations...that’s what fuels me. To have that type of feedback...it’s so weird. I’m very appreciative, but it’s so hard for me to accept it. Please don’t think I’m doing it for those reasons, I’m very paranoid in that respect and I don’t want people to think certain things about me. At the same time the art will speak for itself, good and bad...at certain times when I’ve done that I’ve been told and I like that, it’s constructive, it builds you up to the thing you want to be in the end. It’s really hard to self-analyse. Do you know Dickson (Mbi)? He sent out a message to a group of people and he was like ‘I want to do a popping video.’ I think it was for Pina Bausch and I was like...me...in this group? I couldn’t do it because I was doing something for Norm. But I messaged him privately saying, first of all you sure you got the right Vicky? Either way I’m honoured; but then I was speaking to Paris and she was like yeah but Vicky you can do it, and I was like yeah...but there’s levels.


IA: Where does this doubt come from?


VS: I just don’t see it. There’s moments when I...I black out. That’s what I call it. I had a little exchange with Kenrick two days ago. I know Kenrick pops. Obviously, he’s Kenrick. But something in me was like ‘No. I’m battling you.’ I just went in, and he was like ‘Oh my gosh.’ I was like ‘Oh my gosh I don’t know what I’ve done. There’s no proof’. I look at myself and I know I can do so much more; character wise, I feel more confident in character and I feel like I am me. Movement wise...popping maybe and a bit of Hip Hop and experimental...style wise I feel like I’m very limited. I don’t feel like I’m on any level to be seen as ‘Oh my gosh.’ I’ve known people and I’ve been in the game for some time but I don’t feel like I’ve reached my full potential. Then when people tell me they see me in that light, that’s when I don’t get it...because I don’t see it.


IA: I’m interested to hear your ideas of alternative families and kinship with the companies that you’re with.


VS: When I started in dance I was very young; I was part of this street dance group and the idea of family was very big. I accepted it. I was very vulnerable and very naïve. I was like wow, you go there and people say hello and there’s a real feel of family. You know what family’s like, that feeling...and then it quickly died down. Truths came out and I found out people’s intentions and what was genuine. So I disconnected a bit from many people in the industry, I enclosed myself so I didn’t become vulnerable. It’s like when you’re in a relationship...when you cut off, you hold things back. I’ve known Botis for years - we lived in the same area and our schools are next to each other - and the reason why I took to Botis so quickly was I knew that he was hungry to express. I knew about how he moved but I didn’t know much about his mind. From the moment of my first rehearsal...how he presented the work and his mindset...I was in awe and from there a relationship built. Without having to call it family he would look out for us. There was no money then, it was just little shows; he would look out for us and said 'Anything that’s going on I will let you guys know everything.' Sometimes you don’t have to know everything; I spoke to Kenrick about that...as an artistic director, choreographer you give dancers the levels of what needs to be known. Sometimes they just need to know the routine, sometimes it’s promotion. Sometimes it’s a storyboard. Sometimes Botis is sleeping at night but I’m doing the work...the dancers don’t need to know that. But where Botis was at and where I was at was levelled. I grew with him. I grew with the company. In terms of the industry - because of the time I came into the industry - I was not very young, but young enough where I looked up to many people, I just feel if things are natural and organic, real relationships will form. There’s a whole family element to the industry and there’s certain people that people will go to because they feel they will cater to the industry, this person will be real and state it as it is, this person is motherly. When you create real connections with people there’s a real sense of support...it’s hard to explain. Let me put it in context…I will walk out of a show, I will see Ivan Blackstock and Ivan comes and talks to me, and says ‘What you’re doing, I’m watching you.’ It’s like a brother...I don’t have any brothers ‘Don’t fall into this trap.’ Sometimes it’s subliminal, sometimes it’s in riddle form and it’s only a year later I message him back and say ‘I get it, I get it.’ What I like about this industry is when things are genuine, you don’t need to be around that person 24/7 to create a real relationship. Dickson I knew of for a long time, obviously he’s Dickson, but there was one time we left Redbridge after an Artists4Artists show. I drove him home and we spoke for hours and hours; not on what he does, it was formulas. It was after the show, what’s the one we done with Governors? You was there as well?


IA: With Caramel when she did her solo? Yeah he was there that night.


