KING OF DANCE.
JUNIOR KING (@JUNIORKING_SA) AND HIS DANCE CREW, THE PE BOYS (@THEPEBOYS), HAVE BEEN TEARING UP SOUTH AFRICAN DANCE FLOORS AND STAGES, AND EARNING A REPUTATION AS THE PREMIER DANCE CREW ON THE CONTINENT. TODAY, JUNIOR RUNS A DANCE ACADEMY FOR UNDERPRIVILEGED KIDS IN GQEBERHA. WE SPOKE TO HIM ABOUT HIS JOURNEY AND HIS DREAMS.
When Junior King was 16 years old, he tried to hang himself. For three years, he had been pouring his mind, heart and soul into the Déjà Vu Dance Academy in Gqeberha – or Port Elizabeth, as it was known at the time. At this prestigious dance school students had the opportunity to work their way up to become part of the famous Déjà Vu Dance Crew.
Junior lived and breathed Déjà Vu. He was their most enthusiastic and committed student, showing up for classes and rehearsals come rain or shine, with buckets of talent and passion to boot. He was as popular among the Academy’s students as he was among the staff. But when the time came to announce the students who would graduate to the next level – in the middle of a rehearsal, with expectations high and students around him chanting his name – Junior’s dream was crushed. Two girls were chosen instead. They had been with the Academy for four months; Junior had been there for three years.
Junior walked home, found a rope, went into his room, tied a noose around his neck and stood on a chair. But his mom found him just in time. “She never used to come into my room,” says Junior, “but in that moment she came into my room.”
The next day Junior woke up to find six friends from the Déjà Vu Academy sitting in his living room. They were as outraged by the snub as he was, so they’d quit the dance school. And that’s how Junior King started his first dance crew – PE’s Finest. A big leap for a young man.
PE’s Finest were managed by Junior’s mother, who immediately took them to Johannesburg to attend the World Hip Hop Dance Championship, hosted by Hip Hop International (@hiphopinternational_sa). “There were thousands of dancers,” says Junior. “There were performances, workshops, dance clothes… All the people I only used to look at on my phone. That’s when my eyes were opened. We had a long way to go.”
PE’s Finest placed ninth at their first Championship. A few years later they won gold and went to Las Vegas. But their success and dedication did not result in commensurate remuneration – PE’s Finest were doing well, but they were broke.
Around that time, Junior was spotted by an Idols choreographer, who invited him to dance for the popular TV show. Junior moved to Johannesburg and his passion for dance became a career. “I was doing Idols SA, I was doing Miss SA, I was performing with Black Coffee, Nasty C, Cassper Nyovest, AKA, I was doing music videos, I did my first TV ad… My career started thriving.”
Having achieved the success he had always dreamed of, Junior’s attention turned to his legacy, which brought him back to his roots. Junior grew up in Uitenhage (now Kariega), where he lived with his grandmother. At one point there were up to 20 people living in her two-bedroomed house. “I honestly don’t know how she did it,” he says. “It seems impossible. But we all got fed every day. She somehow made it work with the little that she had.”
He did not forget where he came from. He always knew his journey could accommodate others.
“My dream was always to have a dance school. I was never an individual spirit. I always wanted my friends and my dance friends to have the same success as I did. I want to [impart] … my knowledge to the next generation.”
Today, Junior has established his own elite dance crew – The PE Boys – and has two dance studios in Gqeberha: one in the upmarket beachside suburb of Humewood and one in the less privileged area of Salsoneville. There are 70 kids enrolled in both – and when he speaks about them, he lights up.
“My PA’s daughter is in my dance school,” he says. “The session was meant to start but I had to take a phone call. And she took the initiative and she was like, ‘Guys, we can’t wait for Junior. Let’s stretch.’ And she started doing the class. She led. And her mother told me that at school she’s a really shy kid. For me, seeing my kids take the initiative and being leaders, that’s coming full circle. Because that’s definitely what I want them to be.”
But Junior is not just laying the foundation for youngsters to thrive through dance, he is also blazing an ambitious new path for them. With The PE Boys, his aim is to elevate dance from the background of the performance industry to the headline act.
“When I started The PE Boys, I told them listen, this is not a dance crew. We are artists. In South Africa, it is so rare for a dancer to be considered an artist. A dancer is always considered a backup for the main artist who is performing, or you’re there to make the stage look full – you’re like props, or a silhouette. Dance was never taken as seriously as a headline act. So my goal is to prove to everyone who ever doubted me that dance can become a career, that it can be a headline act, and that we can be respected as artists.”
It was a long fight for recognition, says Junior, but it is finally paying off. This year, The PE Boys have toured more than 30 cities and towns in Africa. And they have sold out more than 20 of those events as the headline act.
“That’s the legacy I want to leave behind for dancers,” says Junior. “You can be an artist. You can headline your own show. You can sell it out. You can actually become that person and break down those walls.”