Ella Avila during her performance with American choreographer Mike Cameron. Photo courtesy of Christina Dun and World of Dance Toronto.

Confessions of a hip-hop dancer

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By Betty Wondimu

As Michael Jackson’s Break of Dawn cued in, the lights at Guvernment club shone on the eight dancers on stage. The four couples moved in slow motion for the first 30 seconds and then broke out into an intimate embrace. Ella Avila, a fourth-year Ryerson business student and one of the dancers, tried to hold her partner’s gaze. She was dancing with none other than renowned hip-hop choreographer Mike Cameron.

“I was honoured to dance with [him],” said Avila, who says she was in awe the first time she saw Cameron’s routine. “There were parts when he would grab me and he would move me. There was so much more strength in the movement that way.” The opportunity presented itself at an international hip-hop dance event held on Sunday called World of Dance.

For Avila, the performance was not about winning since she was not a competitor. It was about showcasing Cameron’s choreography, as it is customary for judges to display their own work prior to the competition.

Founded in 2008, World of Dance is an American annual tour that has recently expanded to Canada and Europe. It is the largest urban dance competition to date, taking place in 14 different cities. World of Dance Canada was established in 2011, marking this year’s tour the second in Toronto.

Prospective participants submit footage of their routine online and, if selected, they are contacted via email to perform. The competition is divided into three categories depending on experience. Each group is graded under a point system with a maximum of 100 points.

The winning group receives a prize of $1,000. On Sunday, the 2012 World of Dance Toronto grand prize was won by a dance crew from Montreal named The Family, with a score of 99.3 from the judges.

This year, Cameron judged the event’s competition along with other big names like Gigi Torres, Mark Samuels and So You Think You Can Dance Canada’s Tre Armstrong.

Avila had the opportunity to dance for Cameron when he contacted the co-director of The Cast, Danny Davalos, which is a commercial dance company she is involved with.

She only had one day to learn and perfect the full routine, a situation that is definitely not uncommon for working dancers, according to Avila.

“In this industry, you could be called for a gig the night before an event and still be expected to learn and perform like a professional the next day. It was challenging, but I needed to push myself so I could have this great opportunity,” Avila said.

There were also two other Ryerson students participating in the event.

Fourth-year dance student Krista Deady and communications culture masters student Boke Saisi danced in a showcase by Lenny Len, one of the event’s hosts.

Avila has been juggling her studies and a dance career for the past three years. She has danced for some of Toronto’s most famous choreographers, including Leah Totten and Gregory Villarico.

Once she graduates, Avila plans to concentrate on her dance career, but says the lack of opportunity for professional dancers in Canada is one of the main reasons why she may choose to move away to a place with more opportunity, like Los Angeles.

“A lot of dancers dance for free these days and some even pay to dance, which is unfair because being a dancer is a job,” Avila said.

“A really hard job, too.”

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