Beats and Breaks in Burma: Myanmar’s Biggest Dance Crew

By Lwin Mar Htun 30 January 2020

When Junior Creative, a dance crew from Myanmar, performed at the quarterfinals of “America’s Got Talent: The Champions” in early January, they didn’t take the easy route. They chose to perform a shadow dance, where dancers perform in between a powerful light and a cloth screen that covers the stage, the audience seeing only the silhouettes of the dancers and their props. The group performed a story about the impacts of civil war and child soldiering to a rapt, emotional audience.

“It’s quite amazing,” said Simon Cowell, a judge famous for his harsh comments to contestants. “We see this a lot on this show. Young people at your age are able to make a point more clearly than people who are three times older than you.” All the members of the group are between the ages of 17 and 22.

Another judge, Heidi Klum, added, “I think it’s also important that you are helping and fighting for the other children out there, so kudos to all of you guys for doing that.”

Junior Creative performs a story about the child victims of war on ‘America’s Got Talent’. / Junior Creative

“We haven’t won the prize but we were so happy with how Simon gave us that positive comment and with how he, and all of them, gave us a standing ovation,” said Khant Bhone Shein, a leader of the dance crew. “Now we’re planning to reach ‘Asia’s Got Talent’, after some more preparation.”

Junior Creative was also the winner of Season 5 of “Myanmar’s Got Talent” in 2018 and the group now hopes to be able to represent Myanmar at “Asia’s Got Talent”.

Khant Bhone Shein and a few other members of the crew founded Junior Creative in late 2014. The group first competed on “Myanmar’s Got Talent” in 2015 during Season 2, with an urban dance performance.

“We reached the final stage [in 2015] but we didn’t win a prize. Then we participated in Season 5, with a shadow dance performance and with more members. Then we got the top prize,” said Khant Bhone Shein.

Currently, the Junior Creative dance crew includes 15 members. They are all students at different universities but they’ve united around expression and the messages they hope to communicate.

In a shadow performance, Junior Creative portrays a man preparing to give Thanaka, a traditional Myanmar skin treatment, to another. / Junior Creative

“There are so many kinds of dance and we’ve found shadow dance. We have many creative options in shadow dance and it’s more about storytelling, so we can give a message to the audience through our creations,” said Khant Bhone Shein.

Their award-winning performance on “Myanmar’s Got Talent” in 2018 was about an underage victim of sexual abuse.

“Actually, shadow dance choreography is not very easy to make and to practice at normal dance studios. We need a large space and have to set up a cloth screen and other things,” said Khant Bhone Shein. “Luckily, we got a large room from University of Medicine 1 because we have a couple of medical students in our crew. So, they asked for help from the school. But we do everything else ourselves.”

When they first started to dance together, many members of Junior Creative didn’t have the support of their families, who were worried that dancing isn’t a lifelong career and doesn’t make any money.

“I had to go against my parents’ words. We have to collect our pocket money to go to a dance studio. After winning the award from ‘Myanmar’s Got Talent’, they started changing their minds and let us do this,” said Thiha Tin Aung Soe, another member of the group.

“My mom wants me to focus on studying because I’m a medical student and my parents want to see me become a doctor,” Thiha Tin Aung Soe added. “But I’m so into dance. Now they’ve started accepting dance as a career, but I need to balance dancing and studying.”

When they won “Myanmar’s Got Talent”, the group received 150 million kyats (US$102,000).

“[Since winning in 2018] people have started to recognize us and we got more work opportunities,” said Khant Bhone Shein. “We got a chance to attend a workshop with professional international choreographers. We got our own dance studio. We’re really thankful to ‘Myanmar’s Got Talent’ for those opportunities.”

Junior Creative was founded in 2014 and has a total of 15 members, including both young men and women. / Junior Creative

Six months after winning “Myanmar’s Got Talent”, they got an invitation from “America’s Got Talent: The Champions”, a competition among winning acts from around the world.

“At first, we thought it was fake or some spam message. But it was true and we’ve already performed on the stage; we’re so happy,” Khant Bhone Shein said.

They only had six months to prepare to compete at “America’s Got Talent”.

“The stage is bigger than at ‘Myanmar’s Got Talent’ but all the sets were the same. We were a bit more excited because the audiences are different and we’re in another country, but we performed at our best,” said Khant Bhone Shein.

Though Junior Creative may have won a top prize for dance, dancers in Myanmar still face a number of struggles.

“There are a lot of private dance trainings or classes in Myanmar but we didn’t have any dance school. We watch videos from YouTube,” said Khant Bhone Shein. “Many people still don’t accept dancing as a career that can make a living, that’s the main problem. But we won’t give up. We will keep trying for more.”

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