It was NSYNC, Michael Jackson (understandably), and more accurately the 2004 movie You Got Served that got Alif Aircho interested in hip hop 17 years ago. Going on to represent Singapore in the World Hip Hop Dance Championship three years in a row in Las Vegas, the down-to-earth 28-year-old says he equally enjoys team showcase competitions and solo battles. Aircho shares his fervour for all street dance and may one day consider his hand at traditional genres as he gets older, but for now, he candidly answers about the big names and the possibilities ahead.
ESQUIRE: How did you get scouted by HYBE (formerly Big Hit Entertainment)?
ALIF AIRCHO: It was during the debut of TXT (Tomorrow X Together). People ask about my connections but I really think they found me out of Instagram. I was a bit shocked because it was an anonymous e-mail saying that they saw my profile and really liked my style. No audition, nothing. [And] I’ve never met them in person. They give you the song and you set up your own team, create the choreography, send it to them, then draft back and forth. I don’t have to work with other artists per se but we do have a video call meeting with their resident choreographer especially in the early stages where they tell us what they are looking for in the dance; a little more jumpy, flowy, etc.
I create the choreography for the whole song based on their vision, but at the end of the day it’s up to them to take what they want. It’s a starting blueprint, but they hire different choreographers from around the world because they wouldn’t want the same thing every time. I did one for Enhypen last year and hope to do more. They’ve been calling me every single year since—[and I’ve] been working with them [for] four years now—saying that they like my work and that I’m very kind so I’m like ‘aww’. If there’s an opportunity, the next step is to move to Korea for a few months just for the experience.
ESQ: What’s the dream collab?
AIRCHO: [Thinks for an eternity or what felt like a long time.] It’s so cliche for me to say [a collab with] another dancer. I think for me just moving forward I still want to do more for our local artists and bring up the local scene. The music and dance industries in Singapore have been collaborating a lot more in recent years and I think that’s going somewhere, which is rare in the past. It used to be just backup dancers not working together for music video art direction. [My answer] for overseas is more predictable. I've friends who ask when am I gonna collab with BTS but I always say when it comes, it comes. I'd just do me and make sure that I keep the hustle. It's nota big deal, it's just BTS. (Laughs) If I ever do get that opportunity, I'll just go, 'nice'. I really think so. I was never a fan of K-pop. It's so funny because I'd never even heard of Big Hit. I had to ask my students. I was that oblivious.
ESQ: What about the Korean dance scene?
AIRCHO: Korean dancers, yes, but not the music industry. It’s always so commercialised, I keep up more with the underground technical dancers. I realised for dance it’s either your journey becomes super commercial or super underground. I have love for both to balance myself. I understand there’s a bigger industry on the commercial side such as entertainment, sales, etc. It’s not [about] the bigger pay but the experience, since I’ve done the underground side where dancers appreciate dance for what it is.
If you move forward in a career, you still want that stability, and the balance of having experience of the commercial side will be beneficial. Events like Hybrid Series are not a huge money-making scheme, it’s really for the community. Of course, as it grows we have the reality check that it needs to stabilise, and this is already business thinking.
ESQ: What made you start Hybrid Series?
AIRCHO: I had the idea to make dance battles a bit different—more specific. I want to know how to combine genres like open style, but that’s too broad. So I specify the categories with what they have in common like hand movements, isolation, storytelling, floorwork, etc. Every genre has its own version. Even with a different agenda each month, there is still so much to it. I want to make it an original Singapore thing. To me, the more restricted you are, the more creative you’ll be.
ESQ: Do you see yourself dancing forever?
AIRCHO: Of course, all of us hope we can dance forever but sometimes it doesn’t make sense physically. But within dance there are other career positions to get into—like my wife is a full-time business director at our studio Danz People. I teach but I recently got into events management. I’ve also gotten back into making my original beats and it’s not that far-fetched as a hobby.
I got my diploma in audio engineering and I actually started making music with Shorya, aka Riidem, back in secondary school. I introduced him to music and he tells everyone that; I got so far in dance and he got so far in music. The past few years Shorya and I started working together again; me creating dances for Fariz Jabba and Yung Raja. I think being in his studio sparked something in me. He’s the professional now so I can always ask him for help if needed, but who knows? This could go somewhere.
Find Alif Aircho on Instagram @alifaircho.
Photography by Shawn Paul Tan
Styling by Asri Jasman
Photographer assisted by Melvin Leong
Hair and make-up by Sha Shamsi using Chanel Beauty and KMS