VS: Yeah. After that night we spoke, it started out about the show, it went to ‘What are dancers real intentions? and what do people really want out of this?’ He’s given me knowledge on this. He’s in contemporary, he’s in Hip Hop and he’s well known in both...he’s trying to give me knowledge and they’re jewels; he’s looking out for me because he’s giving me this information. These type of things sticks with me for a long time...I don’t know all the ropes, I’m not afraid to do things in a wrong way, because if someone comes to me with real information I’ll learn. That looking out for other people is similar to what I do for other dancers. Even when all the generations are under one roof. You could have Jonzi D, Benji Reid, Frank Wilson and Kenrick together and it’s like being at a family gathering with your grandma, uncles, cousins and nieces. How I see it now isn’t like the first time I saw it which was ‘Oh we’re going to be together forever.’ I think it’s about the passing of information...like an archive. I’m learning because of my community and the information that’s passed on to me, I hold it and then pass it on to other dancers and onto the next and next. I hold that as dearly as family. There’s always going to be things you don’t agree with because that passion’s there. Sometimes people might disagree, but it’s all for a good intention, so that’s how I see it. Not everybody understands...for those who do and those who want to learn, it’s like gold, it really is.


IA: Who are the people you go to?


VS: First would be either Botis or Kwame...they’re my closest. Then there’s Kenrick. Kenrick’s the go to man because I feel his intentions are for the community. He’s a family man, he’s built his way without all the accolades beforehand. He brought himself to a certain point first and always says 'I don’t care about the MBE, I don’t care about the NPO because if my community isn’t flourishing that means I’m not doing my job. You don’t wait for an opportunity to come your way.' That’s Ken. Dickson and Ivan keep it real. There’s Shelia Attah...she’s motherly and there’s something very empowering about her. Those are my mains. Frank, even Jonzi and that generation like Robert Hylton. It depends on where I’m at. If it’s Hip Hop theatre it’s Jonzi, Robert, Ivan. If it’s Hip Hop it’s Kenrick. If it’s in terms of the levels where I’m at, it’s Botis. When I’m experiencing things with Kwame, I’m going to go back to Botis because he understands it. They’re the people. They’re honest and I like it when things are honest. I take to it more.


IA: What’s troubling you at the moment?


VS: For me it’s that people want to do things their own way, there’s a lot of talk but not enough action. If I can help in any way I will...but I don’t want to be stuck repeating, I’m still young in comparison with the other lot. Imagine how frustrated they are having to say it again and again and again. I have ideas sometimes and I don’t think I’m the right person to push it; if I push it compared to say, Mikey J, then Mikey J would get more because he’s been in the game for longer. It’s frustrating but that’s the community. On top of that there’s no funds and I don’t think there’s any support from outside of the community. People just want to put their names on it and say ‘Yeah we’re going to do it.’ Then you’re waiting and waiting and it doesn’t ever come. In terms of the UK in comparison to the rest of the world, no one respects the UK. There are people who hold the UK on their back...we’ve done competitions outside, we represent and we fight for that. Facilities in the UK don’t always want to support you, international acts they’re like 'OMG we’ll support that.' Then you’ve got Studio Wayne McGregor in East London. Why isn’t anyone in there? There’s so much space it’s like Ikea and yet there’s no one in there. It’s just a showroom. The one thing we’ve said, space is the thing everyone needs. Any dancer, any company and creative, needs space...and it’s so hard to get space. In here you could always train downstairs, but you can’t now because you’re not allowed music...and it’s supposed to be a public space? Trocadero has closed down. Where else? You have to beg certain places just to have a three-hour rehearsal. Going back to Scottish (Dance Theatre), I said to Botis 'They’re so lucky. There’s not that many dancers, but they don’t have to worry about space.' Here it’s really hard so that’s what I’m pushing for whenever there’s an opportunity. Greenwich Dance have supported us a lot. Redbridge Drama Centre have supported us phenomenally and they say whenever there’s time you can come to us. I wish there was more of that. It’s like people don’t want to take a risk on arts until there’s a formula, and then it’s 'OK we’ll put it on and put our name on your back.'


IA: They aren’t interested in the development or the ideas?


