Saintz come marching in

A performing arts programme is making big waves in west and south Auckland, bringing theatre, dance and music to hundreds of local kids.

Becks Va'ai is the co-founder and director of SUPA (that's SaintzUp Performing Arts). She founded the programme with her husband Nainz Tupai (one half of the R&B/soul duo Adeaze) nearly 10 years ago.

Since then, the programme has grown from a handful of kids (Becks and Nainz's four children were the first) to more than 250 kids, from the age of three right through to 17.

Becks was volunteering with a community church group in 2008 she and Nainz realised there was a need for an affordable performing arts programme for kids.

"The heart of the programme was to provide something affordable so families could do this together," she says.

"Even for myself and my husband, to send one child to do a private tuition activity is quite expensive, so we thought, what could we do to provide a programme where three or four siblings could come and still get good quality at an affordable price?"

Starting with a choir, and then introducing a dance module, SUPA now includes guitar, Pasifika dance, street dance and drama.

Classes run throughout the week at two centres - New Lynn Community Centre and Mangere Bridge School.

"It's been mainly word of mouth," says Becks. "Parents tell other parents, 'Hey, you should send your kids along to these guys.' We let our work with young people and the fruits of what we've achieved do the talking."

The kaupapa of the programme is to instill confidence in the kids.

"Our vision and mission is to use the performing arts to build self-belief, so young people are able to reach their dreams, no matter what that may be.

"We're not promising that every kid is going to walk out of here being a superstar. But they're learning values and gaining self-confidence so they can join the next netball team, or put their name down to be a student leader."

Course graduates have gone on to become course tutors - the dance academy is headed by Chantelle Hoch, one of SaintzUp's founding dancers - and with the tutors' support, many of the current students have formed music groups and bands. One of those groups is Tone 6, six teens and pre-teens who were recently invited to record the Samoan and Tokelauan version of the Moana karaoke soundtrack.

Break-out SaintzUp groups have performed at Western Springs' Pasifika Festival, the New Zealand Music Awards and the Auckland Arts Festival, and have even been approached by both America's Got Talent and Britain's Got Talent - for now, Becks won't say more than 'We're in communication with them'.

Next on the horizon, SaintzUp has further expansion planned, to spread the word and the performing arts to as many Auckland kids as possible.