Chris Hirwa first learnt his moves from his uncle who shared his love for funk with him. The young dancer then moved on to YouTube videos to watch other dancers from around the world and learn some more skills.
Now 22 years old, his own style has developed and he’s started doing his own choreography, assembled his own crew and is teaching others how to bust some moves.
But he says it was tough at the start. He had to work hard and keep his eyes open for any opportunity to make money. Most of the time, he performed for free and only transportation costs were covered. Getting his name out there was the first step in starting his professional dancing career.
‘In Rwanda, if you have no official paper showing that you have learnt this at school or no big festival experience abroad, it is hard to be accepted as a professional dancer and respected for what you do.’
‘Also, Rwandans value traditional and contemporary dances a lot more since they have a story to tell: they show us the history of our country. But hip hop, hip hop, is just there to change things’ he says.
Chris continues to work hard to promote hip-hop culture in Rwanda and work on his own skills.
‘The first rule for a hip-hop dancer: be perfect!’ He says with pride.
Even so, without getting paid as much as he thinks he deserves and while realising that his art does not have the same value as the more traditional types of dance in the eyes of other Rwandans, he continues to work hard to promote hip-hop culture in Rwanda.
Chris believes that it is possible to incorporate Rwandan culture into hip hop; he is trying his best to bring an Afro-touch to his choreographies. As a poppin’ dance specialist, he talks about his style as afro-poppin’.
In 2011, Poppin’ Chris founded Krest Crew. The local hip-hop dancers used to copy each other but Chris wanted to find those with that extra ‘something’. His crew means the world to him. ‘I am also the choreographer of Krest Crew. I work hard for it. Whatever I do, I do it for the crew!’
Chris also goes around orphanages in Kigali to give dance classes to young disadvantaged kids.
He went about trying to mix old styles with new ones to create something completely fresh which had never seen before. So he brought b-boys – something yet unheard of in the country – and other dancers (including contemporary ones) together.
He believes that hip hop can change people, especially young people. Chris aims to take kids out of the streets through dance. ‘Hip hop can help them stop taking drugs and avoid prostitution,’ he says. Twice a week, Chris goes around orphanages in Kigali to give dance classes to young disadvantaged kids. He also wants to teach hip hop to young girls since they are nowhere to be seen in the industry. He calls this project Hip Hop for Hope.
Chris is doing his best to bring hip hop closer to Rwandans and developing his creative skills to one day tour the world.
‘Dancing can take us to a whole other level. I want these kids to get there too, to stop doing all these bad things.’
Today, Chris is one of the few Rwandan hip-hop dancers to get invited to perform at events, which he often goes to accompanied by Krest Crew. His video clips are shown on television and he has gained a local following. But there is still a long way to go.Once he’s put hip hop on the map in Rwanda, Chris wants to develop his creative skills to one day tour the world.
‘If you live in the same country your whole life, it’s like eating the same food every day. If you don’t know how good other things taste, you can’t improve.’ To work on that, he hopes to travel for two or three years to get enough inspiration to take hip hop to another level in Rwanda!
Check out Chris and his crew on YouTube