Interview by Jenkin Au
Words by Jenkin Au
Photography by Patrick Giang & Jenkin Au

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Currently consisting of four members, Over The Influence (OTI) is a dance group that dances and choreographs dances of all varieties. Being a unit since 2002, each member of the group is extremely skilled in dance and in the interpretation of dance. This is a very important aspect as the interpretation abilities of dance in which OTI possesses is probably what sets them apart from many many other dance groups. Being able to draw from styles such as ballet, modern dance, jazz, and many more, OTI takes the elements of these styles and fuses them with hip-hop, creating a unique piece. Starting with five members, including present day members JoJo Zolina and Stewart Iguidez, three of them ventured off into other things in their lives. A few years down the road, Yoshi Hisanaga joins the group and now, Kyle Vincente has been added to this ensemble. The insight, talents and technical skills of this group defines them as one of the best dance crews in Vancouver. The justalilhype! Crew had a conversation with them one day to talk about the group in general.

Please tell us about yourselves.

Kyle: I have been dancing since the age of 12 and I have been training under jazz, hip-hop, ballet, theatre…I never was limited to one style. I always kept my options open and I would fuse things together with hip-hop to make me different from other dancers. I lived here all my life – I have been dancing since then and I am 21 now. I have done movies, music videos, shows, and events all over. Dancing is my passion and it is what I do.

JoJo: I love music. I love hip-hop, house, electro, RnB, soul, jazz and everything that makes my body move and feel good. I was born in the Philippines and I came to Canada when I was 12 when my mother passed away. Then, I branched into different styles of dance and cultures. I got really involved with the community in Victoria and I went to the community center to try to tap into different cultures. I tried Irish and African dancing and then I taught Filipino folk dancing. Filipino folk dancing has many variations because of the different cultures, with influences from the Japanese, Chinese, Spanish, American… They also have many different religions, such as Catholic and Muslim. All of this modifies who I am because I can tap into different cultures and religions. When I dance, I freestyle and I channel what feeling I’m feeling and project that to the audience. I am here in Vancouver trying to make a difference and bring what I saw back in the Philippines and Victoria and brining it here, making it bigger.

Yoshi: I was born and raised in Vancouver. I love all aspects of hip-hop – the music, the arts, the dance and the people. I primarily focus on bboying and hip-hop and I do a bit of competitive choreography which is something that I’m known for here in Vancouver. I have a lot of competitive groups and I also have a lot of students through the teaching that I do. I try to pass down my knowledge to the up and coming generation that is trying to learn what hip-hop is, it’s positive influence on the community and things like that.

Stewart: People know me as Stuey Teller of OTI, one of the original members starting in 2002. I was born in Winnipeg, Manitoba and I moved out here in ’89. I lived in Richmond for a year and then moved to Surrey where I grew up. For the past five or six years, I have been living in Vancouver. I started dancing when I was 14 or 15 and I didn’t have a teacher; I was doing one style – it was just bboying – and I was just training to battle. At that time, we didn’t have YouTube or stuff like that and our learning it was a slow process. By the time I graduated high school, I started becoming more of an artist and I found myself appreciating art as a whole. I fell in love with everything: locking, popping, krumping, house, graffiti, DJ, fashion, music, guitar, singing and anything else that was in the arts. That helped define who I am – the music I listen to, the people I look up to – and now I find myself more on the dancing style with a fusion of everything. Some months it’s more bboying and some months it’s more RnB or other styles. I have other hobbies as well, such as martial arts. I love guitar and singing and I love half Japanese girls – they are really hot.

(Everyone laughs)

Stewart: I love ice cream and super long walks. Anyways, I’m a big fat clown in our group. I love making people laugh because then, I get funny energy back. The more happy I make everyone else, the more happy I will be so I do it all the time.

What has hip-hop done in terms of shaping your state of mind?

Y: For me, it’s done everything. Up until one point, my life was like any other Canadian boy playing hockey. Once hip-hop came into my life, my life completely changed. All my friends and work and passion all revolved around hip-hop, one way or another. If I am at home and dead tired, my hobby would be writing lyrics to a beat, or learning how to draw. Everything revolves around hip-hop, especially my friends, which is super important. All the people I meet are part of hip-hop, which is really important.

Would everyone agree that it’s the same for you?

