At 9:50 a.m. on the morning after his 65th Justin Bieber concert, dancer David Shreibman was standing, but just barely. The 27-year-old “Purpose” tour backup b-boy was decked out in full concert merch, wearing a recognizable “Staff” t-shirt. Unlike most people though, he actually is a Bieber employee, and has been dancing for him on-and-off for the past five years.
“My back hurts,” Shreibman said with a laugh. Although this is his first world tour with Bieber, Shreibman is used to the demanding lifestyle of a dancer. He’s been dancing professionally since he was 15-years-old, traveling around the world for breakdancing battles, dancing for the Golden State Warriors, and doing backup for artists like Chris Brown, Gwen Stefani, and Tinashe. In 2014, he was cast in the film “Step Up: All In,” and he’s currently filming a documentary-style series called “The Break Boys,” with Red Bull TV.
Since January, however, Shreibman’s universe has revolved entirely around Justin Bieber. When Shreibman’s not on stage, he’s being bused around with 15 other dancers from arena to arena. And even in his “down time,” he’s playing soccer and wake-boarding with “J.B.” As a result, thousands of screaming girls follow him around as well. The morning after their final U.S. show, Shreibman broke down a day in the life of a Bieber backup dancer.
When did you start dancing? I started break dancing at 10 years old, but both my parents are dancers. My mom was a ballet and jazz teacher but she professionally danced for 10 years. And my dad was a professional pantomime…
What! A mime? Yeah. He started on the East Coast but then went on to train with this famous guy named Marcel Marceau. He was a huge French pantomime. So I grew up around dancing and dancers.
So can you pantomime really well? Me? No. I should be able to. I can fake it.
What was your big break, pun intended. There’s a b-boy community, and I was a little kid who got good at it really fast. My name started getting around the Bay Area. And then I got in one of the bigger crews from San Francisco called The Renegades in 2005. I’d say my big break in the scene though was after I won this big battle in Florida in 2006. It sent me to France to compete in 2007. It was right when YouTube became big, and I think that’s been a big part of my success; I was one of the first young guys to be on YouTube a lot. I’ve been professionally dancing since I was 15.
When did you start dancing for Justin Bieber? I’ve been dancing for Bieber off-and-on for about five years. This is my first tour with him. They didn’t bring b-boys on the “Believe” tour. But for this tour we started rehearsing in January. It was a big decision because tours are such a commitment; they pull you away from life for such a long time. The tour started in March and last night was the last show in the U.S. We did 65 shows. My back hurts! My knees hurt! I’m tired!
Where was your first show? Holy crap, I can’t even remember.
Are you on stage the whole time? Pretty much. He does 19 songs and I’d say I’m in around 13 of them.
What’s it like being on stage in front of all those people? I’m used to arena shows because I did the “Glee Live” tour two years in a row. And then I also danced for the Golden State Warriors when I was 15. But it’s an interesting experience dancing with Bieber because we can’t hear the audience. All you’re hearing is Bieber’s voice and the choreographer talking to us throughout the show. It’s like you’re in your own world. This is the first time I’ve ever done a show like that.
Does that help you dance? To be honest, no. I think a lot of dancing is energy-based and hearing the crowd helps. It’s different for Bieber though because it’s 20,000 screaming girls. It’s like white noise. By the 40th show, you’re like, not trying to hear that much screaming. It’s insane. I took my ears out last night because it was the last show and it was SO loud. When he goes into, “Baby,” it’s crazy. I had to cover my ears.
Do Bieber’s fans find you? Oh my god, yes. Any hotel we’re at. They stalk. They find the dancers and think that Bieber is where the dancers are. They’re everywhere, just lingering. They know our names. They try to give us stuff to give to him. My DM’s are insane: “Please! I traveled all the way from Africa and my car broke down and my mom has cancer.” It’s crazy.
How are you dealing with all that? It sucks because you have to be a dick. You have to ignore them. They don’t care about you; they’re just like, “Where’s Justin!” We’ll have after parties and J.B. will go and we kind of turn into a type of security. The way people act around him isn’t normal. He’s like a zoo animal. They’re zombies.
That’s scary. It’s really scary. I don’t like that side of it. A part of me feels bad for him. He can’t do anything.
Do have a routine before you go on stage every night? Not really. It’s not like a battle where I have to get into this headspace and I’m challenged more creatively. This is more like job. It’s automatic after 65 shows.
Does Bieber have a routine? Yeah, we always do a pre-show prayer. He looks to us for energy, so it’s more about us getting him hype. All the dancers — there are 16 of us — and the band get in a circle and start yelling. He likes doing the “Mighty Ducks” chant: Ducks! Ducks! Ducks! Quack! Quack! Quack!
Have their been any moments on tour when things did not go according to routine? Yes. I had one really scary situation. There are these things under the stage called “toasters,” and at the beginning of every show we get launched from them. Like, literally imagine what a toaster does with bread. It’s this 4′ x 4′ hole that we get shot out of probably around 10-feet in the air. Every night in two different numbers. On those nights when you don’t feel like doing the show, you’re like, “Shit, I gotta get launched right now!” Anyway, one night there was a power failure… Normally, the toaster stays up with you so that you’re not falling 10 feet onto the floor. But on that night, I’m launched, the power dies, and it falls back down. I was in the air, I look down, and there’s literally a hole in the floor. If I hadn’t looked down, who knows what would have happened. But I fell all the way down and luckily, I’m a ninja or something, I don’t know, but I didn’t get hurt. But it was really bad and not cool. I could have gotten really fucked up. It was probably top three scariest things that have ever happened to me.
You’re putting your life on the line every night for the Biebs! Yeah. These stages are like construction sites; you have to be really careful. Things fall out of the sky if someone doesn’t rig it right. There’s a part of the show where we’re suspended on a trampoline 30-feet above everybody. I’m like a circus freak.
Do you ever interact with Bieber off-stage? Yeah, tons. He’s an extremely talented kid. He’s a good kid. And he’s…a kid! He’s 22 and he’s still finding himself like we all are. His life is crazy. He was separated from the world at 10-years-old. He’s really generous. He’s goofy. He likes to play around. Like the other day, Bieber wanted to play soccer. He goes on our buses and wakes us all up like, “We’re going to play soccer!” He takes us to this sporting store and buys us all these jerseys and any cleats we want. Then he divided us into teams. We’ve also gone wake-boarding. He’s cool.
You’re like his friends, in a way. Yeah, I think he respects the dancers and every night he tells us how much he appreciates us. There are a lot of people who’ve been working with him since he was literally a child. It’s a good crew.
Does he inspire you? He’s definitely inspirational, but would I want that life? No. I’ve seen it. And not only with Bieber — I’ve worked with Chris Brown, Gwen Stefani, Tinashe, and all these people and it’s not easy. There’s no school that prepares these kids for this type of stuff. It’s not normal what they deal with. That’s what’s cool about being a professional dancer: I get to live that life, but just for a second.
Are you looking forward to a little break from Bieber before the European tour? I’m just looking forward to not toasting.
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