As the halftime whistle blew at the Bulldogs v Rabbitohs NRL game at Accor Stadium recently, hundreds of students from 40 dance schools across Sydney rushed onto the field to take part in the 2022 Bulldogs Dance Spectacular.
Directly opposite the goal posts was 27-year-old Australian of Greek and Cypriot heritage, Renae Neou, crouched down and cheering on her 30 students participating in the group performance.
“I was just so proud of the girls and so happy we got the opportunity to be a part of something like this,” Renae tells The Greek Herald.
Her student Andreana Daris shared the same excitement, telling The Greek Herald: “It was a really fun experience to dance with my friends and also feel the exhilaration that the players feel when they’re on the field.”
“It’s not every day you get to dance with a couple of thousand people watching, let alone in a stadium, so it’s pretty cool that the girls now have that experience and story to tell,” Renae adds.
Renae is the proud founder of Boom Chaka Laka: a dance school, entertainment company and dessert business.
It’s an entrepreneurial journey that started quite literally with a boom when Renae, at 18 years of age, accidentally blew up her red Holden Viva.
“How was I supposed to know the orange teapot meant the car needed oil?” the now 27-year-old asks earnestly.
At the time, Renae had just graduated high school and was working part-time as a choreographer whilst completing her Certificate IV in performing arts.
“I was regrettably in the market for a new car, so I picked up a second job as a kids entertainer,” she says.
Whilst it was a job that saw her become known as “Emma Wiggle,” “Elsa” or the girl behind the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle costume, it was a job that made her realise her love for working with children.
“In 2014 I had completed my certificate and enrolled straight away in a teaching degree,” Renae says.
“I was working for two different kids entertainment businesses, had picked up some dance gigs and started to teach hip-hop and tap classes in Sydney.”
In 2018, after completing her bachelor of education, Renae launched Boom Chaka Laka.
“We started as an entertainment business hosting parties and events right across NSW, doing everything from birthdays to festivals,” she says.
“One of my favourite memories to date has to be the Parramatta Let’s Go Greek Festival in 2019 when our Mickey Mouse and Spider-Man danced sousta with Maria Stavropoulou.
WATCH Boom Chaka Laka at the 2019 Let’s Go Greek Festival:
“It’s always fun seeing the kids and even the yiayiades and papoudes in awe that a cartoon character is smashing out a traditional dance right in front of them.”
When I ask what impact the COVID-19 pandemic had on her business, Renae lets out a laugh.
“I had the bright idea of opening the Boom Chaka Laka School of Dance in my garage in February 2020 and in March the state was locked down,” she says.
“Opening my own dance school had been my dream for the longest time and I wasn’t going to let the pandemic stop me. Like a lot of other businesses, we went online.
“For my students and even myself, dance gave us all a break from the dullness that we were living through. It was the colour and fun we all needed.”
Today, the school runs eight classes per week in Sydney’s southwest for tiny tots, juniors and seniors, specialising in hip hop, jazz, ballet and contemporary.
For Andreana, who has been there since the school’s inception, she says Boom Chaka Laka is like an extended family.
“Being a part of Boom Chaka Laka means being able to socialise while at the same time learning new techniques and moves that make you a better dancer,” she says.
“I love BCL because I can relate to all the other dancers. There are a few of us that are Greek so we get to laugh and joke about our families but it really is a multicultural school that accepts and embraces everyone.”
Finally, I ask Renae, who now holds well over a decade of experience in the industry, what view she has of dancing, to which she says: “We dance to make ourselves and others feel something.”
“It makes people feel this unique sense of togetherness and freedom – nothing can compete with that.
“In terms of teaching, whenever a student comes in not knowing anybody and leaves making a lifelong friend, that’s when my job is done,” she concludes.