September 20th, 2016
After a childhood stint on Broadway and a teenage modeling career in Japan, Hawaii-born dancer Jasmine Perri continues to pursue her passion for performance as a backup dancer for Justin Bieber.
“I was doing a lot of one-offs, like music videos, awards shows and TV shows,” Perri explained during an interview last month in Honolulu before departing for last-minute tour prep in Los Angeles. “But in this industry, the job you want is a tour. They don’t come around every month.
“I believe this tour is estimated to be two years or longer. I’ve done two legs so far, so I kind of understand what I need to do. I think it’s really just going with the flow.”
Perri is one of Bieber’s troupe of 12 principal dancers, which also includes two martial arts performers and a pair of breakdancers. Two “swings” also travel with the production, one male and one female, so there is always a replacement dancer available in case of sickness or injury.
“We actually use our swings quite a bit,” said Perri, 23. “We have masseuses and chiropractors at every venue. We’re really lucky with Justin’s camp in that they take such great care of us.”
Perri, who is performing with Beiber at venues in France, Norway and Finland this week, answered a few questions about her dance career and what it’s like to be on tour with an international celebrity.
QUESTION: How did you get hired to be part of Justin Bieber’s dance crew?
ANSWER: I was in South Africa last year when I found out about my first job with Justin. My agent told me I started the next day.
I was, like, kind of confused. Am I auditioning? Normally, you go to an audition and hopefully you get put on hold for the job and just wait with your fingers crossed.
With Justin, it was the first time I was in rehearsal that long. It was like a month in secret and then we did the MTV Video Awards. And then they kept calling me and now I’m on tour.
Q: What kind of dance background do you have?
A: I started ballet when I was 3 years old. When I was about 5 or so, I started dancing at the Y, which is where I picked up hip-hop and jazz.
We kind of grew up all over the island, but I spent most of my time in town. I actually got my GED, so technically I guess I’m a McKinley grad. But I was taking online classes at Myron B. Thomspon academy.
I also grew up in New York a little bit, which is where contemporary (dance) came into my life. When I started eighth grade, I went to this school called the Professional Performing Arts School. I would go to school in the morning and then in the afternoon I would go and train.
Q: You landed a role on Broadway while living in New York, right?
A: I played a young Chita Rivera, who is a Broadway icon, in “Chita Rivera: The Dancer’s Life.” She was in the original “West Side Story.” She’s a legend.
That was hands down the best experience of my childhood. It was the first time I was really exposed to a real career in this industry. I thought I wanted to do Broadway, but I kept finding myself learning something new about my passion (for dance).
Q: What made you want to come back to Hawaii?
A: I couldn’t get work as a little kid anymore, but I wasn’t old enough to work in regular productions. And it was really hard for me to adjust. I got really homesick. But I’m thankful for it because the training I received and the things I learned there totally apply to my life now.
Q: How did you end up dancing in Los Angeles?
A: I was in Hawaii and found out about a scholarship program in Los Angeles at the Edge Performing Arts Center that only takes 20 people per year. So I went and auditioned with maybe 500 other people and got one of the spots. It’s such a great program. There’s so much dancing and I learned so much.
At the end of the one-year program, they have a showcase for every agency in L.A. and offer private auditions with each of the agencies, which is your only opportunity to get something like that. Normally a new dancer will go to L.A., attend an open call and hope for an audition.
Q: How did your career take off once you were picked up by Block Talent Agency?
A: They represent me well. My very first job was Chris Brown. And then my second job was Britney Spears — working with her is how I got my signature bangs (hairstyle). My first tour was with Trey Songz.
Q: What is tour life like with Justin?
A: I’ve already done North America and Canada with him. It was a total of four months; we started in January, were in rehearsals for two months straight and then went out on tour.
We have to have a family atmosphere. We have to hold each other down and be that support system for him. Not only are we dancers, but 90 percent of the job is off stage. That goes for social media and just being in public while we're on tour.
He really is an awesome boss and I'm so thankful for this opportunity. I never thought I would be here. Every time we do "Baby," I remember listening to it on the radio and singing along with my niece. If you told me I would be on tour with one of the biggest pop stars in the world, I would have gotten mad and been like, "Why would you say that? It's not going to happen!" But it did.
Q: What’s your favorite part about being on tour?
A: There's so many best parts. It's so amazing. You're getting paid to travel the world. I get to go to South America, to India. We're going all over the world.
Seeing the world and experiencing different audiences in different cities, it's a really crazy job. I've never been on the road this long.
Q: Are you on stage dancing the entire show?
A: I'm on stage for maybe 14 or 15 songs out of the 20 in the set.
The longest break I get is maybe two and a half minutes, and that's at the beginning of the show. Otherwise we're running off stage to change costumes, drink some water and then we're right back out there.
Q: What are Justin Bieber fans like?
A: Let me tell you, there are no fans like Justin Bieber fans. I witness the craziness first-hand. His fans are loyal and they mean it. They love him.
I can't fault them. If it wasn't for his fans, I wouldn't have a job.
Q: Would you trade places with Justin?
A: No. I feel really lucky because I get to stand on stage behind him and feel what he feels from the audience, and let me tell you, there's no greater feeling. It's amazing. It's why I do what I do.
But his life is very scheduled and he has a really heavy responsibility. It's really hard to handle. I commend him for being as strong as he is. As much as people read about him, he's a really solid person. It's not easy to handle the type of fame he has. I'm honored to see that part and be on a human level with someone who can't walk around in public.
Q: Do you have any other passions besides dance?
A: I really want to get into styling and personal styling. I definitely have other passions and I'm learning new things about myself. I think that's what is going to keep me sane.
After being on tour this long, it's rare as a dancer to explore other parts of yourself. When you're not on tour, you're job hunting. And when you're not on a job you're unemployed, so you have to have some money saved up for when the phones aren't ringing.
Jason Genegabus has covered the local entertainment, nightlife, music and bar scenes since 2001. Contact him via email at email@example.com.