Real Life

Dancer Corbyn Teaulealea-Huch ‘I felt like an outcast’

Performing with powerhouses J.Lo and Rihanna helped Kiwi dancer Corbyn Taulealea-Huch embrace her identity

I’d rather be called a beast than beautiful,” laughs Kiwi dance sensation Corbyn Taulealea-Huch over Zoom from Portugal.

The 25-year-old Samoan Aucklander has strutted her stuff alongside Jennifer Lopez, performed in lingerie for Rihanna and even appeared in a Justin Bieber music video. And while she’s felt nervous, shy and lacking confidence each time, her performances have left audiences describing her as a “beast”.

“People have given me that name my whole life because I have masculine, aggressive movement!” she says. “It’s the best compliment because a beast is powerful and strong.”

Beast also encapsulates Corbyn’s self-described “masculine femininity”, having been a tomboy “since the womb”. And while she hasn’t always felt comfortable in her skin, dance has helped her find acceptance.

The award-winning performer was seven when she and her cousins formed Lil Saintz, a group that performed at churches and community events. She fell in love with performing and, aged 11, she was thrilled when Kiwi choreographer-to-the-stars Parris Goebel welcomed her into her Royal Family Dance Crew at Palace Dance Studio.

“I was a shy kid – people roll their eyes when I say that because of how I perform, but I’m the opposite of what you see on stage,” she shares. “I had no confidence as a kid. I still don’t have it 100%.”

Corbyn takes a breather back stage

On stage, Corbyn’s nerves significantly dissolved, and she dedicated her teenage years to dance training, rehearsals and competitions. But behind her fierce performances, Corbyn struggled with her identity.

“I’ve always been more masculine, so being 11 years old going into a dance environment where I was surrounded by girly girls was challenging. I felt like an outcast.”

She initially tried to conform, putting great effort into feminine dance styles.

“I’ve always liked my tomboy side and it wasn’t that anyone made me feel like I had to change, but naturally as a teenager, I was trying to figure out how to be myself while fitting in. But the older I got, the more I accepted myself.

“The cool thing was figuring out I could be my masculine self while also doing other styles. Once I found that balance, I stopped trying to fit in. I also started getting reassurance from people saying they loved how I was both masculine and sexy with my dancing, which encouraged me stop trying to hide from who I am and how I dance.”

Powerhouses like J.Lo and Rihanna played another key role in helping Corbyn embrace her identity. She was 18 when she danced alongside Rihanna in a set choreographed by Parris for the 2016 MTV Video Music Awards. She pinched herself coming face to face with dancers she’d admired for years – and RiRi herself.

“Dancing next to Rihanna was just wow!” she enthuses. “I was grateful, but also scared because of the pressure. But she has this chill, warm energy, and is just cool and steezy.

“Parris has put New Zealand on the map, especially for us Pasifika women. Rihanna loves Kiwi dancers because of Parris.”

Corbyn also rocked Rihanna’s Savage x Fenty shows, which showcase the singer’s lingerie line. Lizzo and Demi Moore were among the cast.

In blue (second from Rihanna’s left) at the superstar’s Savage x Fenty showcase.

“I was petrified because I’ve never been one to show my full body,” Corbyn tells. “But it was amazing being surrounded by so many beautiful, multicolored women with different body types. I felt super-empowered among a beautiful cast and that overtook the fear. It taught me to be proud of my body.

“And afterwards, I was proud because young Pasifika women messaged me saying, ‘You inspired us’. It was cool to represent my culture and young women who aren’t confident, like me.”

Corbyn also danced alongside Rihanna at the 2023 Super Bowl half-time show and shimmied up a storm at J.Lo’s 2020 half-time extravaganza.

“Being surrounded by empowering women like J.Lo and Rihanna, who are so confident in their bodies and sexuality, has definitely helped and inspired me. It’s taught me how to apply that to my own individuality, body and confidence.”

Performing in J.Lo’s Super Bowl half-time show

Since becoming more confident, Corbyn has discovered a love for choreography and teaching while helping run Palace Dance Studio. Recently fulfilling her dream of teaching dance while travelling, she’s now homeward-bound to preview Beast, her first full-length choreographic work, at the Pacific Dance NZ Festival’s MOANA showcase in Auckland this Tuesday. The project explores masculine femininity through a Pasifika crew.

“My cast are also beasts,” she boasts. “A beast can be someone who’s beastly in their confidence, loves their femininity or is proud of being gay. ‘Beast’ is individually defined for each dancer.”

Corbyn also plans to continue dancing globally – hopefully with idols Missy Elliott or Justin Timberlake some day. She’s forever grateful dance helped her accept her identity and is glad Parris encouraged her “girly” side.

“She always told me to put more effort into girly stuff, which was hard to hear, but I’m grateful because it’s sick being able to go from dancing like a man to more feminine movements. Versatility is a skill I’ve learned to allow myself to have, instead of trying to be a one-trick pony.”

The Pacific Dance NZ Festival runs from 1-16 June. For tickets to the MOANA showcase, visit qtheatre.co.nz.

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