As each generation navigates through and beyond their prime years in the dance industry, a select few get the yearning to structure development programs that help prepare and produce the next wave of talented dancers.
Currently dancer/choreographers like Tovaris Wilson, Lisette Bustamante, Chonique Sneed, Rhapsody, and Willdabeast have started training programs that offer a carefully crafted regimen that will undoubtedly cultivate a dancer’s physical, mental, and spiritual strength in a short amount of time by tackling industry and personal adversities head-on. This allows them to be more focused on maintaining a thriving career.
The two guys that I’ve interviewed are following in those footsteps! Not only are they going through the trenches of starting their own careers, they’ve also formed a company called the 818 Empire that molds and gives an outlet to young dancers from the San Fernando Valley. With all the imports from different states and countries flocking to California, often times we forget that there are superstars living right here in Los Angeles County.
When I first met Steven Lopez, I could tell that there was a calling on his life to not only be dynamic in his own right, but to help guide others with an endearing, patient, and an authentic charisma. After doing numerous workshops, dance videos, and performances with him, I’ve been able to experience his hard work and dedication firsthand. No matter what the project is or what I need from him, Steven shows up ready to show off! I took a moment to speak with him and Walter Moran who is his co-founder co-director of 818 Empire.
“As our careers began to blossom, we felt we needed to create an opportunity for other dancers that would help them navigate the dance industry and connect them to other choreographers and dancers.”
Where are you from and how were you introduced to dance?
WM: I’m from Sun Valley and I was introduced to dance in high school.
SL: Originally from West Covina but living in Fontana now.
What do you love about the area of North Hollywood?
WM: I love that the studios are so close by each other. It feels like everyone there is buzzing with creativity.
SL: There’s everything here; food, studios, entertainment, parking & I feel safe.
Tell me about how you began connecting and dancing professionally.
SL: It all started when I joined Show Off Dance Company. I was a new up and coming dancer who wanted a career out of it but didn’t know how to get started and had never been trained before. I started as an extra for music videos & films. My first credit would be appearing in a music video for Ally Hernandez Brooke from Fifth Harmony. At the time, she was a new solo female artist before becoming a member of the group. As years passed I continued to focus on my commitment to training hard as a member of SODC. That’s how I met other industry choreographers like G. Madison, Evan Moody, Kendrick Clevor, Gerald Gee Scott, Trey Rich & Luckie. I met each of them through Show OFF Intensive Workshops. Moving forward, I got to work on projects/gigs and grew to be good friends with them. The rest just happens as I brand myself including putting in more work, training myself in different studios/instructors like Brooklyn Jai and meeting other dancers. I just want to keep sharing my passion for dance and having people trust me to be a part of their vision.
What made you want to start your own Dance Company?
WM: I wanted to start my own dance company because I wanted to continue helping the 818 community by positively influencing those who come from low income families to get their foot out there in the dance industry.
SL: I always wanted to have my own team but never thought I could or even knew how. But Walter gave me an opportunity to work with him to start our own dance company together.
What is the goal and mission behind 818 and who what type of people do usually recruit?
WM: One of our goals for 818 members is to prepare them with an understanding and knowledge of the industry. We teach them how to do their resumes, dance reels & and help navigate getting quality headshots.
SL: To have 818 members develop into working professional dancers through our personal and professional resources. Its always amazing to work with industry choreographers/artist who want to have 818 in there projects and gigs. We’re open to any type of person. We recruit anyone who really wants to be part of the 818 family. We don’t judge. We give all the love, support and encouragement to all our dancers.
Tell me about a few performance opportunities, videos that 818 has been a part of.
SL WM: Kidz Carnival” was one of our biggest events we ever performed at. That showcase helped us put our names out there in the Summer of 2016. Since then, 818 Empire has been in a few music videos as backup dancers for young new artists.
Where do you rehearse and why?
Our rehearsals are usually at the Basement Dance Center because it’s in the heart of North Hollywood. It’s great space to hone in and work hard without any distractions.
What do you see for the future of the company?
WM: I see 818 as a company traveling together, teaching workshops, performing in different cities.
SL: The same, but also having our own dance studio.
Whats one of the greatest life lessons you’ve learned?
WM: I’ve learned to stay strong by running a business. It’s not easy! We realize not everyone is going to support us so my strength to continue feeds off the dancers who are want to soak in all the knowledge they can from every experience.
SL: You can’t please everyone so be more patient with yourself. Just keep going and continue to invest in the ones who put in the work and have a great attitude. That shows how much they’re taking their craft seriously.
Who would you say inspires you the most?
WM: College Dance Teacher, Marianne Weiser. I’d never seen someone dancing at such a late age. She’s about 87 now and still doesn’t let anything stop her. It really gave me a different perspective.
SL: My coach, teacher, mentor would be who continues to inspire me the most. She’s been the biggest influence on my dance career since I started in 2012. I’ve learned so much from her just by watching her through the years as coach and teacher. I admire her work ethic. Such a free spirit person motivated & puts on a smile every day. That’s something I have to learn for myself as a young coach/teacher and a professional dancer/choreographer.
What’s one of the things you like most about being able to utilize social media in promoting and connecting 818 with the world?
SL: Social Media is like our very own timeline diary of all our adventures, moments & memories of how we first started til now.
WM: To show people what 818 is all about. It helps us brand 818 by sharing videos on Instagram & YouTube of our work, classes, concept videos, behind of scenes and including what 818 members do outside of the company as working dancers.
What’s one of the hardest challenges dealing with younger kids?
SL: Lecturing them between personal life & professionalism on how to make sacrifices. Listening & understanding of what’s right and whats wrong.
WM: Biggest issue about dealing with younger kids is commitment & being responsible. They sometimes dont really know how much determination it takes to swim through it all until they’re already in the water.
What do you want your 818 members to learn while under your direction?
– Be humble
– Always stay top of your game.
– Be ready for anything that comes at you.
– Keep going for more & more opportunities.
– Never doubt yourself.
– Stay positive
– and LIVE YOUR LIFE
WM: Stay true to who you are, never change, be humble & always stay passionate throughout their journey through dance.