The dancer and presenter talks to Luke Rix-Standing about the lockdown dance boom, managing nerves and the pros and cons of social media.
From winning Britain’s Got Talent aged 12 with dance troupe Diversity, to co-presenting a KISS weekday radio breakfast show with fellow dancer Jordan Banjo, Perri Kiely has earned a broad range of accolades for a 25-year-old.
We caught up with Essex-born Kiely to find our more about his journey into dance, pre-performance nerves, and his oddly creative pandemic…
Why do you think lockdown has proved such fertile ground for the online dance movement?
“I think the main reason is everyone being bored. There’s not been much good news around, and the reason I started dancing in the first place is that feeling of escape. When we went into lockdown, a lot of people were saying they wanted to learn new skills, like picking up guitar or learning a language. But you really have to put your mind to those, whereas for me dancing is something you just sort of get involved in. You don’t have to be a certain standard, you just have fun and keep fit without really noticing.”
Has social media changed the game?
“Definitely. Before the Instagram days, you’d get a dance trend from a music video or a friend who’s seen it somewhere, but these days you turn your phone on and you’ve got everything. Trends change by the day, and it’s super accessible now.”
Do you like social media, and spend a lot of time on it?
“I’d hate to show you my screen time – it would probably be horrendous. It’s not always the most positive place, but I’m quite lucky in that I love putting stuff out there, and the feedback I get tends to be super positive.“But you could have 99 super positive messages and one negative one, and I’m telling you now it’s the negative one you’d focus on. Once that happens, it can start to snowball and become a dark place, especially if you’re online alone. I’ve got the rest of the boys and the team, who’ve always got my back, but I can see how social media could be really negative.”
How has your pandemic been overall?
“I’m quite lucky – it’s been as good as it could be. I stayed with my dad through lockdown, so I had company and outdoor space. I have friends stuck in high-rise flats, so I really don’t take that for granted. Me and the boys had been constantly on the go, and it felt like the first time I was able to stop and just do what I wanted to do.”
Have you managed to stay active?
“There have been on and off days. There were days of sitting about eating anything I laid eyes on, but I felt really weird if I wasn’t doing something, so I tried to dance as much as possible. I felt super proactive and creative for some reason – out of nowhere, I was trying all these new things, Zooming the boys and doing plenty of workouts.”
Have you had any cabin fever?
“No, but the one hard thing is my dad’s not really a pet person. His house is pristine – everything has to have its place. So my pug went to live with my mum and my cats had to live with my nan. She loved it – she lives on her own so they were company for her. It sounds a bit dramatic but it genuinely saved her a bit.”
What are you most looking forward to as restrictions ease?
“I’ve really missed going out and performing. There’s nothing better than being backstage and hearing the seats start to fill, that bit of chitchat with music in the background. It really gets those nerves going, and I miss it so much.”
How did you initially get into dancing?
“I was one of those kids that wasn’t into anything, and I had no clue about dancing. I was trying to find what I liked – football, karate, I tried lots of different hobbies – when I was walking through a shopping centre with my mum and the boys were performing a little show.
“It was really random, but I thought it was the best thing I’d ever seen, so I found out where they danced, became friends with them, and ended up becoming their sort of water boy. Eventually I started dancing with them. One of my first performances with them was our BGT audition, actually.”Do you get stage fright?
“Oh yeah, I get nervous before pretty much everything. Even before interviews, I get super anxious, though I’m fine once I start chatting. Someone once told me you only get nervous when you care about something, because if you didn’t care, there’d be nothing to be nervous about. I want to get out there and perform my best, so the day I stop getting nervous is the day I’m done.”
How do you manage those nerves?
“You’ve got to throw yourself in the deep end, as horrible as it might feel. With dancing, I’ll be nervous right until the first move, and I think the boys would all say the same. You’ll be backstage and your heart will be racing, but the moment the screen opens, that just goes. Luckily, I’m with my friends and we’re just out there having a good time.”
What was it like moving from dancing into breakfast radio?
“Jord and I had already done a few little bits of presenting, and we thought it wouldn’t be too different from what we’ve done before. Nope – it’s a whole new skill, but at the same time, super fitting. Everything we do on air, we do on the outside – we turn up, listen to music, chat absolute nonsense, and often get told off. When the show ends, we go back to the studio to rehearse with the rest of the boys, and it feels like we’re doing the same day twice.”
How did you adjust to the early mornings?
“People used to tell me you get used it, but it’s not about getting used to it, it’s about accepting it. There’s no getting away from the fact it is beyond early, and do you know what killed me on the first day: I got up and McDonald’s breakfast wasn’t open. That was supposed to be my silver lining, but when your alarm goes off at 3.30am, there are still people coming in from nights out. Some of the boys are big gamers, and they’ll text me still up on a game.”
Is it ever annoying that Britain’s Got Talent still follows you a bit, given the other things you’ve done since?
“Not at all. It’s where we came from and without it, I wouldn’t be sitting here. The only thing that follows me around is people saying, ‘You’re the little kid with the afro’. It sounds bad, but I was so young that I don’t remember a lot of it. I wasn’t even allowed in the studio past a certain time. When we were told we won, everyone started celebrating, but I was dragged out of the building as soon as we went off air.”
Perri Kiely’s virtual tutorial on the UK’s trending dances is available to view on the Samsung KX Hub (samsung.com/uk/explore/kings-cross/hub). Shot on the Samsung Galaxy A52 5G.