The Studio in Midrand is usually a quiet, polished and professional environment, where photographers come to get their ish done. But the arrival of the Reptilez has the place on its head. People who would otherwise be window shopping for a good deal on a tele-photo lens, or quietly rigging lights for a shoot, are crowded around the glass wall of the studio watching the Reptilez bust their tightly synchronised moves to the click and flash of the camera.
What the Reptilez bring is a hip hop inspired mix typified by big power moves, synchronisation and an original style of popping. “Everything on point.” Says Nicholas Thebe. “We look like one person on stage. Everything about us is clean.” You can tell this from their get up: black shades, black shoes, black jeans and shiny black leather jackets. They’re like the men in black of Mzansi dance.
Soweto-raised but Edenvale-based (for business reasons) this crew came together over 7 years ago and has subsequently tasted a lot of success.
“I’m the founder of the crew.” Says Nicholas. “And we used to be based in White City, which is how I met Mini aka Siphiwe Mgaga. Mini then brought Tsepho Nkone and Sthembiso Dliwayo (who we call Sparks), to the crew because they were all in the same class.”
“Why do they call it White City?”
“Because all the houses were white!” The crew unanimously jump on the answer.
But how did a hip hop crew with deep Soweto roots move to the burbs?
“We work for a marketing company in Linbro Park, called ZAG. They activate products and we’re the entertainment arm of it.”
“We’re strictly hip hop guys.” Says Sparks. “We do what we do best.”
“People know we got this thing that’s different about us.” Adds Tsepho. “We don’t know what to call it. But we know we have it.”
The crew can trace their roots in dance back to the film You Got Served, that and the steady stream of music videos on MTV and Channel O.
“The movie You Got Served, was a turning point.” Says Nicholas. “That’s the day when I told myself I want to dance!”
“Sisqo, was a big inspiration too.” Adds Tsepho. “It’s cheesy now. But back then it was… yoh! We used to do R&B, then You Got Served came in and we got into that, but dance was always in the blood.”
“So what happened?”
“Next step, we formed a group, called Play. And that’s when I started to take the dance thing seriously… And the music videos and dance movies were the things that kept us going.”
“Nicholas is inspired by Chris Brown and most of the time, it’s Chris Brown and the crew…” Mini laughs.
“It’s just inspiration.” Nicholas protests! “I don’t copy moves or anything like that.”
“We got our own style.” Adds Tsepho. “We don’t just bite other people’s style and genres.”
“Most of the time crews look up to other crews.” Nicholas explains. “What makes us different is that we look up to a wide diversity of people and styles. And those influences and inspirations make us unique.”
A few years in and the accolades and awards started piling up. They won back to back Strictly Hip Hop dance competitions in 2009 and 2010 and followed it up by winning Masters of Rhythm, on Vuzu, last year. “And now we got Red Bull Beat Battle in our sights.” Says Sthembiso with a big grin. With the Reptilez, it’s obvious where their passion lies, as Nicholas reiterates: “We’re more happy dancing on stage, than doing any other thing.”
“Dancing is a calling.” Adds Sparks. “And we’re just lucky that we answered it.”
“When we came together as The Reptilez, we realised that this is the one thing that makes us who we are.” Says Mini.
“We’re more happy dancing on stage, than doing any other thing.” Says Nicholas finally.
But making it as a professional dance crew is a full time occupation. You got to put in the time.
“Sometimes we find ourselves spending 5 hours in the studio.” Says Nicholas. “Other times it’s just the whole night. You can’t go to sleep if something’s not right. Especially the night before a big event, we’ll work and just try make it perfect, the way we want it to be. I can tell you this, hands down, the night before Red Bull Beat Battle, we won’t sleep.”
“And if we make it…” Says Sparks. “If we achieve and actually win Beat Battle, we want to start our own company. Reptilez Entertainment, Repz Ent!”
“So is there a living in it?”
“There is, if you know the right people.” Says Mini
“Yoh… it depends.” Says Tsepho.
“We are full time dancers.” Adds Sparks. “There are no daytime jobs or anything. This is what we do. But we know that our dancing days are limited. So we’re not just focussing on dancing for the rest of our lives. We want to build Reptilez as a brand. We’re trying to pave the way for other dancers to do what they do. To get what we got, if not more.”
“But ja there’s a limit to dance, depending on the people you know and how good you really are and the skills that you’ve got.” Adds Nicholas finally.
And to keep them grounded they’ve all got a deep faith in God.
“God is not a church. No offense.” Says Nicholas. “God is everywhere, in the heart, where we live, the way we talk to people.”
But going out on a limb and trying to forge a career in dance often causes a fair amount of concern with the family.
“Nah, these days we get a lot of respect.” Says Mini.
“Not anymore. But in the past, that used to be an issue.” Laughs Sparks. “When we go to practice they’d be like, ‘when are you going to go to school, bring money in the house? This dance thing is not going to get you anywhere… But today they support us full time.”
“It wasn’t like they were totally against it.” Adds Nicholas. “They just wanted to see that we were actually doing something.”