J: Yeah. It made me grow and see the world differently. I have become more open minded because hip-hop is taken from different cultures. Music wise and the lyrics that they used to write about when hip-hop was really good, it was all politics and certain issues like racism and sexism. They all stood for the people and for the community and what is and was right. There are some anthems now and some newer stuff. Hip-hop means “Trendy dance, the new style”. Everything that they were doing in the past has evolved to what it is now and it is still evolving. There is new dance all the time.

With hip-hop in your early life laying the foundation, Over the Influence was created. Can you tell us about the creation of this group?

Y: Creating… and maintaining…

S: In a nut shell, it started with five members, including JoJo and I in 2002. Slowly, they started to find other paths and we started to find ours. Yoshi eventually found his way in and same with Kyle. What we do as a group is we love a lot of things. We are known to take the things that we love and try to blend it into a huge concept of a piece. A big reason of how we came up with our name is that we grab everything that influences us and we mash it together and take it over the top and the next level.

Was maintaining the group a difficult task for you guys?

Y: I don’t think it was difficult, but it definitely has its challenges, as in any group. OTI has been around for eight years now and you don’t see many groups stick around that long because of these challenges –it’s amazing how these guys have kept it going. I’ve been with them for three years now about and I see the challenges but it’s a lot of fun as long as we keep working together. What I love about this group is that we don’t have this specific style. We like to touch on everything and anything and this sets us aside from everybody else.

J: Everyone in the group has something different. He paints, he MC’s… I just dance.

(Everyone laughs)

J: Most of the time, I’m the one with the brain that goes into concepts – that’s what we are because we tap into different concepts and issues because I have a lot of issues.

Good ones?

J: Yeah, good ones. With maintaining the group, it’s all just good communication and a good understanding of each other because we all have our own separate lives. We communicate with each other with what needs to be done. One person might be off because they are going through some issues. Then, it’s just, “Yo, mayday, mayday. Let’s work on something different,” rather than going on that negative side. Why can’t we solve it? That person is injured so let’s work on something else. We solve it right away and we don’t just procrastinate it. We don’t fight about it and be negative about it. We stop and think about how to solve it.

S: It has become a family thing. When it’s with your brother or whatever, it’s really easy to get under each other’s skin. You get comfortable, but it’s easy to push each other’s buttons. The fights are healthy, as much as they suck sometimes; when you get through them, especially with our eight years, it’s going to make the crew pretty solid and invincible. I don’t know a lot of crews that have lasted this long in this city in the 12 years that I’ve been going at it in the scene. I’m pretty stoked and happy with it. A lot of our friends are in other crews and we hear about the things that happen. When we do, we remember it happening to us and we know how it feels. It’s just a matter of whether or not you choose to go through it and fight through it. Most crews are a lot bigger – we’re one of the smallest. Other crews are 30 plus and it’s going to have some bad blood over time.

J: The biggest issue is the business side because we’re all artists. We’re having a hard time with the business side and when it comes to it, we don’t want to deal with it. We love to dance and to perform and when it comes to business, we just have to bite our tongue and just do it. This is something that we’re dealing with, too, and we’re getting through it.

At the beginning, OTI was five members. Three of the original members left to find alternative lives. Did they diverge into something that wasn’t hip-hop?

S: One of them diverged into something that isn’t hip-hop and the other still dances but in another style – he loves the style of hip-hop and still uses it as an influence, but it’s strictly modern and contemporary dance, taking it to a whole new level. Another guy still does hip-hop and he’s strictly a locker, living out in Vegas and he’s got a completely different lifestyle.

Over The Influence, the name, is about taking everything that influences you and taking that beyond what it ever was. How has OTI done that with their influences?

Y: I think the best way to describe that is how we have such an eclectic blend of all styles. There is OTI as a unit and then there are four entities in which we all influence each other and the group, as well all the things that influence us individually. If you add it up, that’s a lot of things that influence the group. We put all our influences and put that into the creation of a piece and we try to feed off that and push it to the next level. If you think about it, it’s an unlimited amount of energy.

S: We blend the skills together and fuse it with what our crew does. We dance together.

The versatility of OTI is amazing. Catering to styles even beyond hip-hop, you recreate that and fuse it together with hip-hop to give it a new flavour. Can you bring us through the thought process of recreating different moves and styles?

J: We begin with one simple concept and then we add on.

K: Maybe Jo will have an idea and let’s say Yoshi really likes the idea but he’ll throw in his style into it. Then I’ll put me into it and then the same with Stu. Soon, it’s building and building and then –

J: That’s dope!

