2018/02/03

INTERVIEW - ALEX LOPES


From dancing in the backyard of Lycée de Bonnevoie in Luxembourg to being called out by Papa Roach on stage – Alex Lopes is the definition of a self-taught street dancer who became a household name in the urban dance scene. 


Alex Lopes - for the children in the childcare centre he's “Dudu”; for his students, he's “big bro”; for his friends, he's simply “panda”. The 35-year-old, Cape Verdean Hip Hop teacher and choreographer still remembers how, when he was growing up, “(they) literally had only this carpet that (they) used to slide and try new tricks on and our ghettoblaster – that was it.” A lot changed since these memories from 1995, when his dancing adventure started up to now.

Lopes perfectly embodies the expression “street dancer”. “There was nobody who gave dance classes  around (Luxembourg) at the time, so I had to teach it to myself.”, he explains. That’s the main reason why, even though he had his first, paid job at the Théâtre Ouvert Luxembourg, aged 15 and gave breakdance and choreography classes at Helene Van Den Kerchove's dance school Helen´s Dance, he wasn't able to follow other dancers' classes himself at first. This changed quickly as soon as his long-time friend and co-dancer Kendra J Horsburgh and he started to participate in different workshops, mainly in Germany on a regular basis. “Since there was nothing really around here in the range of dancing, you definitely could say that we were the ones that brought all the dance trends from back then to Luxembourg.”, he reveals.

Even though school was obviously not his main focus and he even admits having “thought about giving up school (in order) to go to New York and L.A (to pursue) those typical dancer dreams of touring with the big names like Chris Brown or Justin Timberlake”, Lopes finished high school, “(…) but it was more for my mum than for myself – I had promised her to get that diploma and I keep my promises.”, he says.


At the same time, Lopes kept growing as a dancer by learning about the right technique of his inborn skills and self-taught moves. “I was a laughing stock for the first three months of taking classes, and I would even be the person to encourage people to laugh at me because that's what drives me on. The people that were laughing the loudest to begin were my biggest admirers in a few months time.”, he remembers about his time as jazz dancer and part of the “Born to Dance” crew in the Conservatoire de Luxembourg. 

At the age of 25, Lopes moved to London in order to pursue his English Language studies at the University of East London in Stratford. This gave him the opportunity to not only to built up an interesting contact book including dancer and dance teacher Loraine Day, who moved on to co-found LAtitude Hollywood Camp after touring with household names such as Sarah Connor but also to see the arts form from a whole new angle. 

After two years, he returned to Luxembourg without having a concrete plan on what to do next. Nevertheless, his return also marked the beginning of LX, a hugely popular annexe dance school to Helen's Dance that is known for its projects outside of the four walls of the small dancing studio in Limpertsberg, Luxembourg. One of the most recent projects was being part of the American Rock band Papa Roach's upcoming music video for None Of The Above.


It is common knowledge that most Luxembourgish artists move abroad to pursue their career since they don´t see a professional future for themselves otherwise. You lived in London for about two years yourself – did you initially plan on returning to Luxembourg? 


Before I moved to London, I was giving classes in Luxembourg already for quite some time and, to be honest, I didn't really enjoy it anymore. The mentality in Luxembourg wasn't very conducive to dancing – people were very shy and introverted. They stayed in their comfort zone and rarely pushed their limits, so it was practically impossible to have a fun class as you see people do it nowadays in the classes. London was like a cultural shock for me to start with. I took quite a lot of classes while being at university. I also gave some classes myself and went to different auditions, where I would talk a lot to different dancers.
After my second year in London, I realised that this fast-life wasn't for me anymore and that I had to get back to Luxembourg, even if I didn't really have a plan. I'm the kind of person that listens to their gut feeling – I don't want to waste time doing something I'm not persuaded by 100%. I realised that even though every dancer dreams of going on tours with those big-name celebrities, I had to put myself and my wellbeing first.
Back in Luxembourg, I immediately sensed that people's mentality and the overall energy in the country had changed, which is the main reason I'm still here. I wouldn't do what I'm doing now if it wasn't for seeing people having fun in my classes, being eager to push themselves and their limits. It's a reminder of the mission I gave myself to encourage a change in (Luxembourg) instead of wasting the incredible amount of talent we have here. I get why fellow artists go abroad but if we all keep moving away, nothing will change here.

Where did you take the inspiration from to name your dance school LX? 


Dance schools in Luxembourg are usually called after the founder of the schools such as Helene Van Den Kerchkove or Li Marteling while Americans go for shorter abbreviations such as for example ML (Movement and Lifestyle).
When brainstorming for a name, I knew that I wanted it to be short and punchy so that it would stand out, but I also didn't want it to refer to myself directly since I've learnt in the meantime that I'm more comfortable behind the scenes than in the limelight. I first came up with the name LX when I saw the L.A.X. airport sign on my way from Los Angeles back home. The name was everything I had been looking for, plus it was a reference to the country Luxembourg that I love so much. At that point, I didn't know that there was a Luxembourgish band whose album was called LX as well, but people started to automatically associate me with the album. It wasn't my intention for it to happen, but, after assuring that it was okay for the band as well, it didn't bother me either.


