Hip-hop to the top
The United States may be the birthplace of hip-hop culture but a dance school in Penrose is showing you do not have to be American to be a serious contender.
The Palace Dance Studio has been busy racking up awards and attracting the attention of major international players.
Its dance group The Royal Family, which is made up of four dance crews, successfully defended its 2011 Megacrew title at this year's World Hip-Hop Dance Championships in August.
The junior crew, Bubblegum, also won first place, adding to the five top rankings the studio earned over 2009 to 2011.
This year has been a big one for the studio's girl group ReQuest whose eight members won the 2012 Body Rock Hip-Hop Dance Competition in San Diego, appeared on the final of American Idol and were hired to dance in Jennifer Lopez' latest hit Goin' In.
That came after studio co-owner Parris Goebel was hired to choreograph dance moves for the pop star's Dance Again World Tour.
Ms Goebel is currently part of a team putting together the choreography for MJ 2013, Cirque Du Soleil's Michael Jackson tribute in Las Vegas. Six members of ReQuest have secured a two-year contract with the show.
So how has a small Auckland studio achieved all this? Through hard work and having the right type of dancers with the right attitude, Ms Goebel says.
The 21-year-old started the studio in April 2009 with the aim of nurturing talent.
"My desire was always to create a place where people can learn, grow and develop in a very positive and uplifting environment."
Mangere resident Lance Savali performed alongside her on Dancing with the Stars in November.
The Spotlight Performance focused on Ms Goebel's progression as a dancer and was set to Alicia Keys' Girl on Fire. Mr Savali, 21, felt nervous about dancing on the show because of its professionalism but the disciplined training he received at the studio helped.
The string of achievements at the world championships does not mean the dancers can relax now, he says.
"I think it puts more pressure on us because we've got to top our performance every year.
"It's like a battle against ourselves. Everyone's got high expectations of themselves."
Office worker Shyvon Campbell from Bucklands Beach also performed on Dancing with the Stars.
The 18-year-old loves the environment at the studio.
"Everyone's so passionate about dance.
"None of us are here because we have to be. We all want to be."
Both plan on moving to the United States to make dance their profession.
"The reality of becoming a back-up dancer is there. It's definitely do-able," Mr Savali says.
Ms Campbell says: "It would just be a dream come true. I saw Nicki Minaj perform recently and I so wanted to be one of the dancers on that stage."
Darcie Dieman, 22, was studying at Harvard University in Boston when she saw Royal Family and ReQuest on MTV.
She started following them on YouTube and knew she wanted to dance at the studio.
She applied for the Michael C Rockefeller Memorial Fellowship to study for a year at Palace Dance Studio.
She was accepted, arrived in September and now lives in Howick.
At first people asked her why she would leave the United States to dance here.
"I've seen the hip-hop scene there and I was really intrigued by something different."
Ruthy Pearce, 12, started hip-hop classes when she was 7 years old.
She moved from Whangarei to Epsom with her family so she and her sister could attend classes at The Palace Dance Studio.
"I just like mixing with other people who love dancing. You can just be yourself," she says.
She is part of the junior crew Bubblegum. The group came first in the 2011 and 2012 hip-hop world Championships, something she is proud of.
"It's an amazing feeling to represent New Zealand and show everyone what Polyswag is.
"It's mixing our Polynesian and New Zealand swag together. It's like gangster dance."
Ruthy has the same goal in mind as the others.
"I want to be a back-up dancer in America because all the opportunities are there. I would basically like to do what Parris and ReQuest are doing now. Parris is my role model. She's achieved so much," she says.
Ms Goebel says having dancers look up to her is "humbling".
"I don't really see myself as a role model at such a young age but I do want to inspire people to chase their dreams and be all that they can be."
Ruthy's sister Kaea, 15, is also a member of the studio.
She loves to perform: "I get this buzz when I'm on stage. I'm kind of an awkward person but when I'm dancing I come into my own. I want to move to the United States and dance every day."
Ms Goebel says her dreams of carving out a career in dance in the United States are "completely realistic now".
"I am travelling the world as a choreographer and we have six girls working full-time in Cirque du Soleil. All of us are from New Zealand. This is just the beginning of things to come for dancers from The Palace."