Y: We’re so open to things. Some other groups will have a set choreographer and style, but we’re so open. Sometimes, we might say, “Kyle, choreograph the whole thing,” and other times, we’re totally open with all four minds making the dance. We’re so open about each person and their styles. Each of our pieces are different and unique because they have a totally different thought process to it.

What are some of the stereotypes that OTI are faced with.

Y: There are a lot of stereotypes that exist, especially with the people that aren’t in the hip-hop culture. The mass public tends to consume negative stereotypes of hip-hop AS hip-hop. That is something that we want to get rid of. Hip-hop is a really positive thing and it’s our theme – the positive influence of us is given to the community because of the positive influence it gives us. We try to get rid of the negative stereotypes as much as possible and keep it positive.

What does this say about the personality of Over the Influence?

Y: Good question.

S: It’s hard to put this into a sentence. As a group, we are really respectful and open minded of not just each other but everything defines our personality.

Y: We stay open minded yet we understand and respect the foundations.

J: Brotherhood and solidarity.

Have your individual goals with OTI and being in a dance crew been fulfilled so far?

Y: Not really fulfilling because we’re never satisfied. Fulfilling is a really strong word – we’re getting there and we’re going in the right direction.

J: It’s just motivating each other. Stu, Yoshi and I, our goals are to travel across Canada and go to the U.S. to do workshops. We are able to that. Now, we’re choreographing for T.V. shows and music videos and that was our goal. At the same time, we are motivating each other to see how we can top our past one and see what’s next.

Y: One thing that I remembered when I entered the group was what JoJo said to me. He said that many Vancouverites and Canadians in general tend to really idolize the American market. JoJo said, “What’s up with that? There is so much talent here in Canada and why can’t you idolize Canada? You know what? I’m going to do a super show with the top groups in Vancouver,” and we really pulled it off.

J: We’re so oblivious. We’re always looking over to our neighbour and we don’t know that they are actually looking at us for talent. You know how many people are looking at us? I always get phone calls asking me to work with them. I go over there and do my choreography with them and I just that I have to stay here. They are using us because we’re so oblivious to it all.

Do you think this plays in with the fact that the U.S. are more business minded? You mentioned it before that the business aspect were things that you as a group struggled with.

J: Yes. We’re so Canadian. Canadians are so chill and we don’t really dig. A lot of people are sleeping here. I don’t want to talk shit and I don’t want to be a hater but I see it. Lately, because of OTI and what we bring, we are pushing and we’re making people work for their goals. They are getting that slap.

It’s like they are hungry but they don’t realize it.

J: Yeah. I have another crew and they are so hungry. We work with them and we get stuff done, same with OTI. We don’t wait around.

S: A lot of these goals are hard to reach on your own, but in a group, reaching those goals is a lot easier. Going back to your question, being a part of a group helps us be more efficient and it segways into our bigger goals, too.

Not much is talked about the research that goes behind a dance crew and it’s routines. Can you tell us about the research process for OTI?

Y: We travel the world. I think that’s the most important thing – you can never stay grounded in one area.

J: As an artist, you have to travel to see the other cultures.

Y: We travel in groups a lot.

K: Watching YouTube is one thing but to be there and live it, it’s a totally different thing.

What are some of those next goals?

J: Secret! We haven’t debuted it but we have a show, September 19 at the Roundhouse Community Center called “The Dance of All Sorts”. It’s an hour show and we’re still in the process of finalizing it and we’re excited to show it to VanCity. It’s our home town!

Y: We don’t get to perform locally a lot.

J: Yeah, it’s good that we finally got asked to perform in our own city. At this point in time, we’re satisfied, but we continue on.

Y: We appreciate with what we have, but we’re never satisfied because we always have new goals and reach for more. My personal opinion is that we have our own individual goals and expectations for the group. We obviously have a collective mind of what we want to accomplish but I think an ultimatum as a unit is hard to describe.

What is HYPE?

J: Heartbeat.

Y: HYPE has two connotations, one positive and one negative. HYPE can mean that it’s fun, energetic and it’s jumping. At the same time, the other connotation to it is that it’s just HYPE and it’s a trend; it’s not deep.

S: If you think back, it came from HYPEr, but it became slang. When you hear the term, it’s to describe a term or an action. Another thing that I think about is one person passing on energy to the next. It is the passing of energy.

J: It’s that energy you feel inside of you and it’s you feeling your heartbeat, and then passing it.

K: Yeah, it’s the feeling that it gives you. It’s energetic and you can’t help but to jump off the wall. I see the energy in my eyes, whether I enjoy it or not.