RT @CamdenPT: "Safety is a priority. Comfort? No. Which is not to say Trigger Warning is just uncomfortable, it’s a lot of things." Check…
view counter

From Rolls Royce aeronautical engineer to Waacking dancer at Breakin Convention: Breakout Convention

Image: Photo of 'Bagsy' by Paul Green

What does Aeronautical Engineering, Japanese, African gods, Sadler’s Wells and Waacking have anything to do with being a man?

Sounds like a chapter from Freakonomics or a really bad geeky dad joke but it’s actually a story, my story, of a young aspiring engineer turned professional dance artist and the things that shaped me into the man I am today.

Hi, my name is Michael Oladele also known as Bagsy born and bred in London, a proud British Nigerian, engineer turned dancer.

You see there is this joke about job expectations of almost every child born from a strong traditional West African family; You are either a lawyer, doctor, engineer, or failure!

Jokes aside, I decided to study Aeronautical Engineering at Loughborough University whilst keeping up my love of dance. I loved every minute of my course, and I also created a hip hop dance society called ‘Rawkus’, where I would teach dance classes and host events for students. The society is still going strong to this day.

I always wanted to be creative in some way and please my family in the process. What I did not know is that even though I loved engineering, the performing arts would be my true calling.

After obtaining a BEng and MSc and working for Rolls Royce in Bristol, I decided I wanted to go to Japan and explore my dance further. There I learned the language, immersed myself in the culture, practiced martial arts and studied dance in House, Locking, hip hop and Popping. It was there that I discovered a dance style that would shape not only my career but my life.

This was Waacking and Punking. Waacking and Punking is a dance style born from the LGBTQ+ communities of the 70’s in West LA where dancers would emulate famous 1950’s actors and dancers and bring that persona to the clubs. It combines fast arm movements, dynamic body control and dramatic performances. It is predominantly performed to Disco and Funk music and was often seen on the famous Soul Train TV program, Breakin’ Movies of the 80’s, seen performed alongside Diana Ross (the original Punking dancers), Jody Watley, Grace Jones and was even featured on an episode of Miami Vice.

At first, I didn’t understand the dance, many girls did it and it was from the gay community which I was not a part of.

 It was not until I met Ana ‘lollipop’ Sanchez, a famous dancer, choreographer, and actor, that my whole impression of the dance changed for the better. With her wisdom, private dance lessons and coaching she opened my eyes to a whole new world of performative art, music, culture and guided me to my now mentor Archie Burnett.

Waacking gave me the opportunity to express emotion through motion, to talk openly about myself through my dance, to learn about many different communities and rich culture of ‘Waacking’ and ‘Punking’.

Waacking allowed me to be myself, to love myself 100%, to not be caught up in other people’s opinions or judgement, it allowed me to be more compassionate towards others, open minded and overall a much more fun human being. Most importantly of all, it helped me to understand who I am as a man and get comfortable being vulnerable.

What is masculinity really? What does it mean to be a man anyway? Well, it is what society tells us right now through the movies, tv and social media; don’t cry, don’t show emotion, don’t complain, deal with it, man up. As men we are taught from young to hold back our feelings, to restrain our emotion that it is a sign of weakness, that it’s ‘what only girls do’.

However, expressing emotion is a sign of great strength, humility, understanding, acceptance, openness, courage, and a greater appreciation for things in life. Being a man does not mean holding back the tears but letting go and embracing all that you are including femininity. After all, we are born both of male and female energy, so we should embrace both to be a more complete human.

It’s a hard pill to swallow even I found it difficult myself but as soon I let go or doubt and insecurity, everything changed. I became more confident, more approachable, more passionate, a better dancer and much more inspiring to others. I became very empowered.

Empowering artists through my dance has been by mission since I discovered Waacking and that is where it led me to work with Breakin’ Convention and Sadler’s Wells. After completing two weeks of creative development at ‘Back To The Lab’ I created a piece called ‘Surrender.’  This is a theatre dance piece inspired by combining my Nigerian heritage, the Yoruba god Shango, the challenges faced as an artist, the questions around masculinity and waacking.

Breakin’ Convention really helped me dig deeper into myself and break down the conventions of theatre to elevate my piece to great heights. I worked with Julia Cheng Artistic Director of House of Absolute and Choreographer for the London Opera House, Jonzi D Artistic Director of Breakin Convention, Anthony Ekundayo Lennon Theatre Director and mentor, Jonathan Burrows, Choreographer and Mentor and Ivan Blackstock, Movement Director and mentor who all guided me in my creative practice and development of my new piece.

Being able to perform Waacking in theatre is a big dream of mine and to show the world who I am and my story. I am forever grateful for the work that Breakin’ Convention has done and honoured to be asked to perform at the most prolific hip hop theatre event in the world. I hope my theatre piece reaches everyone in a unique and special way that inspires them to take up the dance Waacking, to learn more about themselves, to embrace emotion and to love yourself 100% always



See Bagsy LIVE at
Breakin' Convention: Breakout Convention
Saturday 3 & Sunday 4 July 2021 at Sadler’s Wells Theatre

Image: Photo of 'Bagsy' by Bert Alan.

view counter