VS: Yeah because you can’t have a product without ideas, and the expectations of the product - especially depending on who you are - is very high. Your expectation on yourself is very high. Speaking to Botis sometimes we don’t want four weeks to create a piece of work, sometimes we want four months, sometimes a year, sometimes just an RnD. I feel like there’s always a time limit to getting something delivered, because they want to tick boxes and nobody is really thinking about the process. That’s why for some artists they don’t come and watch a show but they come and watch a rehearsal...to see what really goes down. The struggles, the arguments, people being late, people expecting money. It takes away from the original thing but again the performance is just a moment - you have to see the process because that’s just as important.


IA: Let’s talk about process. In the creation of a work, what is it like in your role? This in between space as rehearsal director and performer. There’s so few people who have that dual role.


VS: Um...[long pause] the process? For me the process isn’t just a rehearsal. You take a chunk out of your life to commit to a process; it can be as a dancer training, getting rehearsals done, physically and mentally preparing yourself for a 10-6 rehearsal or a day of non-stop movement and thinking and stress. You want to get to where the choreographer is - you want to bring that to life. The process for me is probably nine times out of ten stressful. Very stressful. It just makes me feel that I’m not doing enough. For Norm, Botis is articulate but I have to understand him through the movement...but sometimes it’s really hard to decipher things. What we’ve done a lot more recently is research, look at stuff and have more discussions, that type of process, which is the best part for me. I like the research and the talking and the ‘What do you think and how can we bring that to life?’ I also fight for Botis. Not just because of who he is, and because he’s got a child, but because in here (points to heart) he really wants to push out the ideas and he means well. He wants to express himself in a way that he can’t in conversation, or in front of other people. I pick up when people are genuine and I know the work will always be fire because it's coming from here; the process pushes him...not just him but the whole company.


IA: How do you then translate with the dancers?


VS: I’ve learnt to almost create pictures through words. Botis does it as well, but sometimes it’s hard for someone who’s new to the company to understand what it is. Sometimes it’s about looking at what he does and creating an image to replicate what he’s doing, because the imagery might fit their understanding more. A lot of the time it’s about translating and you give them a scenario; so I could say 'Imagine the movement is swimming, but swimming through mud. Play with that texture.' The texture is grafted a bit more and then they get it, it’s swimming, but different. In the company we always have discussions, usually when Botis has gone, because we try our best to get it...and it’s OK if we don’t get it but the fact we try is what is important. When he goes 'Rehearsal’s over.' We always sit down and go ‘So what did you think he meant by that?’ Someone’ll be like ‘I saw this.’ If two people agree we’ll be like ‘Yeah that’s fine.’ We work around it and figure out...it’s like we’re trying to think like Botis, to get the ideas that he wants...most of the time it’s really a mind mess. It really is. It’s frustrating to the dancers and it’s frustrating to Botis because he wants to say what it is but he can’t. He doesn’t have all the answers. He’ll start off with a stimulus and say ‘I want to see an angry beaver.’ From that angry beaver there’s a type of movement he’ll pick up from a dancer and he’ll go ‘I like that, push that out more.’ Then you figure out that what he wants isn’t going to be from the first word that he puts out. In his head he’s brainstorming to figure out the movement he wants. Once you understand the mind and his processes you can try and pick up on what you can do and what he needs to get it there. For him it’s about having something, not something set, but a concept so that helps us as well. Talking to Dickson, he says you might start with an idea but need to completely let go of that idea...it’s really hard to create a formula for that; if you have an idea of what you want you will always stay in the lines of what you want.


IA: Let’s turn to film with Hetain (Patel). You’ve made two film works with him, what were your roles and what was that process like?


VS: Botis approached me and said he’d spoke to Hetain and recommended that I do it. I don’t think any of us knew what it was really, it was just an idea. The thing about Hetain is that once he has an idea he just sells it so well and it’s normally something that hasn’t been done before. Botis introduced me to Hetain because Jordan and I had done a duet before that involved martial arts in a show called Woman Of Son. It’s crazy. When Hetain had the idea it made sense to use an artist that had the experience of that movement on stage...so on film it might be similar. To be honest in the process, I was a bit like ‘Arrrrrrgh.’ Not because of Hetain, I had done work like that before…I was like ‘Botis you could have done that.’ I know he would have liked to put it on film...I didn’t know how great the process with Hetain was gonna be. I was rehearsing and it was just movement; we learnt it from someone we had just met and I thought it wasn’t bad...nothing crazy in terms of sweat...it was about technique and form and trying to stick to the form because you want to stay true to the martial art and then flip it onto screen. I started to get excited when I saw different elements coming in...the costume, the sign language - I’d never done sign language before and I was obsessed with it, it’s just such a beautiful language really - and then bit by bit things were added onto what we had already done and I started to see it come to life. I didn’t expect it to come to where it was in terms of the filming process and how much effort had gone in to get it to where it was. I’d never had a chance to have a lead role in anything...and this was different because it’s for screen...but I was allowed to really play in the choreography and believe I was that character; it was just me and Freddie and we couldn’t really go wrong. Everyone in the process was so kind and helpful and if we had any problems we could go to them and it was really healthy...that’s why I felt like the product turned out how it did and everyone was really into it. I would speak to the designer and speak about my past, being Congolese and what it is in my culture when it comes to marriage, what it is to wear these types of garments; it was a proud moment to be part of that process.



