It’s 30 minutes until kick-off on a cool Saturday night at Eden Park. The rugby punters have filed in to take their seats, hands clutching a punnet of hot chips and eyes glued to the field. They’ve arrived early to secure their seat and to soak in the pre-match entertainment.
With a bang, the music erupts. Out from the players’ tunnel runs a crew of black-clad teenagers, each one grinning from ear to ear and waving to the crowd, waiting for the beat to drop and their set to begin.
This is Saintz Up Performing Arts School, one of the newest members of the Blues family and a group who love the Blues just as much as they love to dance.
“When the kids were prepping for the performances, they were so excited,” said Becks Va’ai, reminiscing on her team’s first season with the Blues.
Becks and her husband Nainz Tupa’i started the school back in 2009 and have seen it grow from a small Auckland dance crew to a 300 plus performing arts school.
Becks is a self-described “true blue for ages” and said she jumped at the chance to be part of the entertainment at Blues home games and to give the young kids from Central and West Auckland a shot at pursuing their dreams.
The couple know a little about the show business. They’re both musicians, in fact you may recognise Nainz as a member of the R&B, soul duo Adeaze. So it came as no surprise back in 2009 that their three young kids (they now have four) started to show an interest in the performing arts.
There was just one problem: the price tag. The costs started to add up as the kids pursued music, drama and dance. So they had to come up with a solution, and thought; why not start their own school?
From that, Saintz Up Performing Arts School was born, meeting in the family’s garage before moving to a school hall. Now, six years later, the school boasts 150 students in Central-West Auckland and they’ve just expanded to South Auckland, more than doubling their numbers. The key to their success is the affordability – professional musicians and Lil Saintz Dance Crew members make up the tutors, so classes only cost $5.
“The vision is all about giving back to the community and giving students high quality teaching, but at an affordable price,” said Becks.
As of 2012, the school is now a Charitable Trust, complete with a governing board that help keep things running. Becks manages the day-to-day alongside Nainz, who also works for Athens Alternative Education Programme.
Come 3.30pm, it’s all go for the tutors and students coming in for guitar, choir, vocal, drama and dance lessons. By 7pm, lessons are finished and by 7.30pm Becks, Nainz and their four kids are back home.
For Chantelle Huch, founding member of Lil Saintz Dance Crew and current dance tutor at Saintz Up, this is the family she grew up with.
The 22-year-old joined when she was just 12 after seeing her cousins dancing and wanting to join. Soon she was a permanent member of the crew as well as one of the school’s tutors.
“It can be really challenging sometimes, but I really enjoy interacting with the kids and seeing the enjoyment that they get from dance.”
And adding to all of these fun times is the success. The crew has earned multiple national honours and even came 2nd at the 2011 World Hip Hop Champs in Las Vegas.
And, of course, their new spot in the starting line-up for the Blues.
There’s only one small issue. “My husband was born in the Waikato, so is unfortunately a Chiefs fan,” said Becks. “You can’t imagine the banter in our house.”