Justin Chinedu Ezirim is an award winning Nigerian dancer and choreographer with experience spanning over 15years. He’s a two time dance champion and has also successfully choreographed notable theatre productions such as ‘Fela and the Kalakuta Queens’. In this interview with TONY OKUYEME, Justin, who won the Close Up Fresh Challenge 2007 and the Mnet Let’s Dance 2009, recalls, with nostalgia, how the journey started.
Tell us how your career as a dancer began. What really inspired you to be a dancer?
I started as a street dancer. I was one of the students selected to represent my school at the Surulere local government festival. I was part of a traditional play titled ‘Mount Langbodo’. While we were rehearsing for the play I usually end up at the back whenever it’s time for us to dance because I wasn’t so good with traditional dances. I didn’t like that, so it motivated me to enroll in a dance school.
Did you really set out to become a dancer? Why?
Yes, because I discovered at a very early age that I could dance well so I decided to nurture it.
You won the Close up fresh challenge 2007. What were the challenges, and how has winning it affected your career as dancer?
Basically having to do a completely different style of dance (salsa) from the one I was known for. Winning the show also affected my career positively.
You also won the Mnet Let’s Dance competition in 2009. What were the challenges you encountered?
The challenges had to do with variety of dances from hip hop to salsa, samba, tango, chacha and of course Nigerian traditional dances, but it was worth it.
How did you feel when you were announced as the winner?
Mixed feelings because a lot of capital had gone on trying to get people to vote for me so if I didn’t win, it would have been a disaster. But I was excited, still.
How has it impacted your career as an artiste, particularly as a dancer?
I must say that it brought me into the limelight and I had a lot of opportunities.
Who really is Justin?
Tell us about your growing up experience. Justin has a twin sister along with five other siblings (all girls). Growing up was not exactly rosy, as at a very young age I had learn how to take control, I mean, I had six siblings waiting on me to provide for them. When the responsibility started to weigh my father down, i had to be the man. There was a time in our lives we were actually homeless. Myself, my mom and dad slept outside while we had to beg neighbors on the street to allow my sisters spend the night at their home. I did quite a number of menial jobs, from working at a poultry to earn stipends, hawking pap, working at different factories. It was an extremely tough experience, I must confess.
Would you encourage your child to be a dancer? Why?
Yes if my child wants to be one.
You are the Creative Director of Squad1 Productions. What inspired its establishment?
After acquiring knowledge in the art, we decided to come together to form the company as our way of giving back to the society and teaching the younger generations.
How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected your practice as an actor and a dancer?
It has affected it greatly. Our work involves a large number of people gathering together to be entertained but there’s none of that presently. (Social distancing). And we also have a lot of unfinished projects so it’s been quite hard.
Why have you not joined Nollywood?
No reason. If the opportunity for me to join Nollywood comes, I’ll take it.
What is your advice for someone who is interested in becoming a dancer?
Dance is not enough.