IA: Was that input welcomed and sought?


VS: Yeah it was. Originally Hetain had an idea which changed; it was originally going to be a smaller scale conversation of what was happening in his grandma’s room with the argument happening between two people in a small setting. But after speaking to me, Freddie and others he understood that he could do more...so why not do more and go for it? It felt like it wasn’t just him telling us what to do and we get it done, it felt like we all had a part of the process and when things went wrong he would ask you for your opinion.


IA: Where does class and does race sit in your work?


VS: [Laughs] With class….let’s start with Norm. People are starting to pick on Norm more. Again tick boxes. You’ve done for BDE and mainstage at Sadler’s Wells so people start to think about you because you’ve done more. It’s not just the Hip Hop and contemporary world...higher end people are contacting Botis or Lee and more opportunities are coming in. Which is great and I’m very appreciative of it, but it really irks me at the same time. Why does it take being in THAT place for people to take notice of you? I understand that it could be ignorance, could be resources...these people might not know the Hip Hop world so well, so they wait for an opportunity to see it at Sadler’s. But at the same time why don’t you go and find out? We know about you guys, so why can’t you find out about us? With Far From the Norm I feel that’s how people see us, it’s in a class where it’s being acknowledged and people are picking up on it. With Spoken Movement, I’m coming at it from a producers side; it was an absolute battle because of what I was saying before. Being a creative you know what you want from the company, the identity that represents for you as an artist…when you see that work you’ll be like ‘Oh OK.’ You want to understand more about the artist and what that presents. For me the struggle was when we’re doing Wildcard - an amazing opportunity - because people are like ‘Wow you’re doing Wildcard.’ At the same time there’s an expectation and they want to tell you what to do; you’re still an under class. It’s a thin line of appreciating the work and saying, ‘Now that you’re here let’s tell you what to do.’



IA: Is it being appropriated?


VS: Yeah in different ways. When we’re trying to promote our work for the Wildcard; in part of the work there’s mannequins, bits and pieces all around the stage, Kwame was going to Redbridge with a mannequin on his back because the mannequin is used in one of the pieces and it’s about slavery and a lynched version of a mannequin. Everyone was looking at him as he’s going by like ‘OMG’ and he’s not even thinking about it. He’s just taking it to Redbridge to put it in storage but everyone is like ‘What have you done?’ Kwame’s thinking that reaction is very interesting, perhaps I can use that to promote the show. The minute you hear about a mannequin out in public, disturbing people, alarm bells go off and it gets taken out of context. It feels like the idea got crushed. You know it’s disturbing and might scare your audience but you haven’t even tried it! Why do you ask for the work to be put on your stage? I try to understand it because there is a format, they need to keep their name going they have to say yes to certain things and no to certain things. I think if we’re the Wildcard, let us have our night.


IA: You’re not going to trash Sadler’s reputation!