You recently got the chance to do the choreography for Papa Roach´s new music video for None Of The Above, which is a song with a strong political subtext. How did that influence your creative process to do a choreography?


I was approached by Georges Rischette for this project whom I had known for some time prior to this offer. Even though I didn't really think that this would actually happen – people speak a lot in Luxembourg, but most of it is just empty words, so I thought this was another example of that phenomenon – and Papa Roach isn't the kind of music I usually dance to, I wanted to come prepared. I understood from the first moment on that the song had a very gloomy, dark atmosphere, but I only figured out the references to Donald Trump and the hidden political message within the song later on.
I based my choreography on the great lyrics, paying special attention to lines such as “Another generation bleeding out” or “We are still alive and playing dead”, and tried to capture the overall tone of the song with my dance. I found it to be quite challenging to incorporate the band's requests into my choreography without it becoming too caricatural with the dancers wearing all white and the powder scene at the end of the video.

You have so many different projects running simultaneously – How do you even manage to get everything done on time?


I work in a childcare centre 40 hours a week. This year, I got the chance to open and lead a leisure centre for teenagers as well as working out with the children's sports group in my commune. Nowadays, when I get home after work, I usually have about an hour before I have to be at the dance school. It takes me about 30 minutes to come up with a choreography for which I would've needed hours a few years ago. I guess that you get used to deliver in such a way.
Also, I always stick to the motto: if I'm not 100% sure that I can give it my best and that I'll be able to deliver something to be proud of, I'm not going to agree. So if I say yes, believe me, I'll make it work no matter what. I had once this situation where Emmy Denise (a singer) called me in the late afternoon and asked if I could come up with four dancers and a choreography for a live performance that was broadcasted by RTL at 8 a.m. the next day. At first, I declined but then, I kind of liked the challenge so I wanted to try it. I finally found four dancers and we rehearsed from 10 p.m until 2 a.m just to be ready to perform at RTL's Live Studios in the morning, but at least we managed to do it. We even had organised matching outfits.


What is one of your best memories?


Back when I lived in London, I got the chance to go to a workshop of the world-renowned Marty Kudelka who's working as Justin Timberlake's personal choreographer since ever. It had been the first time for me to attend one of his workshops and I quickly realised from observing the other dancers that the level was really high so I would stand in the rows quite at the back.
We were split into two groups at one point. I decided to stand in the front rows, which, retrospectively, was probably the reason why I failed both times we had to show the dance.
I got so nervous that I forgot every single step. After a little break, Kudelka called three people to the front to perform his choreography once again. The first two people were my favourite dance teacher and his assistant, which wasn't surprising since they both are very talented and were quite well-known in London's dancing scene already. The third person was “the boy in the blue shirt”. It took me quite some time to realise that he was actually calling me, even though I had failed the choreography the previous few times. 
I'm not going to lie: I was terrified at that point. But I walked to the front nevertheless, blended everything and everybody around me out and just did my own thing, which, looking back at it, was the best thing I could've done. I had so much fun and learned a lifetime lesson out of it: don't underestimate and limit yourself only because you're afraid of what other people might think of you.


Who are the most important people in your life?


I feel like I and everything I do are in a constant change. There's not really much that has stayed the same over the years. The only things that I could always count on were friends and family.
My mom supported me no matter what I did and how I went on about doing something out of my life, and I know that I can always count on her. 
Then, there's Kendra who is like a little sister to me. And even though she now lives in London again, I feel like we're never really apart. She'll always be a very important person in my life, and I am grateful for knowing such a friend by my side. 
One of the most important people in my life is and has always been Helene as well. She was the person who started things off for me by simply believing in me and giving me a chance to prove myself in her dance school. It's really difficult for me to describe the relationship we have, but I definitely can sum it up by saying that she's like a second mom to me. Helene is not only an incredibly talented dancer and dance teacher but also an amazing person with such a big heart. I don't consider myself to be a commercial person; I like to do my own thing, and in a way, I feel like Helene is the same. Even though she's the head of this classical ballet, jazz and contemporary dance school, she has always followed her own path. She had her own vision of how things should be and has always stick to it, even when things got tough for her and people were criticising what she did. And still, she's here after leading the (dance) school successfully for 30 years now. She has this exceptional way of giving a piece of herself and her vision to everybody who ever danced at her dance school, but I think that my relationship with her is even more deeply connected. I've known and taught for and with her for 20 years now. No matter what I did simultaneously, we always kept in touch. Without her, I wouldn't be the person I am today. I wouldn't have had all the great opportunities I've had. Her success helped me to achieve so much in a way, and now that I've created something big myself, my success helps her, too. We help each other out a lot – that's the way it has always been and that's the way I will keep things in the future as well.

Thank you so much, Alex Lopes, for being such an amazing teacher, for all your life lessons and motivational speeches and, of course, for this great interview! 


Check out Alex's InstagramFacebook and Youtube Channel for updates on current projects and more! All pictures used in this post are from his Instagram and Facebook.

Check out Helen's Dance here and on Instagram!
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