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Meet Pauler Lam

Today we’d like to introduce you to Pauler Lam.

Pauler, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
My mum told me a story that when I was in preschool, everyone brought home their schoolwork that they were proud of but instead, I brought home two pockets filled with sand and was proud of that. I guess I was always meant to be an artist!

I was lucky to have grown up during the peak era of Michael Jackson, Michael Jordan, and Jackie Chan.

My earliest memory of myself dancing is when I was five years old, standing in front of a small box tv while watching a VHS tape of Michael Jackson and mimicking his dance moves. Obviously, I wasn’t very good but I would have so much fun. I would listen to his music on a cassette tape walkman and sing and dance/jump on my bed.

I was a very active kid and grew up playing a lot of sports. I loved Tennis, Swimming, Basketball and Martial Arts. I would watch Jackie Chan movies and try to copy the breakdance/gymnastic type moves that he did in his stunts. That was my first introduction to bboying

When I was in 8th grade, during a lunch break, I saw two guys that were in 10th grade doing backflips off the wall and practicing breakdance moves on the grass. I was in awe and didn’t realize I had stopped in my tracks to watch. Their names were Pocholo and Dinesh. They noticed me staring and they offered to teach me some moves.

Honestly, that was the moment my life changed forever. I was a 13 year old short dorky Asian kid, who just had two older cool kids offer to take me under their wing.

They introduced me to Parramatta PCYC. A youth center where on Friday’s after school, kids from all different schools would go to train together. This place was a safe haven for most kids to keep them off the streets and causing trouble. I am where and who I am today because of this place. I met the people who would eventually become my closest friends/brothers/family/crews (SKB and Zealous) there. I learnt how to dance and grew up around older guys who I respected and looked up to and took care of me too. I literally went there every single week to dance.

I also became interested in Hip Hop Choreography/dancing from watching Korean Pop Music videos. I would copy and learn the dance moves from the videos and then show my friends at school. I would dance with some friends, and we would come up with dance routines in someone’s front driveway or garage and practice heaps together.

I didn’t grow up in a dance studio like a lot of professional dancers. My friends and I, we were all self taught and would learn by copying dancers in music videos. There was a website called Breakdance.com that even only had word written instructions for moves.

Fast forward, after years of training with my crew, entering bboy battles and local hip hop dance competitions, I was fortunate enough to compete on So You Think You Can Dance Australia. I also competed on Australia’s Got Talent with my bboy crew, SKB.

The dream for me was to be able to make a living off of dance, and now I am in living in Los Angeles and working as a professional dancer! Dance is something I’ve always been so passionate about. Nothing else has ever made me as happy. So it just made sense to pursue it as my career. It was definitely a long journey to get here, but I was always heaps determined to make it happen.

And man, it’s been absolutely worth it. Since moving out here in 2015, I’ve been lucky enough to perform a dance solo on The Ellen Degeneres Show, dance with Ariana Grande and the Jonas Brothers at the Billboard Music Awards. I also performed at Coachella with Ariana too and that is my most favorite memory and achievement to date. I’ve also toured around the US twice, and Europe once with international pop sensation, Eric Nam. I’ve been the lead dancer in multiple national commercials. But I’m just so stoked that I’m able to make a living off of dance. It’s always been my most favorite thing to do always and I absolutely love it!!

Has it been a smooth road?
I grew up with a pretty typical western Asian story. My parents migrated from Hong Kong to Australia. They had expectations of me to become a Doctor or Lawyer, just something that makes a big and steady income. I played the piano and went to Chinese school on the weekends. They always viewed my dancing and sports abilities as a hobby and not as something that I could be serious about.

When I got first into dancing in high school, I had a curfew so I would only be able to train after school for about an hour and then have to rush home. But I would keep it a secret from my parents because I knew that they wouldn’t approve. They wanted me to focus on my studies so that I would be ‘successful’.

After graduating high school, I wasn’t sure of what I wanted to do. My parents expected me to go to University, get a degree, then get a full-time job. The standard stuff but I really didn’t know what I wanted to do. I just wanted to dance. I wasn’t interested in studying further and I know that was really disappointing to them. I have an older sister who did everything they wanted. So it was hard to not be following in her footsteps and kind of just ‘be a bum’ to my parents.

