Born in the Philippines, dancer Donking Rongavilla came to Ireland in 2002. He represented Ireland in the world Hip Hop championships in Los Angeles after winning the All Ireland Hip Hop Dance competition in 2006 and 2007. Last autumn, he faced a new challenge, starring in the RTE One show “Ballet Chancers” – a reality TV show aiming to train six hip hop enthusiasts as ballet dancers. VOX editor Ruth Garvey-Williams snatched a few minutes with Donking between filming to chat about dancing, dreams and faith.
Why do you love dancing?
To be honest, I am good at it! I started to dance when I was 10 years old – I taught myself Hip Hop on the streets of the Philippines. When I was 15, I auditioned for a TV company. They accepted me and I got to train in a proper studio and met professionals. By 16, I was creating my own choreography. I have met so many people through dance and I can inspire them.
What brought you to Ireland?
My mum and I were hired to work at a chocolate factory in Newbridge, Co Kildare. My job was as janitor, cleaning, because I had no experience. I was 20 years old and I had no idea what Ireland was like. My first impression was, “Oh, it is beautiful. …So green, fresh air and sheep”!
How did you come to represent Ireland in the World Hip Hop championships?
People recognised my talent. I am a foreigner but it is not all about that. At US immigration someone asked me, “You are not Irish, why are you representing Ireland?” Ireland is not into ‘race’; they are into gifts and talents. They chose me because they liked my style!
What was it like starring in RTE One’s “Ballet Chancers”?
I had to give up my job [at the chocolate factory], although I am still teaching dance in Newbridge and Swords. It was difficult. We trained three hours a day, four days a week. Monica Loughman [ballerina and ballet teacher] was very strict. In a way, she had to be. It was reality TV - it wasn’t acting! I preferred the hard training because I learned a lot.
Ballet is a totally different world. We had to wear tights. It was totally… I don’t know how to say this... it was awful!!! I am not into ballet, I think it is boring, but I know it will benefit me because I developed stamina, flexibility and musicality.
You have so many opportunities for your own dance career, why are you still teaching?
Teaching is sharing your whole life. You can motivate people. Even though you only know them for one hour a week, they listen to what you say. They will remember it. Last year, I was teaching hip hop in a school for the deaf. In spite of their deafness, they can do it!
I have my own dance group called “The Free Stylers” at my church (Open Arms Christian Fellowship in Newbridge, Co Kildare). It takes a lotof time. I have trained them for four years. They are serving God doing what they want, not what other people want them to do. I thank God for giving me that opportunity.
So where does God come into the picture?
When I was 16 years old I was hanging out with friends, drinking and going to parties. It became a routine. Every Friday we used to go out drinking. Finally I got fed up with it. As a kid, my mum used to bring me to church and I used to be a choir boy. Then one time, someone invited me to come to a church. It seemed different. That was the time I renewed my commitment to God.
For three years I quit my professional dancing career and worked in my church as a youth leader. I was always dancing but I wasn’t doing it for myself anymore. Jesus saved my life. I am not worthy but He loves me. He gave me this talent. My dancing is for Him. He is Lord of the dance!
What is your dream?
I want to be recognised as on of the best choreographers in the world because I want to make God famous. If I go to the top it is because God is always by my side. I believe that it takes one person to make a difference.
Where do the ARTS fit into the church?
I always believe the arts were created by God. For me, the arts are already there in the church through singing, playing instruments, and even the architecture. Putting art into the church is not difficult as long as we use it to glorify God. For me using the Arts in the church is one way to connect with people or to welcome people.
Many artists see a conflict between their talent and their Christian faith. How would you answer them?
We have to understand there’s always a choice. I have to admit I’m struggling with these issues but I have to make a decision about what I want to do. It’s the heart of an artist that matters. Does he/she want to use his/her abilities for God or for themselves?
I know people laugh at me already when they find out I’m using my talent for God. They think I’m crazy. Talented artists who read this may find it confusing, maybe because you haven’t decided what you really want. Just take your time. Don’t let other people decide for you. Serving God through your talent is not a job or punishment it’s a privilege.
Scripture for the day