Interviews

Nothing can stop the magic of The Oneill Twins

The Oneill Twins.
The Oneill Twins.

The Oneill Twins have been dancing for almost 20 years. They’ve competed on the world hip hop stage, performed with J Lo and released countless inspiring YouTube videos featuring their striking choreography. The New Zealand duo currently resides in Sydney, Australia, and, despite the challenges posed by a global pandemic, they are still – to put it simply – bossin’ it. Dance Informa caught up with Brooke and Starce O’Neill to talk about their career so far and where they’re headed now – including their latest foray into music production.

The twins’ love of dance has been lifelong. “We always do everything together,” Starce begins, “and after trying our first dance class when we were seven, we fell in love with it and haven’t stopped since. We’ve gotten older and we’ve gotten better, but we still love it so much.”

“After high school, we actually thought we’d go to uni,” Brooke adds, “but we took a year off to dance with Parris Goebbels’ studio, The Palace, and after that we were like, ‘Oh my goodness, we’re not going to go to university; we’re going to keep dancing, and this is going to be our career!’ One thing we loved about being a part of Parris’ crew was the work ethic. Along with performance, that was the biggest thing we learned.”

Despite their twin connection, both dancers have developed their own distinct style. “It’s always been grounded in hip hop, but Brooke and I dance very differently,” explains Starce. “I’ve taken on that masculine vibe my whole life, and Brooke’s done the total opposite – she’s very sassy. Coming from a dance crew background, we’ve touched everything, but I guess we call it The Oneill Twins style because we really incorporate our own flavours.”

It’s that signature Oneill Twins magic that has taken them across the world. “A major highlight was going to America to dance with J Lo for the American Idol finale,” shares Brooke. “That was with ReQuest Dance Crew in 2012.”

“Seeing the dance industry there, and just seeing J Lo in person, was huge. It was a big milestone for us,” agrees Starce.

“I think we were 18 then,” recalls Brooke, “so at that age to be able to experience back-up dancing for one of the biggest artists in the world was amazing. And then we came first at the World Hip Hop Championships with The Royal Family crew that year, too, so that was massive.” 

Alongside their performance achievements, they’ve also been focusing on passing on their skills and experiences to other dancers. This led to the formation of the ONE ILL Project in 2018. “Creating the ONE ILL Project was a big thing for us,” notes Starce. “To help teach dancers and create our own shows was a different kind of milestone.”

“We organised it all from scratch,” adds Brooke. “I learned a lot about business and how to run my own project, and Starce developed the creative side, covering the videography and mixing, so we halved the load. Of course, there was a team of people helping us that we trust and love, but it really was our baby.”

Meanwhile, not content with conquering the dance scene, the twins also signed a recording contract to release a music video. “This was a few years ago now, but we signed to Sony for our debut single,” describes Brooke. “That was the start of our music journey, and it was an awesome experience. It definitely opened doors.”

Music has always been in the twins’ life, although initially it was simply an integral part of their Maori culture. “The only singing we ever did growing up was Kapa Haka – singing in a cultural group,” Brooke describes. “We’ve always kind of loved it, but we never thought of it being a part of our profession.”

“The big thing that made us change our perspective was when our friends – who are singers in New Zealand and role models for us – suggested we try it,” shares Starce. “For them to believe in us, it actually made us believe in ourselves.”

“It took professional people, people that we look up to, to say, ‘You’ve got something; you should give it a go,’” laughs Brooke, “or we would never have tried.”

Fast-forward to now, and the twins are teaching themselves how to write and produce their own music. “We’re now independently self-managed,” explains Brooke. “Starce is producing, and I’m doing most of the writing. So, once again, we’re halving the load.”

“We’re very self-sufficient,” laughs Starce. “I’ve been mixing a lot. And creating music – beat making – is a totally different ballgame. I’ve really been focusing on that this year.”

“We’ve invested in all the gear,” adds Brooke, “which is crazy, and not cheap! I’ve been taking vocal lessons and working on my writing, so that’s been my focus. And then on top of that, we still have regular work, because we would never give dance up. Music is a part of what we do, but dance is definitely our first love! During lockdown, we taught via Zoom, and once we were allowed back in the studio, we were right back into it. We’ve basically been balancing dance with making music.”

Coping with the stress of the pandemic has been easier with each other to lean on, both twins agree. “The number one thing is we have each other, and dance has always been there for us, so we just carry on,” says Brooke.

“The dance industry is not an easy route,” adds Starce. “But we always make it work, so when COVID hit, it was like, ‘Okay, what can we do? Of course, we can’t run our projects and this year’s been just totally flipped upside down, but what can we do instead?’ So that’s when we focused on our music. Having something to focus on is what’s helped me most with my mentality and motivation.”

“We’re also both big on our faith,” says Brooke, “so even though this pandemic is terrible, and no one saw it coming, we have faith that we will get through it. The dance community has become tighter, and I feel we’ve all got one another’s backs because we’re all going through the same thing. The whole world came to a standstill, but we were all in the same boat, so although it’s challenging, we still try and see the positives. I think it forced us all to just stop and think is what we’re doing really worth it? What’s our purpose? If the world were to stop tomorrow, would we be happy with what we’re doing in our life?”

It is this positive attitude that has the twins setting big goals for the future. “Our short-term goal would be to get an EP and an album finished,” shares Brooke. “But I think the big dream would be to tour our own shows, when possible, and to take dancers along with us whom we have trained up to perform. We want to share a message of bringing joy and for everyone to just pursue their dreams and to kill it in everything that they do. To be able to do that through music and dance and to take that everywhere around the world would be the ultimate dream.”

And, while Starce looks up to Miguel, and Brooke is a huge Beyoncé fan, there’s actually another set of twins who inspire the O’Neills to keep pushing for their dream. “There’s a pair of twins in Chile called Power Peralta,” explains Starce. “We haven’t met them face to face, but they constantly stay in touch and support us, and they’re pretty much doing exactly what I see us doing. They started off as dancers, but they have their own music now, they have dance studios all around Chile and they run their own shows. They are amazing.”

Certainly, being a twin is a special bond most of us will never quite understand. “You end up being the same person in a sense and, yet obviously we’re very different from each other,” shares Brooke. “When we’re together, we can give each other a look and know exactly what we’re both thinking. And we’ve always got each other’s backs. How could you fail at anything you set your mind to if you trust the person that you not only work with but do life with? We’ve got one another through thick and thin. It’s the best team.”

For more on The Oneill Twins, visit oneilltwins.com

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