Meet Kaea Pearce

Whoever had the idea of tasking hip-hop dance royalty Parris Goebel and her all-female dance crew ReQuest with choreographing the video for Bieber’s single ‘Sorry’ had a good day at work that day. It wasn’t totally inspired – Parris and her crews have already amassed a small mountain of international gold medals and her career name-checks the likes of Nicki Minaj and Janet Jackson – but taking a punt on a bunch of poly swagg dancers in lieu of Biebs’ own crooning mug may just have achieved the unthinkable: made him cool with people who aren’t nine-year-old girls.

Front and centre of ReQuest, and impossible to miss with her fierce presence and total conviction, is Kaea Pearce. Kaea, now eighteen, has been dancing since she was eleven. When she was twelve, her parents made the move down to Auckland from Whangarei so that she and her younger sister, Ruthy, could dance at The Palace, Parris’s world-famous studio in Penrose. It might sound like a big commitment to make to what some call a ‘hobby’, but it looks like it’s paying off: just a couple of weeks ago, Kaea was dancing alongside J-Lo at the American Music Awards.

‘Dancing is something I’ve always wanted to do,’ she says. ‘I don’t want to do anything else ever. I feel different when I dance. I can’t really explain it in any other way other than when I dance I feel like I can be free and confident and own what I do.’

If you’ve watched Kaea dance (and you must) you’d be forgiven for expecting her to be super confident, a little aloof, very cool and maybe even a bit intimidating, but not so at all – she sports an irresistibly genuine smile and a soft (but not quiet) voice. As she explains, ‘I’m not very confident at all off-stage. When I talk to people, I don’t think I have much to offer a conversation – I’m always scared that I might come across as being dumb. On the stage, I feel the opposite: I feel strong and powerful and [like] no one will judge me.’

On-stage and off-stage Kaea might seem to be two different creatures, but there’s one thing that links them: working bloody hard. ‘I think the best advice I can give is to work harder than hard to achieve what you want,’ she says. ‘Don’t settle for what’s easy. If it’s too easy then you need to work harder.’ Kaea’s conviction is clear: ‘Failure is never an option for me. I’ll keep going until I can’t walk any more.’

She’s dancing full-time now, but then she pretty much was while she was still at school, too. ‘I did NCEA Level One, but I struggled a lot,’ she says. ‘I remember the day Mum pulled me out of school. I had an essay due that morning and I had got home from recording a video for Missy Elliot with Parris at about 4.30am.’ Her mum wrote a note to explain to Kaea’s teacher why she hadn’t been able to complete her essay, but the teacher was unsympathetic, telling Kaea that there was no future in dancing and that she needed to focus on a ‘real’ career. ‘No one at school valued my dancing at all,’ Kaea says. ‘To them it was a waste of time and wouldn’t get me far.’ More fool them.

‘At the moment I’m really enjoying dancing at a whole new level,’ she goes on. ‘I’ve been dancing with Parris for six years now, and every year has had highlights and overseas trips and fun stuff, but now I’m at the stage where I’m being chosen by Parris to perform for things like the AMAs or for Justin Bieber. It’s gotten really serious. Things are shifting to a whole different level.’

Kaea’s parents are clearly a huge support to both her and Ruthy, and not just when it comes to facing down teachers – a fact that’s not lost on Kaea. ‘I know my parents give up a lot for us. It’s hard seeing them struggle – really hard. But it does motivate me to work harder and do better knowing they have given up so much.’

It can be easy to fall into the trap of assuming that talent and good luck alone pave the way to success, no matter what field you’re in, but as is clear in Kaea’s case there’s no substitute for putting in the long hours and hard work. Combine natural talent with a tenacious work ethic, and you’ve got a lethally promising combination. Watch this lady. She’s going to go far.

See Kaea and other members of The Palace on Maori Television’s show of the same name, on demand

by Kimberley Davis
This content originally appeared within The Seasonal #02 SUMMER