Interview: NZ Choreographer Lance Savali on Working With Chris Brown, Touring With Rihanna and His Icons

Choreographer Lance Savali talks working with some of the biggest stars in the music industry, putting on for New Zealand, and where he hopes to go next.

Lance Savali
Complex Original

Lance Savali for complex au in a bonds campaign

Lance Savali

Lance Savali is a New Zealand-born dancer, who shot to stardom after beginning his career with Paris Goebel’s dance crew, The Royal Family. He’s the type of guy you’d describe as ‘born from a boom-box’ (Step Up 3, anyone?). Savali has performed alongside some of the biggest acts in the world: when J-Lo headlined the Super Bowl, Lance was there; when Rihanna took ANTI on tour, Lance was there; when Beyonce took over Coachella, Lance was there—never missing a beat.

Savali has been heavily involved in the Hip Hop and R&B dance scene for years, and while still passionate about dance, he’s now venturing out into other avenues of creativity. Lance has his own streetwear brand called Mosaique, in addition to owning a few barbershops with his brother. He’s begun DJing and releasing house club anthems, and you may also have seen him as a judge earlier this year on Dancing With The Stars NZ. He’s also apart of Bonds’ latest campaign, Bonds Icons, which celebrates those who bring ‘Big Icon Energy’. 

Life and work are all about enjoyment for the New Zealand local—he’s on a path for himself and no one else. He balances this, however, with the acknowledgement that it’s no small feat to represent his country on the global stage—forever appreciative of The Royal Family crew that moulded him into the force he is today. While dance will always remain a huge part of his life and career, Savali is most excited to delve deeper into his newfound love for producing music going forward.

Speaking to Complex AU, Lance Savali chats working with some of the biggest stars in the industry, putting on for New Zealand, and where he hopes to go next. 

So, you’ve worked with some of the biggest names in the industry: Beyonce, Rihanna, Chris Brown and Jennifer Lopez—to name a few. Who’s been your favourite to work with?

I’ve always struggled answering this question because most of them are monumental for me in different ways. When I danced with Usher, that was massive for me, because that was the first time I came to New Zealand and performed in front of my family. But then with Chris Brown, I booked my first job ever with him—so obviously, that’s a big one for me. Coachella with Beyonce, that performance is just iconic. Rihanna is just fucking Rihanna. If there were one female and one male artist that I’ve wanted to work for my whole life, it would be Chris Brown and Rihanna, so it’s hard for me to choose a favourite. I honestly can’t give you an answer.

It would be extremely tricky to choose. Maybe then you can tell me who you’ve learnt the most from?

I’m going to have to say Chris Brown and Rihanna, because I’ve spent the most time with them. I did a world tour with Rihanna, and I’ve done like 7 tours with Chris Brown. I know them on a personal level.

Lance Savali standing against a grey wall

Working with such high-profile artists has allowed you to travel the world as a dancer. Can you talk about the importance of representing New Zealand on the global stage? 

The most important part is the big picture. The young people in New Zealand are seeing me do what I’ve always wanted to do. Just letting it be known that it is possible to do these things, even though we’re from a small country on the other side of the world, is the most important thing to me. But, it’s also important for me to prove that I can achieve these things to myself—proving it to myself is probably just as important.

When you were younger, you moved from Wellington to Auckland, where you started training with Paris Goebel and The Royal Family. How did being a member of The Royal Family shape you into the dancer you are now?

When I got asked to join The Royal Family, that’s when I realised that I was going to take dance seriously. The training that we did in that studio, and the crew that we had—everyone wanted to be the best. It was contagious. We were all just gunning to be better than each other, and I think that’s probably the healthiest competition you can have. So that really set the tone for my career.

A lesson I learnt during that time was that when it comes to work, if I’m not having fun, I don’t want to have anything to do with it. Whether it’s a small job or a big job, if I’m not enjoying it, I’m out of there—no matter how much I’m getting paid. I’m a strong believer that if I’m not enjoying it, I’m out of there—no matter who, what, when, or where it is. 

You speak a lot about being having your own sense of individuality. I know The Royal Family is a huge dance crew, so how did you maintain your sense of self, being a part of such a huge group?

I think what was cool about being in that crew was that together we were a fucking force, but individually, we all danced completely differently—and that was encouraged. It wasn’t hard to maintain an individual style, it was just kind of organic, and The Royal Family supported that.

Lance Savali dancing with Rihanna on stage for the ANTI tour

You’re one of the stars in Bonds’ latest campaign, Bonds Icons. Who are the icons in your life that have shaped you into the icon you are? 

I think Prince is one for sure. Tyler, the Creator is a fucking icon for me. When I think about growing up, Lauryn Hill was definitely an icon to me—I was lowkey in love with her in Sister Act 2 when I was younger. Also Dennis Rodman and Allen Iverson—fucking massive icons in my life.

Can you talk a little bit more about Dennis Rodman, and how he influences you? Your style at times feels akin to what he was rocking in the 80s. 

He was just so unapologetic in that era, and I was also obsessed basketball. From a young age, I always wanted to dye my hair, but I was never allowed. I always wanted to wear 2 earrings, but back then, if you wore 2 earrings, you were a ‘girl’. I always wanted to paint my nails. I’ve always kind of been this little rebellious child. I just saw a little bit of me in both Allen Iverson and Dennis Rodman. You know?

Switching gears, Tik Tok dancing has blown up in the last couple of years. What’s your take on it? 

I love it. I love Tik Tok. I love dancing. I’m a huge fan—I live on Tik Tok. I know other people who are a little older and don’t understand it, but it’s like, you’re either with the trends or you’re not, you know? So you can’t really hate on the dancers who are blowing up on Tik Tok. They might not necessarily be ‘technically’ or ‘professionally’ good, but they’re still having fun, and they’re creating an emotion through the screen. That’s what they’re doing right. I honestly love it. If we can make money on a social media app from dancing and just having fun, and not take it too seriously, then why the fuck not?

Lance Savali takes a mirror selfie with a disposable camera

Earlier this year, you released a club anthem titled What Goes Up, and you’re also a DJ. What pushed you to pivot in the direction of creating your own music?

If I’m being honest, I love to party. I love house music. I was just like, why the fuck am I not making my own house music, so that I can DJ around the world? I wanna take my friends with me, party, and get paid for it. So, I was like, you know what? I’m going to make my own house music, and I did.

Do you think this is what’s next for you? Do you want to keep pursuing DJing? Or are there still other people you want to dance with? 

Music is my focus right now. I’ve got a new single coming out on November 4 called Move Your Body, I’m super excited. Going forward it will be music, social media and a little bit of dance—but music is number 1 right now.

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