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Strutting his stuff in a decade of dance

FROM beer promotions and brand launches to city nightclubs, Frenchman Michael Sumana has danced his way around China for 10 years, writes Sam Riley.

In a small nightclub somewhere in western China, the spotlight shone on the one-gloved figure on the stage - the crowd was transfixed.

For many of them, it might be the first African man they have ever seen, for all of them it was first time they witnessed a Michael Jackson strutting his stuff.

Welcome to the world of 35-year-old dancer, choreographer, DJ and expert Michael Jackson impersonator Michael Sumana.

Sumana has lived in China for more than 10 years and in that time traveled to hundreds of cities, performing either solo or with dancers from his company Tempo Productions.

Originally from Marseille, Sumana is the child of an Egyptian father and Nigerian mother.

On his right forearm is tattooed "Michael," a homage to his dance hero whom he started imitating as a child.

"When I was a kid, there was so many influences, first break dancing but then totally Michael Jackson and his videos in the 1980s," Sumana says.

"I have been impersonating Michael Jackson my whole life, but it was the 'Beat It' video that really inspired me as a kid."

The first time he saw "Beat It" was as a TV program, then in 1984 he saw "Thriller" - and it was him in the red jacket. "The sharpness and smoothness made the moves so special and so unique."

While dancing was a hobby in high school and he worked out break dancing moves with friends on the streets of the French port city, Sumana did not pursue a career in dance straightaway.

Fulfilling the wish of his parents that he get an education, Sumana completed a degree in philosophy.

It was while he was contemplating some of the big questions of life that he was also working as a backup dancer to such African artists as Doctor Alban and Sade Adu, the front woman and vocalist for the 1980s British group, Sade.

"I missed some tutorials but I got through and I got my degree. I had to show my family that I could dance and study," he says.

After graduating from university, Sumana won a scholarship to China as part of a cultural exchange.

He arrived in Nanjing, capital city of Jiangsu Province, where he learned Chinese before embarking on vocal studies at Shanghai Conservatory of Music.

While he is an accomplished singer, for Sumana it was through his dancing that he gained his reputation.

"I ended up dancing again because a friend from the conservatory started to invite me to clubs," he says.

"When I started dancing people would put me in the center of the dance floor so that's how all the club managers got to know me."

Sumana has danced in events across China from beer promotions and brand launches to nightclub events.

He explains that he has even busted out a little bit of MJ for the local constabulary once.

"In Nanjing, I was in my dormitory sleeping and two policemen came and knocked on my door in the middle of the night," he recalls. "They said, 'Right, take out your costume and your CDs' just like that and I didn't know how they got my contact but I was a little worried. Was there something wrong with my visa? But they took me to a hall to perform and everyone was in uniform. It was a strange experience but they loved it."

While the regular gigs pay the bills, it is through his dance company of more than 18 dancers from across the world that he finds his creative outlet.

The dancers from Russia, Ukraine, Columbia, Brazil and elsewhere, perform at Muse II, Park 97 and Sky nightclubs.

They are also working on an original composition "Rhythm Is A Traveler" that is inspired by his travels around China performing.

"As a choreographer I believe you should base the dance routine and the moves on inspiration from the life around you and the situations you experience," he says.

"Dance is my passion and, as art directing and choreography, is a way of extending my passion and continuing to do what I love."


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