Q+A: Mark Villaver, Local B-Boy Turned Viral Video Star and World-Touring Dancer
Catch Honolulu native Villaver on “So You Think You Can Dance” on Monday, June 12, on Fox.
You may recognize 26-year-old Mark Villaver, the Kalihi B-boy turned professional dancer, from the 2014 viral video of him and his deaf mother, Emilia Villaver Daquiog, dancing together. Since then, he’s performed with Demi Lovato, Ariana Grande and toured with Taylor Swift during her 1989 World Tour in 2015. Although 2016 was a year of development for the dancer, he’s back in the spotlight and auditioning for season 14 of So You Think You Can Dance.
We spoke to Villaver about going pro, his local roots and working with Taylor Swift.
HONOLULU: How did you start taking classes at 24-VII Dance Force Studio?
Villaver: During high school, my sophomore year, there was a lot of breakdancers breaking at the auditorium after hours and before school. It was dirt and concrete. Every breaker was performing and practicing there. That’s how I got into it. Breaking led to 24-VII by us performing at graduation parties. Every graduation party gave us exposure, and someone’s dad or uncle saw us and said, “Hey, pitch it to Marcelo [Pacleb],” who owns the studio at 24-VII. He invited us to perform. It turned out you could teach breaking.
Photos: Courtesy of Mark Villaver
HONOLULU: When did you decide to dance professionally?
Villaver: At 22 I was like, you know what, I wanna try and do this professionally. I wanna do it. So I moved up to L.A. with my ex-girlfriend and my two roommates. We tried out professional dancing. I got an agent and I started doing back-up dancing for artists here and there. From 22 to now, my career has been great, but I had a downfall last year.
HONOLULU: What happened last year?
Villaver: From 2012 to 2015 I was doing really well, careerwise. I was dancing for artists. I was going on world tours with Taylor Swift. After that, I came off of tour, got my own apartment. [I was] living alone and you know, no job. I’m unemployed. [I sustained] an injury. It was my first time living alone by myself. So that made me feel even lonelier. I started losing myself up in my head. I wasn’t working.
HONOLULU: Were you auditioning at this point?
Villaver: I auditioned, I auditioned and auditioned and auditioned. I got no’s. I got no’s. I got no’s. Money started going down and I started relying on savings. I just didn’t know what to do. I was overthinking and over-stressing on everything to the point where I went through a whole year of depression. I really almost tried to give up on myself. I wanted to give up on myself. I said this in the interview for the first episode of [So You Think You Can Dance]. I said I wanted to give up on myself. That’s how real it went.
HONOLULU: How did you begin to heal?
Villaver: There were moments I was complaining about how I only had $100 in my bank account. I was stressing and complaining and whatever because of rent, and then these two homeless guys were right in front of me. This guy needed to eat and this other guy felt so bad for him. He gave his pizza, his drink and his water, gave it to the guy, everything, and the guy just took it. He found all his money in his pocket and lent to the guy.
HONOLULU: How did that make you feel when you saw that?
Villaver: That made me cry because I’m here complaining that I have $100 in my bank account. I have a car. I have an iPhone. I can dance. I have good hair—kidding. I have a roof over my head. It’s just bills. It’s just grownup things. That put me down so much. It was like, Mark, be thankful of everything you have. Be grateful you have a family. This guy gave it all and he did not complain. He gave $2 and that’s all he had. It was a click in my head. I met a therapist, he gave me great advice. It was just magic. It was just a lot of magic happening. I just trusted that you have to trust the struggle. There’s nothing you can do but just move forward and whatever you put out to the universe, it comes back. I’ve only been putting out positive energy and love energy because it comes right back to me.
HONOLULU: Do you have advice for dancers trying to make it professionally?
Villaver: Don’t plan. Just know what you want, just do it and have fun. Have fun and have love for it. When you have the mindset of, I gotta make it, I gotta do this, you’re setting yourself up for failure. When you get a no and you get another no, you get depressed and you feel like giving up. If you have the mindset of, I’m just gonna go have fun, [and] you get no’s, you get no’s, you get no’s, your results are, ah, it’s okay. It’s good. Change the mindset.
HONOLULU: On a lighter note, is there anything you can tell us about working with Taylor Swift?
Villaver: Taylor, the Swifts, we’re all family, we’re all cool. There’s never a bad thing because it’s very chill. I can be chill with them and they love that about me. I can just be the Hawaiian like, “Oh hey, what’s up!” That’s why I’m blessed to be from Hawai‘i, how you raised yeah? So much respect.
HONOLULU: How did you end up deciding to audition for So You Think You Can Dance?
Villaver: This casting producer reached out, she was telling me, like, “I used to work for this other dance show and you sent me a video, but I know that you guys couldn’t do it. Now, I’m helping So You Think (You Can Dance) and you should just try out.” That’s when I was like, I am paying attention to every sign. This lady just reached out to me, that’s an opportunity. I’m just going to do it. I was like, I have nothing going on for me, so I might as well just do it already. I have nothing to lose. Why not? Let’s just have fun. Let’s just do it. Then, boom, I’m auditioning.
HONOLULU: Do you think coming back to Hawai‘i in April helped you prepare for your audition?
Villaver: I wanted to train the old way. I wanted to run at my old schools, my elementary, middle school, high school. I wanted to train where I used to train when I was with my old crew. Just the old times. My goal was to train physically, but after the three weeks, it naturally turned into spiritual and mental training. That’s all I did. I did not train hip-hop. I did not train jazz. All I trained was my spirit and [mind] and finding my inner child and my inner self. That was two months ago. I was fully cured. It was supposed to be training, like physical, like jazz, contemporary, hip-hop, and it did not turn into that.
HONOLULU: What do you miss about Hawai‘i?
Villaver: What I miss is that home vibe where it’s in slow motion. You go home, you go on the couch and it’s just like, everything’s slow. It’s just comforting. It feels like home. That’s what I miss—that home vibe, the Island vibe, the family, the love, the food, the water, everything.
HONOLULU: Speaking of family, will you and your mom ever make another video together again?
Villaver: The next time you’re going to see my mom and my video, it’s going to be on the live television finale of So You Think [You Can Dance]. That’s what’s going to happen. I’m fully confident. It’s going to happen. The moment you say “I hope” or “I’ll try” or “I wish” or a goal, it’s so far ahead from you. You have full control of anything, so might as well tell yourself, program in your brain: I am and it will. So that’s your answer, next time it’s going to be on the finale. I’m going to hold the check, I’m going to be smiling—not holding the check proud, like, “Oh look I have all this money,” nothing like that. The plan is I’m going to hold the check, and they are going to be like, OK one last dance, “Mom come!” Boom, and that’s how we end the show.
Catch Honolulu native Villaver on So You Think You Can Dance on Monday, June 12, on Fox at 7 p.m.