Winnipeg 'popping-style' dance artist says his Maples neighbourhood nurtured his talents

Calvin Lam is making a name for himself with his popping and freelance dance moves, and says his neighbourhood, The Maples, played a big role in his love of dance. 

Calvin Lam taught himself dance moves via YouTube, but says teacher's encouragement inspired him

Calvin Lam is a Winnipeg dancer who is perfecting the art of popping, a street dance where muscles quickly contract and relax to cause movements in the body. (Submitted by Calvin Lam )

You may have seen Calvin Lam bustin' a move on the streets of The Maples neighbourhood in Winnipeg. 

Or maybe you've watched the dozens of videos he's posted on YouTube and Instagram, showing off his popping style dancing skills. 

Either way, the Winnipegger is making a name for himself with his popping and freelance dance moves, and says his neighbourhood, The Maples, played a big role in his love of dance. 

Lam, 22, says that growing up, he was always dancing, even as a little kid. 

"Growing up, I would always kind of wiggle around the room and in the kitchen or something. My mom's like, what are you doing?," he told Information Radio host Marcy Markusa. 

"She would even tell me back when I was younger, like, 'Oh, don't do that in public. You look weird.'" 

LISTEN: Calvin Lam talks to Information Radio host Marcy Markusa about how he learned to dance: 

Calvin Lam tells host Marcy Markusa about how his neighbourhood played a role in his love of dance, in particular popping -- a street dance style characterized by contracting and relaxing muscles to give the illusion of movements. 7:34

He started taking dance classes in middle school, while watching YouTube videos and shows like America's Best Dance Crew  to teach himself popping — a style of dance where you contract and relax your muscles to the beat of the music, creating a fluid movement.

When he got to high school, he took dance as an elective at Maples Collegiate and successfully auditioned for the school's dance team in Grade 9. Back then, he was the only boy who tried out for the team and was one of its youngest members. 

"I was only one of the few guys that kind of danced a lot," he said. "Even at lunch, I would go to the dance studio and just, like, freestyle or just make up something, just kind of do my own thing."

He said his dance teacher, Rachel Cooper, and others at the school embraced his different style of dance, which allowed him to grow his talents. 

Cooper, who is head of the dance department at Maples Collegiate, says she remembers Lam as being extremely talented, but also very shy and needing some encouragement to come out of his shell. 

She says her students are taught a wide variety of dance styles, from ballet to jazz to hip hop, but it was popping that Lam really took to. 

Though she was able to give him some exposure to the style of dance, as well as bring in different choreographers, it was Lam who took it upon himself to learn how to pop and lock. 

"I think he's been working since he was a student of mine and he's continuing to learn and evolve," she said. 

"I was proud of him in Grade 9 and when he was performing at our school recital, and I'm proud of him just as much now as I see him coming into his own as a professional, an accomplished artist."

Lam's dancing has taken him all over North America, including competitions in Mexico, Los Angeles, Florida and cities across Canada. 

Now, Lam teaches dance at Shelley Shearer School of Dance and Muse Studios. He says he uses dance to deal with the stresses of everyday life. 

"It's helped me kind of get through the day if I'm just kind of bored or maybe I need to just move a little or kind of release a little bit of whatever I'm going through," he said.

CBC Manitoba interviewed Lam as part of our community journalism project, On the Move, where we are taking a closer look at the neighbourhoods of northwest Winnipeg. 

That includes neighbourhoods like The Maples, Inkster Gardens, Amber Trails and Garden City.

With files from Lindsay MacKenzie