A Māngere man who has become the world's top Krump dancer says he expresses the pain of his own life in dance.

Ken Vaega, 24, has had "a crazy two months". He was part of the Prestige Dance Crew that came fourth in the world hip-hop dance championships in Arizona in August, and on Sunday he won the world Krump championships in Germany.

It was the first time he had competed in the annual Krump event in Dusseldorf and he was the rank outsider in the top qualifying group of 10.

"Everyone didn't know who I was," he said.

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"People compete under their stage names but they wrote my name as 'Ken' instead of my stage name Jr Street Beast.

"When we had the group photo, they said, 'Is Ken here from New Zealand?' Everyone is super-like competitive and everyone is going for the kill, and all you have is, 'Is Ken here?'"

Ken Vaega was the rank outsider when he won the world Krump champs in Dusseldorf on Sunday. Photo / Facebook
Ken Vaega was the rank outsider when he won the world Krump champs in Dusseldorf on Sunday. Photo / Facebook

Krump, which stands for "Kingdom Radically Uplifted Mighty Praise", began in Los Angeles in the early 2000s as a dance form "characterised by free, expressive, exaggerated and highly energetic movement". Vaega said it looked similar to hip-hop but was quite different.

"There's more energy," he said. "There's different 'do's and 'don't's within the two worlds."

"It was created in south-central LA, a very hard, very gang-filled environment," he said.

"The creators of Krump, Tight Eyez and Big Mijo, they created this dance as a way to express everything they were feeling, and a way for them to stay out of trouble.

"People like myself, who grew up in South Auckland, who grew up without a father, people like me were able to express what we were feeling without putting it into words. The pain that you go through you can't necessarily go through in words."

Vaega grew up with his mother, his grandmother and his grandmother's brother, whom he describes as "my only father figure".

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"I didn't know my dad. Over my whole life I only spoke to him five times," he said.

"It was pretty crazy growing up because a lot of my family members and certain people I used to be with have that father figure, they have that male role model.

"Growing up without one was always difficult - trying to connect to men, trusting men."

Ken Vaega, in red teeshirt, was surrounded by amazed supporters after his upset win in Dusseldorf on Sunday. Photo / Facebook
Ken Vaega, in red teeshirt, was surrounded by amazed supporters after his upset win in Dusseldorf on Sunday. Photo / Facebook

Vaega identified with Krump from about the age of 12.

"I started watching certain DVDs," he said.

"Ever since I was little I was always into this dance style, and from the age of about 12 to maybe 15 I'd be watching it every single day of the week. It's been quite a journey.

"I was able to find a group of friends who also fell in love with Krump at an early stage. I got involved with the Auckland Krump community. We just started meeting weekly for training, and ever since then we have been competing at the Krump nationals."

Vaega now teaches at the Lighthouse studio in Ōtara and has been mentored by Los Angeles-based Krump legend Baby Tighteyez.

Ken Vaega, the world's Krump champion, expresses the pain of his life in dance. Photo / Facebook
Ken Vaega, the world's Krump champion, expresses the pain of his life in dance. Photo / Facebook

"A few years ago he came over to New Zealand to teach and to judge our national Krump tournament. I pretty much asked on the spot if I could be a student," Vaega said.

Vaega trained with Baby Tighteyez in Los Angeles last year and is there again this week after his big win.

"Pretty much after winning the world competition, the only way to go is to go back to training," he said.

"I've come to LA to my mentor Baby Tighteyez, to my family the Beastcamp. This is my family. I'm a part of two families - the Lighthouse, that's where we train, and I'm also part of the Beastcamp, and pretty much that is a worldwide collective of members from all over the world."

Ken Vaega, in red teeshirt, celebrates after his win. Photo / Facebook
Ken Vaega, in red teeshirt, celebrates after his win. Photo / Facebook

Last year, finally, he also met his real dad.

"I was doing a competition in Wellington, a Krump competition," he said.

"One of my friends came up to me and said, 'Oh my gosh, you'll never guess who I met.' She was like, 'I just met your dad.'

"We looked at each other. I broke the news to her that I actually hadn't met my dad.

"I took out that competition in Wellington, and straight after that I was concentrating the whole weekend on whether or not I'd meet him.

"At the end of it I just took a leap of faith and just showed up, because he actually lived next-door to my friend's house. He had heard my group of friends talking about dance and he'd said, 'You guys must know my son.' And fast-forward, I was able to meet him.

"The minute I opened the door, he just burst into tears. It was crazy.

"I keep in contact with him still now. He had been following my dance journey and kept up-to-date with what I was doing, but he just gave me the respect of, 'If he wants to know me, I won't push him.'

"And I think it was the right decision, because I was pretty angry and I think if he'd pushed it, it would have been really different."


New Zealand's Krump community is now celebrating Vaega's success. Fellow Krump dancer Ennaolla Paea posted on Facebook from Dusseldorf: "The past 48hrs has been a blur of a dream that I am pinching myself watching THIS HISTORY MAKER."

Stevie Miriama Haira said: "Boys even did a haka for him."

Krump Aotearoa declared Monday "Saber day" in honour of Vaega's other stage name Lightsaber.