VS: Not even! This is meant to be emerging artists and the space is meant to bring more experimental and challenging work. It’s not just about dance, it’s about the experimental. My conclusion was we have to accept it...it’s not our facility, we can’t fully decide what’s going to happen on the night or whatever but also it’s a thing whereby you sell it as that product and you choose that product and it comes with everything. So in terms of class there’s a battle that already has to be made that people can’t pick and choose what they want. On both sides in terms of race I still feel there’s a race card. There’s a whole thing...more so with Kwame...if you don’t agree with what I’m saying it becomes aggressive. If you don’t like something it becomes a race thing. To me there’s all of these different labels on people or the company and you haven’t even given them a chance. It’s about learning. I want this moment for people to see where we’re at but I want to push it in all ways possible. I’m a Black female. I understand race. I understand you go to certain places and you get stopped by the police. I understand you’re looked at certain ways, at certain times because there’s a thing about ‘They’re like this you know. They’re gonna be rowdy, they’re gonna be unprofessional.’ I know Botis is different. I feel it in a weird way. I think the company’s been pushed, and it’s not seen as that. Apart from the work...if you see the work. I remember I saw a review about Wreck and they said ‘Primitive apes.’ That was a race card...but because Lee (Griffiths) was White, it changed. If Lee wasn’t in the picture, it would change. In the work it’s one thing, but in terms of the package it’s different. You’re always gonna face certain obstacles. Let the work speak for itself and then make your own assumptions. Then you can tell me what you think.


IA: We’ve talked about others, let’s talk about you. What is important and what is it that you want to say?


VS: I think for me it’s to keep things as realistic as possible, that’s why sometimes when it comes to creating I’m not as confident. Freestyling is easy and that’s natural...I don’t have to question anything; my biggest struggle when I create something is I don’t want it to look structured or planned. I love to talk but I hate talking and I hate the sound of my own voice. I love expressing myself, even though I’m not the most articulate at times. I speak fast and I have little bit of a stammer sometimes...but I feel like if I could fuse all of that into movement that’s something I would love to do as well. I love character and I’m very theatrical in the way I move.


IA: Where does that come from?


VS: I have NO idea. I’ve not done any drama. Perfect example I’ll use Jim Carey. Have you watched Jim and Andy on Netflix? For him he says he doesn’t feel like he plays a character. He puts himself in the mindset of the character. So it's method acting. For me it has to make sense, otherwise it’s just dance. Anyone can dance. It’s just movement and pretending to be something. I think with Hip Hop it’s a different you...you can just make up a routine to look good on stage but there’s no specific individuality. That’s why I like Hip Hop dance theatre, because you get a chance to explore; but I don’t want to limit Hip Hop you know? I want to be able to express myself, to look ugly and crazy on stage because that’s just what I feel. Nothing’s pretty and there’s beauty in ugliness. I feel like having the mindset of a child where there’s no wrong. If you just keep going and going and there’s an honesty in what you’re doing…that’s why I like the honesty of a child, because they will say ‘I don’t like that.’ You don’t think twice about it...but an adult goes ‘I don’t like it.’ You go why? Why? What does it mean? I want to be able to commit to a craft so when it comes to talking about it or someone dissecting it, you can talk about it and express yourself in a way that makes sense. That’s how I see it. I think there’s a long way to go when it comes to creating, in terms of my vocabulary and movement if it was based on Hip Hop styles...but if it was a thing where Vicky moves, that’s different.


IA: You mentioned freestyling. Can you talk about the mind in that context? What’s the difference to the theatrical world?


VS: I say freestyle, but it strings into battling as well. If you’re entering a style, you need to know your foundations. I’ve always said you have to explore but it’s like reading a book. You have to ‘Make sure you pop and you hit.’ Once you have those things under your belt it’s what makes you different to anyone else? You still have to have a sense of yourself when battling. In freestyling there’s no wrong answer...but the music plays a part in it, and it’s almost like you’re an instrument. I was saying this yesterday, in the weirdest way, I want to create a night about senses. When all your senses hit at the same time...a euphoric moment. You smell something that smells good, you hit the good part of the music and you see something that’s amazing and when that whole moment happens, you’re tripping. That’s freestyle, when you’re able to tap into those moments. It’s like I say about Kenrick, I don’t know what it is, but I feel it. It must be something that’s translating to the person watching, it just takes you. You feel like you’re in this euphoric field and it takes you away from this world...physically you’re on this earth but you get to be an entity that’s not of this world. That’s how I see freestyle. But there’s times I hate it. I look at myself battling and I go...I compare myself to this person or that person and that’s where a self-doubt comes in... but when there’s no pressure...if you put music on now and just said ‘Vicky move.’ I would, but when there’s boundaries, you start to hold back. Even in freestyles and battles you want to do everything and that’s my problem. I go ‘I wanna do this, I wanna do that.’ When I look back I go, why not just enjoy it? As long as you enjoy it, it’ll work.


IA: What is it about popping?


