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Jan Nato    Romeo Suban: first hip hop instructor at RWB school

Romeo Suban has already made waves in Winnipeg’s arts community. As the executive director of Un1te Dance Company, Romeo has helped raise the profile of hip hop dance through the company’s many achievements including the now annual In the Zone series of workshops and competitions. Romeo, who is now known as Mr. Suban to his students at General Wolfe School, can now add another achievement to his already impressive resumé; he has been appointed the first instructor of hip hop dance at the Royal Winnipeg Ballet School (RWBS).

 Romeo Suban
I had the chance to talk with Romeo recently to discuss his journey in the arts so far and how he sees the road ahead of him.

Romeo told me that he began dancing at the age of thirteen when he would dance to the 90s classic, Get Down by the Backstreet Boys. He admits, though, that his true beginning was at Sisler High School when he was fifteen years old: “I took my first dance class and it grew from there.”

He said that he chose to dance because he was very shy and that in dance, “you can say everything, without actually saying anything.” He told me that he was very shy throughout junior high school. In fact, he hadn’t even spoken to a girl until grade ten!

For the rest of his high school career, he danced with Sisler’s premiere dance troupes. I remember that their performances always brought the house down without exception. It really is true that dance says everything without actually saying anything.

I asked Romeo if during high school he had ever thought of making his living in the arts. He told me, “I was never discouraged by my parents, but I was persuaded – both by my parents and myself – to pursue a ‘typically Filipino’ career in the healthcare.” Up until two months before his high school graduation, he was fully intending to become a nurse.

Then I had a talk with one of my teachers, Ms. Rampersad.” She advised Romeo that teaching would be the best way to combine his passion for dance with the practicality of a steady paycheque. Today, after “five long years” of study at the University of Winnipeg, Romeo teaches English, Physical Education and Dance at General Wolfe School.

Romeo’s talent and leadership extend into the community, as well. The Un1te Dance Company (originally Big Sky) has just hosted its third In the Zone, a series of workshops and competitions that have quickly become a must-see event in the city.

What does the RWB want to do with hip hop?

Now, the nitty gritty: I wondered to myself what the Royal Winnipeg Ballet School wanted to do with hip hop. Ballet and hip hop are seemingly opposing ends of the dance spectrum. One is the culmination of centuries of tradition and formality; the other is the fusion of African, jazz, musical theatre, ballet and even the Brazilian martial art, Kapoeira. Romeo says that the principal of the RWBS realizes that dancers need as much opportunity and versatility as possible. “Ballet’s changing,” Romeo told me, “the world is changing – change is good.”

How did it happen? About a month before our interview, Romeo received an e-mail from the RWBS asking if he would be interested in applying for the position. “I have no idea who recommended me.” he told me. From there, Romeo went for an interview, then an audition. Two nerve-wracking weeks passed before he found out that he was to be the first instructor of hip hop dance at the RWBS.

Romeo is very excited about what this might mean for the art form. “Others may say I sold out [to a ballet school], but I’m optimistic,” Romeo says, “this bridges that gap. Two worlds are coming together.”

I asked Romeo as a final question what he would say to those who are skeptical about careers in the arts. He says, “Be open. You never know how far that it will go.” He admits that a career in the arts “is not for the light of heart. But, for people who are resilient, who are willing to work for what they want, willing to stand up to rejection, doors will open.” Romeo told me that in dance you could easy work over forty hours for a routine that lasts five minutes on the stage, “To a normal person, that’s crazy, but to us, those five minutes are so worth it.”

Jan Raeimon Nato is currently a student at the University of Manitoba’s Faculty of Music. He is extremely glad to launch this yet-to-be named column to focus on the arts in Winnipeg.

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