Dance communities worldwide have a knack for captivating unsuspecting audiences with mind-blowing performances and Kazakh dancers are no exception. The local Almaty community brims with talent representing all genres.
One of them is Dauren Aizharikov and Malika Akhmetova, a couple who dabble in popping and its diverse substyles. Over the years they’ve honed their skills before the crowd’s demanding eyes and proved time and time again their amazing capabilities at the numerous dance events held throughout Europe and Asia. That’s Juste Debout in Paris, Summer Dance Forever in Amsterdam, and Gorilla Style Wars in Almaty, just to name a few.
QazMonitor settled to explore their artistic journey reaching out to the couple. They shared insights into their initial interest in dancing and, coming from a fresh win at Back to the Style in Lucca, they discussed the challenges they encountered and provided a glimpse into the world of dance, both globally and within Kazakhstan.
Step Up: Origins
How did the two of you meet?
Dauren. Well, we met through social media. I vividly remember coming across her dance photos and thinking, 'Wow!!! She's so beautiful, and has something to do with dancing!' it was a little wild to me at the time to see such stunning girls engaged in dancing. (both laugh)
Then I saw that she was into popping and I was totally freaked out. I reached out to her and we got acquainted. Later, we met in person in Almaty and didn't really click with each other at all. But, at the same time, we remained acquaintances.
Malika. Yeah, we were fifteen or something when we met. Plus, he was from Astana, and I'm from Almaty. Every time we crossed paths, it was during dance battles. It wasn't until he moved here, to Almaty, when we started dating and became a couple.
How did you become interested in dancing in the first place?
D. I did ballroom dancing in high school, and we would take free dance classes with all of my classmates. At some point in 2009, a friend and I went to see 'Step Up 2'. I felt really inspired, so he and I decided to sign up for a hip-hop class.
M. When I was a kid, and even to this day, my joints hurt when the weather changes. The doctor advised my mom to sign me up for some dance classes. So, she sent me to concert classes, akin to those seen at Roza Rymbayeva’s show [a popular diva among older generations].
At some point, I become bored with it because I noticed that in the evenings, local b-boys would rent a small hall in my school and practice there. I peered a thing or two but remained skeptical. Yet I would gradually become more and more sucked in and eventually signed up with them. Looking back, I have no regrets.
So, both of you tried yourselves in many styles. Why did you decide to focus on popping?
M. I didn't understand why there were so few girls. I mean, If you look at it, there are not a lot of women in the world who do in this style still.
Besides the fact that I really enjoy it and that it's one of the most complex genres out there; I also saw it as a challenge. 'Why aren't there any girls? I want to be the one who taps into it'.
D. I dabbled in hip-hop at the time and came across a JABBAWOCKEEZ video. They're this team that performs incredible illusions for things that aren’t there.
I thought [popping] was way cooler than just dancing hip-hop because their moves, like the robot or the wave, were universally understandable and everybody could get the point.
Liquid robot duo
What does it mean to grow as a dancer?
D. With us, it manifests as trying to break through the ceiling. Our goal is to gain recognition from the dance community around the globe. We have already hit the national level since we’ve topped and outplayed one another, so we strive to compete abroad.
What it's like to perform with someone else? You have this amazing video where you put on a show together in Almaty.
M. When we collaborate, whether it's with each other or someone else, the style doesn't matter, because communication is always the key.
D. When it comes to the choreography, we have conversations like, 'This is how you feel comfortable, and this is how I feel comfortable,' or 'Can you do this?' In this regard, it's easier for Malika and me – we share the same style. Did we choreograph this video in... what, two sessions?
M. Yep, in two. It's both easier and harder for us because we're a couple. If [the collab] was with someone else, I wouldn't be able to argue with them. (laughs) Recently, I've started doing collabs with others. It's exciting because, with some dancers, we instantly click, while with others it takes a lot of time training and negotiating to make the thing happen.
How did you decide you wanted to be a dance teacher?
M. I didn’t choose it. I had no choice. (laughs) It was one of the most accessible ways to earn a living. As time went on, I realized that I had a knack for it. I noticed that there weren't many popping teachers in Kazakhstan and there wasn't much competition. I started treating it as a profession and eventually, I developed a genuine passion for it.
What do your pupils seek when going to your classes?
M. They come because of our names – we are prominent figures in our style. Plus, there are two of us, and that's our strength. I mean, one teacher is okay and all, but you get two for the price of one. This entices people.
D. We were also among the first street dancers in Kazakhstan to introduce a dance laboratory. Before that, how would our training go? An instructor would come and would, like, teach everyone a basic element, or show a certain combo.
As we were traveling a lot, we saw this thing in France, where dancers would gather in a studio and train individually, while the instructor would give advice or join them in jamming. When we returned, we decided to do exactly the same thing.
[At our lab], any dancer can dance in any style and express their specific goals, like, 'I want to move smoothly' or 'I want to dance like a robot'. We give them exactly what they want and that's what makes our lab different from other places.
Malika, since you once touched on this subject in one of your Instagram posts, how much has the Kazakh dance scene developed in recent years?
M. The [skill] level, I believe, is decent, but since we mostly rub elbows within our own [community], we're slow to grow. Like, in America, dancers travel across the country, compete against each other, and face fierce competition. In Asian countries – China, Japan, and Korea, – dancers hang out and exchange experiences.
In Kazakhstan, we have fewer people, dancers, and developments. We need to travel abroad but it's financially challenging and we also have to get involved with visas.
When I won in Italy [at the Back to Style] I got recognition from the European dancers, but it didn't take me to the top level. To achieve that in Europe, you need to win multiple festivals. That's when the real growth starts, and you start to get invited as a guest, give workshops, and even judge competitions.
Speaking of the local dance scene, what is the attitude towards choreographers in Kazakhstan nowadays?
M. Today, the general attitude is changing drastically thanks to the internet. We're not that old, but even when we started, Instagram wasn't a thing, and everyone treated dancing as just a hobby.
D. I would like to add, that TikTok specifically has directly influenced the scene globally.
Before, if you copied someone's moves, it would be lame. Like, you copied the thing and can’t come up with anything yourself. TikTok flipped that idea and turned it into a trend. So, [by copying] you follow the trend, and it makes you cool.
This is incredibly cool. It has had an effect on many people, especially kids. It made them closer to dancing.
M. And more relaxed, confident.
D. As they become more immersed in this simpler type of dance, they may start thinking of ways to improve their skills, and we might be able to introduce them to our own small subculture.