VS: I don’t know! Even from a young age I always felt popping was so powerful. Its energy is fast, it’s strong, it hits and it has the illusion that some styles don’t have. It’s a funk style and you feel there’s more grooves in it, that’s what’s dope about it. Krumping too as it’s more...I don’t want to say aggressive...but there’s more power in the movement. With popping, there’s something about getting the chance to do everything, but you choose when to do it. I can groove in popping, you can feel it. You know house is going to be about your feet and you know locking is going to be funky. How I see popping is no one can ever know what’s going to come. I can be grooving and then I can hit. Then it’s back to hitting and then the hit becomes the groove. Then it changes. I wanna push females...I mean I’m a female...but I don’t like females to be subjected to one style which is perceived as feminine. I like to show I’ve come from a background where I’m in touch with both masculine and feminine sides. I like to be aggressive and I like to show that in the movement as well. That’s why a lot of the work that I do there’s a type of aggression that I hold because I can reach there...as well as being very feminine and soft and sensual. But with popping, it’s that but in the movement as well. I can hit and be like 'Bah! Bah!' And then sometimes I can just flow! It’s the best style and it’s so much fun! I don’t know...I’m obsessed with it. I just love it and we’ve got the best teachers. Like having Brooke, Dickson, Sean, Ken, Skittles. Great people who pop. You got Robert Hylton as well. Just talking to him he says 'I don’t train people class for class for class, I train people over time. You train with me for six years you’ll be able to pop in the muscles you never knew you had.' When you’ve got such great teachers, make use of it. I really enjoy it. Sorry, I really enjoy it.


IA: That’s great to hear. A few more questions. How would other people describe you?


VS: Why are you doing this to me Ian? In dance or as a person.


IA: In dance.


VS: Expressive. Um. Oh um, I hate speaking like this. Powerful. Very engaging.


IA: What’s engaging mean?


VS: When I move, you’re fixed on what I can do. I can stand still on stage and people will still watch me. You don’t feel like you’re bored. I can hold an audience for a period of time.


IA: How do you do that?


VS: I think it’s because I believe I am doing it. If I find myself boring, people will find me boring. I’m basically a mirror to what people see. If I feel it, they feel it. If I see it, they see it. If I don’t, they don’t. Even in freestyling, I’ll keep going until someone says ‘Stop now Vicky.’ Or the music’s done or whatever. If there’s no music I’ll stop because otherwise I’ll keep going. Definitely character, people find I have great character in my work. In movement I’m very abstract. I use my hips and the bendiness. I’m not flexible, but I am flexible...I’m not a contortionist but I can go into awkward positions and whatnot.


IA: What’s your perception of what’s going on elsewhere in the UK in Hip Hop dance theatre?


VS: I feel like a lot of people are jumping on Hip Hop dance theatre which isn’t a problem, but I don’t want it to be diluted. Don’t copy, and remember where it came from. For me the guys who started it off - Jonzi D, Benji Reid, Robert Hylton; it was different to how we do Hip Hop theatre now but it’s information that has been passed on. In conversations with them now, they talk about Pied Piper or Lyrical Fearta - those shows are very different to what we do now, but we are innovating those ideas. When Botis does his work, when Kwame does his work, when Ivan does his work they’re allowed to express themselves how they wish. They still have it in the back of their mind, they’ve paid homage and I still feel...when I say it’s diluted...some people don’t see it like that, they see it as an opportunity ‘Oh we can make money.’ Everyone else is doing it, why don’t we do it? Hip Hop theatre is not just a dance, nor is it just the narrative, it comes with lighting, sound, staging and everything - it’s the elements of Hip Hop all together. Outside of this community, I haven’t actually got a chance to see much which is something I should look into seeing more; it’s still a very small community. The new artistic director of the Young Vic Kwame Kwei-Armah had a small talk recently and Kwame and I went there; it’s important we went because we’re representing Hip Hop in the theatre world. It’s interesting to see how it works outside what we do...most of the time people want answers and for us, most of the time, we get it done. If you broaden and open your mind to other opportunities, not just Hip Hop, even if it’s admin or production you open up possibilities; you get more and you get more out of it. Having those talks with Kwame Kwei-Armah made me see we could get more and get more things done. That’s the beauty of it.


IA: Within the forms there is a lot of codified languages. I’m interested in your thoughts on Hip Hop as a historic artefact?


