There’s a quote that says dance like there’s nobody watching.
When Michael Metuakore is dancing, he does exactly that – even if he’s centre stage dancing in front of an audience of more than 100 million.
Metuakore was born to dance – but never in his wildest dreams did he think that he would end up in LA performing with one of the world’s biggest superstars Jennifer Lopez as part of her dance crew.
Regardless of his huge profile and being known as one of the best dancers in the world, Metuakore’s feet remain firmly planted on the ground.
He is proud of his Cook Islands heritage and is humbled and privileged he says, to be doing this interview with Cook Islands News.
From his home in LA, Metuakore tells his own story of determination and never giving up on a dream to dance.
Born and raised in the “Cook Islands capital of New Zealand”, Tokoroa, Michael Metuakore realised early in his life that his Polynesian background strongly influenced his desire to move.
His family never let him forget his Cook Islands roots. He descends from Rarotonga, Mangaia, Tongareva and Palmerston. His grandfather is a Metuakore and his grandmother’s family name is Marsters.
As a youth, Metuakore carved up on the field as a talented rugby union and league player, but when nobody was watching he would put his stereo on, get into the groove, feel the beat of his heart and dance.
Growing up in Tokoroa, there was a strong sense of community, especially among Cook Islanders. It’s a place where you watch out for each other and your people.
Metuakore knew he wanted to pursue his dream of being a dancer, but he also realised that would mean leaving his family, his job and his life in the small South Waikato town.
In 2010 and 2011 Metuakore was part of renowned Pacific Islander choreographer Parris Goebel’s production Hip Hop Nation – a show she choreographed and directed that brought together dancers from all over New Zealand for two weeks.
“Parris knew who I was but I never had the courage to audition for her as I knew I had to leave my hometown, my family, my job,” he says.
“At that time in my life I wasn’t ready.”
In 2012 Metuakore finally made the decision to audition for Goebel’s company, The Royal Family.
Thankfully he says, he made it in and moved to Auckland straight away – he got a new job, a new place and a new family, The Royal Family.
That new family went on to win the World Hip-Hop Dance Championships in 2013 and years following and pushed the desire of Metuakore to take his dancing further.
His friend Dezmond Soliven who is from Hawaii and the United States was staying at his place in Auckland and they had lengthy conversations about dance in the US.
“We spoke about information that I had no idea about, agencies, choreographers, auditions and he also had friends that were working professionally in the industry,” he says.
“This opened my eyes to the fact that there was more to dance in New Zealand and from then I strived to be a dancer in the USA.”
He didn’t know exactly how that was going to happen or when, but he knew he had to keep training hard and chasing that dream.
While at work as human resource manager at Studio23, Metuakore’s boss Brett Goebel, Parris’ father, called him into his office and said Jennifer Lopez had an audition in two days for her new Las Vegas residency.
“He said Parris wants you to go and audition,” he says. “I was in shock I was like, what! Who? When? Where?”
Two days later he was on his way to attend his first ever audition in LA.
Metuakore turned up to Centerstaging – a very popular sound stage where a lot of artists were rehearsing for the audition.
He went around the corner and all he could see was a sea of men in black.
For almost eight hours, 300 guys auditioned for this job.
They learnt a routine to “Get Right”, then auditioned in front of Jennifer Lopez and her team.
“Cut after cut after cut, then finally a select group of 50-80 were selected for a call back the following day,” he says.
“At the call back we had to learn another routine then do the other routine from the first day. Again we auditioned in front of Jennifer and her team many times, cut after cut then finally only 10 guys were left and we all booked the job!”
After rehearsing all day Metuakore was exhausted.
As he was about to lie down for a nap he heard a knock on the door.
He answered and Brett, his boss was standing there with a sign reading: “Congrats Mikey JLO “All I Have” You Got Booked!”
Overwhelmed by securing a spot, Meutakore says he immediately fell against the wall and started crying.
“I was over the moon! The audition process was intense and I have never danced so hard in my life,” he says.
“My legs were feeling like jelly, my arms felt heavy and just the exhaustion was real. So to know that it was all worth it, was a proud moment that I booked the job. I did it!”
Since that day Metuakore has been an integral part of Jennifer Lopez’s dance crew with the last performance at the Super Bowl LIV 2020 on Sunday last week in front of an audience of over 100 million people.
“It’s a lot of hard work! Jennifer expects perfection and we will keep going until it’s perfect,” he says.
Metuakore says he knew he would make it and he knew he would be great but he didn’t know to what level that may be.
“To look at my career so far, I am very proud of myself,” he says.
“I’m amongst the best in the world. I want to be the best so I have to train with the best!”
His success is not his alone he says, his family and friends from Tokoroa drove him to and from rehearsals, both late at night and early in the morning and supported him when he didn’t believe he would make it.
“To everyone who has had an impact on my career big or small – thank you for your endless support. Stephen Grey, Brett Goebel and Parris Goebel who always believed in me. They gave me the tools to be the dancer that I am today, thank you,” he says.
“Most of all to my brother Joseph Metuakore who has always been by my side or a phone call away. Love you brother, couldn’t have done it without you.”