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Become a Cultural Navigator

Vancouver street dancer Eric Cheung shares insights into popping, battling, and earning a living by moving his body

Eric Cheung
Eric Cheung and other OURO Collective members will perform at the inaugural OUROFEST, which runs from May 25 to 28. Photo by Sebastian Palencia.

When two or more street dancers engage in a battle, it’s not simply a competition. According to Vancouver street dancer Eric Cheung, it’s an intense conversation.

“It’s a very back and forth thing,” Cheung tells Pancouver over Zoom. “It deals with all these different energies from the audiences, the judges, you, and the other person. Battling is the core of street dance.

“You don’t know what the music is going to be,” he continues. “It’s very in-the-moment.”

Cheung has deep insights into this after competing in battles in Japan, the Netherlands, the U.S., and across Canada. His style is called “popping”, which allows for tremendous creativity.

“You can be controlled; you can be fluid; you can be explosive,” Cheung explains. “There’s a wide variety of things that you can choose from popping. It’s very dynamic.”

Cheung is a member of Vancouver’s OURO Collective, which will host a street-dance festival in Vancouver later this month. OUROFEST will open with youth and adult street-dance battles at a ticketed event on Saturday (May 25) at SFU Woodward’s Goldcorp Centre for the Arts.

That will be followed by free performances at Robson Square on Sunday (May 26) featuring Cheung and other OURO Collective members. He says that they will unveil a new work that day. Moreover, dancers from different Canadian cities will also perform. OUROFEST will offer workshops on its final two days.

“This event is a celebration of the street-dance culture,” Cheung says. “It’s also a celebration of our 10-year anniversary. We want to keep pushing street dance into new territories.”

Eric Cheung
Eric Cheung will perform in 7y98D at Dancing on the Edge. Photo by Teppei Tanabe.

Cheung taught himself how to dance

OURO Collective members accomplish this by merging different styles, such as waacking, hip-hop, house, breaking, and contemporary. They also create theatrical dance performances.

As an example, the OURO Collective will perform the full-length 7y98D at Dancing on the Edge on June 21 and 22. Inspired by the Climate Clock, Cheung and the other dancers will represent the cyclical nature of the Earth.

Self-taught B-Boy Rauf “RubberLegz” Yasit is choreographing 7y98D in collaboration with OURO Collective. As a preview, the collective will present excerpts of 7y98D at Moon Gate on May 23 at the Polygon Gallery.

Watch the trailer for 7y98D.

Moon Gate also features Cheung in collaboration with engineer and creative coder Cristian Gonzalez in Everlasting. The Polygon Gallery website describes Everlasting as “a mesmerizing audiovisual experience that explores the recurring cycles and never-ending processes that make up the natural order of our existence”.

Cheung has come a long way over the last decade. The son of Hong Kong immigrants, he taught himself how to dance in Calgary by watching performers on TV and YouTube and by finding battles in the community.

“I met some other dancers and travelled around the world to learn,” Cheung says. “And then the rest is history, I guess.”

In 2017, he won the Vancouver Street Dance Festival battle. The next year, he moved to Vancouver and joined the OURO Collective.

“It’s definitely rare to be a street dancer and be full-time when you are around the ecosystem of industry dance or contemporary ballet,” Cheung acknowledges.

Eric Cheung and Rina Pellerin perform in SOTTO 51 Phase 1 at Robson Square.

Training takes time

Cheung admits that his Asian parents weren’t thrilled when he decided to quit university to become a professional street dancer. He was a good student, studying accounting. His parents made him pledge to earn a certain amount of money by the end of the year or else he would have to return to his studies.

“I had to make a contract—a document, essentially,” Cheung says with a chuckle.

In pursuit of his livelihood, he wrote about 30 grant applications last year. He also supports himself by engaging in projects that weave together technology and dance.

In addition, Cheung has ventured into film work. His newest project, NULL, is a yet-to-be-released experimental short film directed by Alim Sabir, a Kazakh Canadian based in Toronto.

“It’s very intense—almost like Dune,” Cheung reveals. “I’m flying in the air in an empty void and running across the fields…but it’s more of a story than movement.”

He is used to sudden movements after playing badminton for 18 years. And like ballet and contemporary dancers, Cheung needs to look after his body to continue in his career. He says that he works out five or six days a week, mixing strength and functional training with dancing. He also spends considerable time devising conceptual movements.

“It’s a full day,” Cheung concedes.

A young Eric Cheung shows off his popping skills.

The Polygon Gallery presents Moon Gate on May 23. OURO Collective presents OUROFEST from May 25 to 28. Dancing on the Edge presents 7y98D on June 21 and 22. To learn more about Eric Cheung, visit his website. Follow Pancouver on X (formerly Twitter) @PancouverMedia and on Instagram @PancouverMedia.

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Charlie Smith

Charlie Smith

Pancouver editor Charlie Smith has worked as a Vancouver journalist in print, radio, and television for more than three decades.

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We would like to acknowledge that we are gathered on the traditional and unceded territories of the Coast Salish peoples of the xʷməθkwəy̓əm (Musqueam), Skwxwú7mesh (Squamish), and Səl̓ílwətaɬ (Tsleil-Waututh) Nations. With this acknowledgement, we thank the Indigenous peoples who still live on and care for this land.