VS: I definitely understand why people don’t want Hip Hop to change, because of what it was originally and if there’s no archive it’ll die out. There was a conversation I had with Mikey J at the Barbican and as much as he’s in the Hip Hop world he’s also in the grime scene in terms of music. He saw how grime started - years back - and it’s now made its way to the pop charts. No one taught people how to build an income from it so it died down and nobody heard from it for a while. It got to the point where nobody wanted to invest money because they didn’t know how to look after themselves. But now it’s started to build up again, with Stormzy and artists representing our day and age today. When he made that statement he started relating it to Hip Hop and said 'Why don’t we start archiving? If it goes like the grime scene, it’s gonna die off and people will forget a whole era that was important to us.' Like contemporary, jazz or ballet, Hip Hop can hold out for that long, if not longer. The difference between Hip Hop and Hip Hop theatre is we’re using the style to create movement but the essence is from a theatrical point of view and you don’t want to limit it. Why limit it when contemporary artists are using Hip Hop elements in their work? It brings their work to a different level. We should not so much keep it as it is, but archiving what we know, where it is and where it’s come from. I feel like it needs to move otherwise people are gonna get bored of it! People are gonna be like, 'ah' after a while when something’s been going on and on and nothing’s changed. I’m in a generation where I’ve managed to see it progress bit by bit...but the generation below me are like ‘I’m a freestyler so I’m gonna do this, I’m gonna do this, I’m gonna do that.’ They don’t understand the process of what it has taken to get to this point. It’s like technology, they just want it now. I want to make sure an archive is there, but we need to branch out and develop. It’s not just a Hip Hop style, it’s a culture. I know I live a Hip Hop culture...not just in terms of the dance and music, it’s my class. I’m working class. If you’re living in a flat or on an estate, if you’re being targeted because of your colour, your class, your gender or your religion, that for me is Hip Hop. Hip Hop represents the nomads, who weren’t allowed to be. Hence why we don’t have no spaces to do what we wanna do...I don’t like to talk about it too much because too many people are talking about it and not doing enough. Why don’t we build a community? We could fund it ourselves, build our own warehouse where we can create our own shows and then we don’t have to rely on these others. Why can’t we create it ourselves?


IA: What would a self-organising new landscape look like? If this translated into action?


VS: I see a warehouse where you’ve got a space for the theatre side. There’s everything in terms of set design and you’ve got a space for training. Battlers should be able to do their thing and perhaps it shouldn’t be about paying but investing in the space. Maybe not just the warehouse but a warehouse to push out opportunities. There needs to be a way where we can invest in each other. Why don’t we all sit down and go ‘We’re all going to put in this amount and go dedicate that amount to Boy Blue.' This is without them having all that NPO, then next month let’s invest in Spoken Movement, next it’s Far From the Norm. When you see the flyer and you see Far From the Norm, Boy Blue and other people gonna be like ‘How did you do it?’ We’re investing in each other! If you want to jump on it, you jump on it. But we’re not coming to you for help. You’re coming as a guest to us to see what we’re doing. It’s those type of things everyone’s thinking about but nothing’s happening...but it will happen...if I die today and I found out it hadn’t happened I’d think what was the point of all these talks? It has to happen.


IA: Is there something that you haven’t spoken about today that you want recording?


VS: There probably is, but I wanna think about it because I want to say what’s meaningful to me...I feel like there’s so many things I could reference but…


IA: What’s your strongest memory of dance?


VS: Olympics.


IA: Why?


VS: Because that year allowed dancers to be on top. When I say on top, on top of the other art forms because dancers are always below; we’re either the entertainment for an artist or providing a wow factor for other art forms. Dance is never at the forefront but for that year it was. I was part of the opening ceremony, the NHS bit, and I was one of the main dancers...I actually learned a new style of dance for that. All the dancers came together. I was on a district line train to Bromley by Bow where we were rehearsing and I was so gassed walking off the train and seeing everyone. It felt like we were going into a school assembly and feeling like ‘It’s my assembly and it’s my time.’ It brought me back to that childhood excitement. The money wasn’t great, but we were getting paid. Why are we not paid for our services? Everything that is said and done is a service. Why do we fear asking if there is a fee? We’re dancers, we’re hurting our bodies and stressing ourselves out...some people don’t eat or sleep properly and then we’re not getting anything out of it? Dickson mentioned a project and said it’s a community-based project, but I’m making sure you’re getting paid. I felt like why do we have to fight our way to provide a service if you’re asking for it? And that job was good money. That year I was approached by an agency that saw my work and I was in an Adidas campaign called ‘Take The Stage.’ They follow you in what you’re doing in dance, football or music and you gotta wear Adidas; there’s 32 boroughs in London and I represented my ends. They’d film us doing our thing and from that we got a reward. My reward was to travel to Italy and take part in the Blaze tour for a few days. At that time around the whole borough I was on bus stop adverts and you’d see my face and there’s a big ‘Vicky takes the stage.’ It was absolutely...I was 21, 20...it was crazy. Something you’ve been fighting for. That’s something I wanna talk about.


