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Lockdown Can't Hold Rua Down

Sheldon Rua. Photo: Josh Griggs.
Sheldon Rua. Photo: Joshua Leota.
Sheldon Rua. Photo: Joshua Leota.
Be it using his mind, voice or body, Sheldon Rua's finding ways for his unique skill-set to thrive from inside his bubble.


“Poetry and dance are such different art forms. Each can communicate something that the other can’t. They both influence each other; sometimes, I may not be able to write about something, but I’ll be able to dance about it and vice versa.”

21-year-old poet, musician and dancer, Sheldon Rua makes it all look easy. Whether he’s dancing with his crew, Prestige at the Hip Hop International world champs, performing his poetry at Auckland’s Town Hall or mentoring up and coming dancers and poets, Rua carries himself with grace and confidence. 

Beyond His Years

Age has undoubtedly proved no barrier. In 2016, while still at school, a live video of his poem “I am Māori” went viral, racking up over 350k plays on Facebook. The following year, Rua became the Dux of Alfriston school, the first Māori student ever to receive the honour. With a track record like that, it’s not surprising that the young polymath is using his time in lockdown to upskill and connect with artists around the world. 

Rua explains he doesn’t have a routine as such - his main focus is fitting in his creative work and keeping the peace with his whānau. 

“Being home with family in such a confined space for a long time, we have to be careful not to tear each other’s hair out. But you know, it’s always good to be with family, particularly in times like this.” 

Freed from his work commitments, The former TedX performer is throwing himself into his creative endeavours.  

Lockdown Lessons

Sheldon Rua. Photo: Joshua Leota.

Last week he was the featured performer for Auckland poetry institution SUP’s foray into the online performance space - live from his bubble. He’s already set up workshops teaching both dance and poetry, although using Zoom to teach dance presented a few challenges. 

“You have to make sure you get your whole body in the camera and make sure people can hear you,” he laughs. 

But he’s also seeing the possibilities that teaching online can offer. “It opens up so many different opportunities to reach different parts of the country or even the world.”

Post lockdown, the likeable Rua’s looking forward to getting back to teaching in person, 

but like many, he’s seen the digital future during these turbulent times. “Face to face, you can literally feel that but it’s hard to make someone feel something through a screen,” he comments, “but I’m thinking, I wonder if I could push these workshops - or work - out to the world.”

Staying a Step Ahead

Sheldon Rua. Photo: Joshua Leota.

Perhaps an example of his keen eye for his craft, some of the poetry workshops Rua moved online were already planned prior to the COVID-19 crisis. He was also working on the choreography for a show  -“It was getting to a really good place” - and training a dance team. Mentoring is a big part of Rua’s life. At such a young age, he’s already giving back to the communities that have played a significant role in his life. 

While Rua enjoys bringing the next generation up a level, he’s not ready to pass the baton yet. He’s aware that he needs to focus on developing his own skillset so he keeps growing as an artist. 

“How do I fit myself into the bigger picture of the craft, that probably would have to be the most challenging thing. How do I remain myself, while still teaching people what I’ve learned and how can I put my own spin on things?” 

Breaking Down Barriers

Rua, back when being in your bubble was optional, not compulsory. Photo: Josh Griggs.

When I bring up Rua’s Dux achievement, he initially laughs it off. But when he begins to open up, you can hear his voice crackle with pride. 

Rua recalls he was inspired by his older brother, who he describes as naturally intelligent. After his sibling missed out on Dux for his year, Rua decided that despite following a more artistic path, winning the cup would be a personal goal of his. Rua hopes the accolade will inspire other young people from his community and around Aotearoa

“It was kind of a big realisation, like ‘whoa, alright so how do we continue that and how do we inspire our Māori and PI communities to even reach for that.’ Because if people are able to see that one of their own can do it, why not me? This is a big reason why I keep striving to achieve.”

You can view Sheldon Rua’s performance at SUP on Action Education Facebook page - up next in the series tonight (Wednesday 15 April) is 2017 NZ Poetry Slam Champ and youth advocate Daisy Lavea-Timo AKA Daisy Speaks.

Written by

Dominic Hoey

15 Apr 2020

Dominic Hoey is an author, playwright and poet based in Tāmaki Makaurau. His debut novel, Iceland was a New Zealand bestseller and was long-listed for the 2018 Ockham Book Award.

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