JP Omari has always loved dancing. It’s an obsession which has flowed through his entire life, and taken the multi-award winning hip hop dancer, choreographer and teacher around the world. From being the first breakdancer to take part in a reality TV dance show to performing with artists like Dizzee Rascal, Sean Paul, and Orbital, he’s also made an impact on this blossoming scene with his own dance academy. Streetfunk seeks to train and inspire anyone, aged four and up, to hit the dancefloor. “For me, teaching and sharing my passion has been very important. Now with the studios we have the opportunity to train young people to a world-class level.” Based at the East end of the city, his Marina Studios is a set of dance spaces. These are connected by a corridor lined with trophies his crews have won. It’s an impressive haul, regionally, nationally, and internationally, they’ve won nearly every title open to them. This complex acts as a base for the growing Streetfunk network, which reaches out to over 650 students weekly. Through hip hop dance and funk styles, it teaches the values of hard work, discipline, respect and, most of all, having fun.
While fun is key, the more enthusiastic and skilled amongst the classes can also compete in regional, national, and international championships. Omari’s BN1 Crew (no relation to this magazine, despite our Friday afternoon office dance-offs being described as ‘epic’) secured the XM Under 18 Advanced title at the British Streetdance Championships last October. He admits they did exceptionally well. A decision was made to take part with only six weeks to prepare rather than wait another year. “It did give a kick up the backside for them to keep going. But because of the way they are – individually they’re very driven kids – it was quite an organic process with how I taught them. They brought up really good ideas, so it was a group work.” Many of the crew members have been with Streetfunk for ten years, and their endeavours have taken to the world championships in Glasgow next month. They’ve reached a level which their coach proudly describes as: ‘unstoppable.’
But it isn’t just this crew which is making waves in the competitive street-dance scene. The dancers from Streetfunk took home 32 trophies from those championships. At this pace Omari is going to soon run out of space for his crews’ sprawling trophy collection. Defiance also snatched the XM Under 18 Intermediate title. “They won, even though they’re really under 14. They were bumped up… and still won!” While his Stereo-Shock came in at a worthy fourth in their division at the British Championships, Killer Bees under 12 crew found themselves performing in a division with kids much older than them, and prevailed. “They’re a force to be reckoned with. They really made me emotional, they were just outstanding. Especially for their age, the stuff that they bring an the personality that they bring – they’re just phenomenal.”
While the aim is to see some of his crews crowned world champions next month, Omari is also striving to make his Marina Studio the definitive dance facility in the south east. It’s already acquired a fearsome reputation through the discipline and talent of both its pupils and teachers. “They put in so much time – all the kids, and the parents as well. They put time money, effort, everything. It’s a big commitment and a sacrifice. They come in to train whilst their friends are off at parties and stuff. But they’ve chosen to be here and work and be better.” His core members, aged seven and upwards, train as a crew for 3 ½ hours a week, with two hours of normal classes, plus even more practice at home. It’s a lifestyle comparable to being an athlete. The Streetfunk community has had an undeniable effect on the quality of street dance in the region. And now some of his crew members are now at a level where they’ve become teachers themselves, rising through the ranks from student and assistant to instructor.
This month sees their annual Straight Up showcase event. Nearly all of the students will be showing off their skills at Brighton Dome on Sat 10 June, together with the UK’s leading B-boy crew – Soul Mavericks. “Being able to fill out the Dome every year, is a great achievement. But it’s also a chance for the whole StreetFunk family, all the kids and all the parents, to come in and celebrate all the work the kids have been doing.” The ethos is to push and challenge themselves to be the best they can be. These classes do offer a potential for becoming established in the wider industry. Older students have moved on to perform on the X-Factor Live, Rhianna, and Little Mix tours, as well as a range of West End shows. “For me it’s about giving the opportunities they get here, through competitions, classes, and performances, but also training them to a level where this can become a career if they choose. I just want to them to be out there, doing what they love doing.”