It may surprise her many fans that the celebrated British dancer Maria Akpan did not consider her career path until her late teens. Growing up in Liverpool, her earliest dream was to be a 100-meter sprint runner. However, when a physical and mental barriers at 16 caused her to have to re-evaluate her goals, she was left wondering what to do with her life. A natural born athlete, she knew she needed to be active and moving, and began going to a local dance class. Despite having no dance background, her teachers and peers were astounded by her innate talent. The more Akpan trained, the more she believed in her potential and that she could still spend her life doing what she truly loved.
“I could be free, heal, relate and show that even from a small city with many challenges and obstacles, anything is possible. I started making strategic decisions and moves to get closer to my professional dance goals, because the way dance made me feel, I knew I had to have that feeling for the rest of my life. I had a burning desire to be on stage and work with my favorite artists and choreographers, and now, here we are,” says Akpan.
Here we are indeed. Akpan has moved from that small city in Britain to Los Angeles, the entertainment capital of the world, and has taken the American dance industry by storm. Not only has she worked with many stars such as the legendary Kobe Bryant on the Aeroflot Airlines commercial, but she has also been a part of a wide variety of projects, from the stage to the screen and everything in between.
“I love entertaining people. When I get on stage, I feel so free, and it’s the best feeling. Being a professional dancer, every day is different. I get the pleasure of working with different artists, choreographers, dancers, locations, groups, events, brands and campaigns, which is always very exciting,” she says.
The COVID-19 pandemic has created some challenges for dancers all over the world, with few live performances creating less opportunities in the industry. Akpan looked for projects where she could still express her creativity in a safe and positive way, and that opportunity presented itself with Arielle Samson’s latest music video for her newest single “Chains.” The video features several dancers performing solos in an empty room and cut together to tell a story. Akpan’s work entailed tapping into a character that was heartbroken and didn’t feel like there was any hope for a new relationship. She had to dig deep within to find these emotions and create a dynamic and emotional solo.
“Even though I was challenged during this project, I wanted to deliver my ultimate best. I like that I didn’t have to remember any steps; all I had to do was deliver and feel,” says Akpan. “Arielle’s music is much more on the mellow and R&B side, which is definitely my favorite type of music. You can really relate to Arielle’s music from life experiences or events that have happened in our life, and I wanted to do that justice.”
This freestyle meant Akpan did not need to learn choreography, but it also meant having to expose her raw emotion through her movement, a daunting task. Samson wanted to really see Akpan through her dance, but also her tricks and her emotions. Therefore, Akpan did not plan ahead, and just allowed the music to move her both literally and figuratively, creating an authentic moment that the audience can truly feel.
“I really enjoy working with Maria, she brought a lot of unique ideas to my projects,” says Samson.
The “Chains” video has been an instant hit for Akpan. Not only does it have thousands of views on YouTube, Instagram and more, Akpan has garnered many requests for private classes from people that saw her dance in the video.
“From this music video, I received a big response from people requesting me to teach a tutorial of the dance roll trick in the video, I thought that was pretty cool. Super thankful for this opportunity from Arielle Samson. It’s such an amazing moment to know my solo work was included in this video, that people from all around the world can see this and know it’s me because my name was mentioned on all social media platforms and on the release video day,” concludes Akpan.
Check out the “Chains” video here.