IA: What are you fighting for?


VS: Being an African female. Being African. Having the expectation of you go to school, you go to uni, you get a job. That’s life.


IA: From parents?


VS: Definitely. And maybe other people as well, but any African you ask will tell you the exact same thing. This is the format. You have to do that. I think I started dance when I was in Year 8, so 14ish. I’ve never had to fight my parents so much. Not physically but oh my gosh it was a battle. I had no money. I didn’t have a job. My parents weren’t supporting me like that. This is what I know...you have to love what you do and do what you love. I was so into dance I would sacrifice...what’s the word? I did 3 hours of dance every Sunday, but didn’t have the money, so I would have do 3 hours of flyering in every single door to make up the money. I’d lie to my parents and say I’m going to uni, but instead I’m doing a week’s intensive dance training elsewhere. There were so many problems. Day in day out my parents would be like ‘What is this dance? Is it a hobby?’ To be told it’s a hobby is a stab in the back. What do you mean it’s a hobby? This is what I live for. This is something that allows me to express myself. I’m not saying every other job is crap, but you praise doctors and lawyers, but you don’t praise artists. I’m sure doctors and lawyers listen to music and go to the theatre. Even if we’re seen as entertainers it’s more than entertainment, it’s expression. If you like what you see, you’ll come back. The same way if I know a lawyer is really good I’ll go back because I know they’re going to support me. The struggles of having to go back and forth against your parents is hard, you lose friends and you don’t have a childhood. You bunk the trains, you pretend you’ve paid for something. It’s crazy...I’m trying to think of the things you do. You’d starve yourself to make up money to go to class, those sorts of things. Doing something every single day, fighting the battle with your family who are trying to stop it at a certain age and they’re saying 'You can’t do it because you’re under my rules.' I’m 26 and it’s only now, it is only now Ian! When people come over and they ask ‘What’s your daughter doing’ It’s like ‘She’s doing this and that.’ When the door closes ‘Are you going back to working at the school?’ You learn a lot. That’s why it’s always been real to me...I didn’t go through that struggle of going against my family, having arguments, losing out on friendships and being alone to give this up. It’s not about the travelling or the well done...it’s getting to know you’ve expressed yourself in a way that people appreciate. If one person appreciates it, I’ve done my job. I never get up and say ‘I’m going to work.’ I say 'I’m going rehearsals or I’ve got a show.' I take pride in that and I look forward to every day. Even though it’s stress, and there’s problems and you cry and you get cold sores and trapped. But it’s rewarding. It’s very, very rewarding. When I speak, and if I feel something I feel really strongly about something, you will know. If you don’t see it through dance, you will hear it through my words. That’s why you want to prove it to your parents first and foremost, your parents represent the world and you want to prove it to the world. This is what I want to do. Take it or leave it. I’m gonna do it regardless.


IA: Mum and dad!


VS: Mum and dad [laughs] remember me? 2012 was like a checkpoint in my life where it was like I’m doing the right thing. Maybe you have to tell yourself that before anyone else does...you know you’re being appreciated but you’re also in control of what you wanna do. Allowing myself to go 'You know what? I can do more.' It’s almost like being the mother of Norm now. I feel like I’m growing up and I do my own taxes! I feel like 'Ooh that’s me!' My next step is I wanna get a house...but I wanna get a house with the money I make from dance, I don’t wanna work a full time other job. It will get done, it might not be tomorrow but I’m 26 and before 30 you’ll know about something. These are the things. I’m living my life and I’m doing it though the things I love. I’m not taking myself apart just to be part of the system, I’m creating my own system.


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Hip Hop Dance Almanac Interview with Victoria Shulungu PDF