I went straight into the workforce, jumped from job to job throughout the years. I actually got my first job in retail when I was 16 still in high school. So after I graduated, I worked there more often for a while then switched to other retail jobs. I eventually moved to Data Entry and Call Centre jobs, Technical Support, Sales. My last real job was as a Manager for a call centre. I was at the company for six years and worked my way up from the very bottom. My parents were pretty OK with that because I was making consistent good money.

I still danced each week, and sometimes make some side money from doing performances and winning competitions. But working a 9-5 in an office, dress up, and do the same thing day in day out for so many years. It really just wasn’t for me.

I knew that I wanted to dance and just do that for a living.

Eventually, I quit my job and it was the most liberating feeling ever! I felt like the heaviest weight had been lifted off my shoulders and I could do anything! And all I wanted to do was dance.

I went to Los Angeles on a tourist visa and stayed for nearly six months to dance, take class and train my arse off. I also joined a community dance team ‘Common Ground’ within that time and that really helped me improve a lot. I knew that I had to make dance my career.

I applied for an O1 visa in 2014. It a visa for Individual’s with Extraordinary Abilities and is quite tough to get. But thankfully I was approved in 2015! I then moved here in May 2015 and haven’t stopped pushing ever since!

My parents weren’t the most supportive about my decision to move countries and chase what they thought was just a hobby. They still expected me to go to university and get a fancy job. Being an artist wasn’t a profession in theirs and most asian parents eyes. But now after seeing the cool things I’ve accomplished, they’ve come around and understood that it is possible to pursue a passion! It took a lot of hard work but it feels good to have broken free of that pressure and now I feel like I’m living the Asian Australia/American dream

We’d love to hear more about your work and what you are currently focused on. What else should we know?
I am an artist/dancer/performer. I love to bring music to life through dance and entertainment. I started dancing as a Bboy and later picked up hip hop choreography. Being capable of both styles definitely helps me stand out from others. I can pull off the smooth choreography, then bust out some big dynamic tricks and flips during a freestyle moment. There really aren’t that many dancers that can do both and my versatility is something that I am most proud of.

I’ve had the pleasure of dancing for Ariana Grande numerous times. I danced in her music video for ‘No Tears Left To Cry’ and for her Billboard Music Awards performance. I also was a part of her Headline Coachella act in 2019!

I’ve also loved dancing for Eric Nam. He’s a fellow western Asian who broke free and chased a dream. I’ve toured with him through Mexico, Europe, and the USA twice.

I’m also proud to be representing multiple backgrounds out here! I love to represent Australia. It’s usually a surprise to people when they hear my accent. I grew up in a very ‘ghetto’ western suburb of Sydney called Mt Druitt and went to school in Penrith. Both places have a reputation for being dangerous. But I’m proud to represent those places and show everyone that it’s possible to chase your dreams and not be held down by a stereotype. They’re my hometowns and I wear them proudly.

I love representing my Chinese background too. There are much fewer Asian professional dancers in this industry compared to other ethnicities, but I feel like it’s an advantage for us!

Growing up in a western country as an Asian, we aren’t used to seeing people that look like us in the mainstream media. Also, since we usually have a certain expectation from our families, I’m proud to be Asian in this industry, and show others that it’s ok and possible to be an artist as a career

I am always working on my craft so that I can do well in this industry and make myself, my friends and my family back at home proud!

I am proud of my country and heritage and will continue to work hard to represent them well and hopefully encourage other western Asians to chase their dreams J

Let’s touch on your thoughts about our city – what do you like the most and least?
I love Los Angeles because it is a place where everyone of all walks of life from all over the world have come together to chase their dreams and pursue their passion. Everyone has an understanding with each other because we’re all artists trying to survive. There is also so much to see and do! It is the entertainment capital of the world! The biggest movies are made here, the biggest artists live here. So it’s definitely the right place to be if you want to make a living in entertainment!

I love how multicultural the city is too! With that comes lots of different types of delicious food and cuisines! I never knew how good Mexican food was until coming to LA. Living in LA has helped me grow so much as a human. Hearing the phrase ‘oh you’re so LA now’ is actually a compliment. Because it makes me think of how far I’ve come and how much I’ve achieved since living here 🙂

The thing I least like about LA is how nice the weather is all the time! Seriously, can the sun and perfect temperature just go away for a moment? Haha just kidding, but the traffic here sucks. Where is everyone trying to go between 8am and 6pm?

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Image Credit:
Isne Bobo Nuyent, Wes Klain, Alfredo Flores, Dan Gosse

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