The dance industry is a tough one. It’s not uncommon to find that the same dancers who ruled the roost a few years back, have now quit due to a lack of opportunities. Add to that the constant in-fighting, the politicking, and the struggle for dance to be recognised as a profession, and it becomes clear why a lot of people just don’t make it. Artistic Intelligence are no stranger to these hardships.
They started as an 11-man army, but the years chipped away at them, leaving only the five members standing. But Flip, Sakhele, Tumi, Paul and Nabeel are now the inaugural Red Bull Beat Battle champions!
The team are all in their early 20s, but have been dancing together for about 7 years now. Their mantelpiece is decorated with winners trophies from Battle of the Giants, Masters of Rhythm and the IDO World Hip Hop Dance Championship as South Africa’s representatives . Tumi is currently ranked as the fourth best hip hop soloist in the world, while Paul is seventh. Winning is nothing new to them. However, taking out the inaugural Red Bull Beat Battle has been a completely different experience for the crew.
“It’s been amazing.” Says Tumi. “We’ve entered and won many competitions before, but we’ve never had the opportunity to go on a full national tour!” The tour has seen them hit Jozi, Durban, Cape Town and Pretoria. “ We toured every weekend for two months straight. A different venue every time.” Tumi beams.
“You’re never too old to learn,” adds Paul. “We’ve gained a lot of experience from all the different situations we’ve found ourselves in over the last year. We know how to handle these situations and we’ve learnt a lot about important things like business ethics and being professional. It has brought us together as a crew, specifically on a performance level. And we’ve tried to do as much networking as possible.” He pauses. “We have to grow from what we have been given. We can’t be on the same level we were four months ago, business wise and dancing wise.”
This new found maturity is reflected in their handling of the of the dance politics that often arises between crews vying for a limited number of local opportunities. Where other crews may have let petty beef and grudges hold them back, A.I have learnt to distance themselves from the mess, and put the focus back on themselves.
“A lot of crews complain a lot. They get caught up. They complain about the judges, the scene, the audience.” Says Tumi. “We just aim to use the chance we’ve been given. What matters to us is that we kill our performances. When we’ve rocked the stage and the space that we’re in, then we’ve already won.”
As the crew defending their Beat Battle crown, they have the added benefit of having competed in the Beat Battle before. They know the field, the intensity and what’s expected and required to take the top honours. But that’s a double-edged sword. While they have fought the mental war before, they acknowledge that this time around, there’s a lot more pressure on them as defending champions.
But that pressure seems to drive Artistic Intelligence. “At this point in time, the title is up for grabs.” Says Sakhele. “The hours, dedication and passion put it in will show on stage… and that goes for any of the teams. Winning on that stage is almost like a bonus now. It’d be the cherry on top. Winning during practice, winning within ourselves and reaching the short term goals we have created for ourselves is the real prize. And when you have that down, winning becomes easier. We are not going to be relaxed though. We are going to treat it like it’s our first time, starting from scratch.”
This Saturday night, Artistic Intelligence will dance it out with seven other crews for the right to call themselves the Red Bull Beat Battle champions. It promises to be an explosive multi-disciplinary dance throwdown, where South Africa’s best dancers will challenge for the throne supported by performances from TKZee, Big Nuz, Black Motion, Pro Kid and the Ruffest. Will you be there?