In a parallel universe somewhere, there’s a physicist called Fredrik Rydman. Fortunately for us, in our universe Rydman is known as “Benke”, and he’s a dancer and choreographer.
“When I was around ten, a music teacher showed us how to dance “bugg” (a Swedish variation of, for example, jitterbug and boogie woogie) and she thought I should take up dancing. I just said yes, and went to class. I had played tennis and football, and had ben swimming. I had always liked to be physical.
I competed in dancing, did rock’n’roll and lindy hop, and participated in Swedish and world championships. Dancing was mostly competition for me. I really wanted to win.
When I get to a new city, I put on my jogging shoes and run around to explore it. There’s something about jogging that makes you quickly feel right at home.
After high school, I moved to Uppsala to study technical physics at the university. I had been pretty good at math at school and I figured that was a good job to have.
I was in Los Angeles in 1995 and saw street dance there. Not that it was hugely popular but it was there. I got saw this one tiny girl dance with such power that it blew me away. She was so strong and so powerful, and that kind of dancing appealed to me.
My best friend and dancing partner Jennie [Widegren] told me she was going to apply for the Ballet Academy in Stockholm. I went, “oh shit.”
In 1997, house DJ Jason Nevins remixed Run DMC’s 1983 hit “It’s like that”, and the video features a dance-off. Around that time we founded Bounce [with friends from the Ballet Academy, including Widegren].
Dancing was not a cool thing to do when I was a kid. Not for a boy anyway. That’s changed now with hip hop and maybe Bounce had something to do with in Sweden. YouTube’s also played a big part in it, too. It’s easy for everybody to see cool guys do cool moves.
I found a dance school in Uppsala during my studies there. Because I was the only guy there, they told me I could dance there as much as I wanted, for free, provided that I’d commit to dancing at their final show. Done! I was 19, while girls were in their early teens so that was a little awkward.
I decided to go for the Ballet Academy audition as well. That was the best decision of my life. That I found the courage to do it.
I get restless on a plane but I can sleep anywhere. I have lied down on a pavement and fallen asleep. Also, I find that airplanes to be a creative space. Maybe because there’s not much else to do.
My Dad wanted me to keep on with my physics studies. Now they’re proud of me, of course, but it was difficult for my parents to understand how I’d be able to earn a living by dancing.
We were a group of friends, and we thought we should get together and dance together. We rehearsed and got a gig at a school gym in Kista outside of Stockholm. Somebody somewhere saw us and asked if they could book us. We didn’t even have a name then. That became Bounce.
I have actually used math and physics in my work as choreographer. For example, when I think about the sets and moves, I have a mathematician’s or a physicist’s frame of mind. Maybe.
Choreography is like a river, or the ocean that is continually changing its rhythm and shape and flow.
Sometimes I tell people what to do, I’ll dance and show them what to do. Sometimes I just have an idea, and we dance our way towards it. In that case, the dancers are co-creators. Sometimes I videotape my own improvisation to remember it, in case something good happens.
I think all stage art has to serve a function.
Basically, I see the show in my head, and I just work towards it. I try to keep an open mind for solutions that are better than mine. You have to always re-evaluate your ideas.
People don’t even know how much we rehearsed our shows with Bounce. How much we sweated over every single detail.
I have finally learned, or accepted, that I can say no to things I don’t want to do. That it’s not the end of the world. That I can find work even if I say no and don’t have to worry about it as much.
Do I still dance? Depends on your definition of “dance”. [Laughs]. However, I haven’t danced on stage in a while. I can’t really be in the bigger productions. I could do it with the smaller ones, and every once in a while, I get the itch to dance.
After the 2013 run of sold-out shows in Stockholm, “Swan Lake” went on tour through Germany, Austria, London, Paris, Moscow, and in 2013 also Switzerland. This year, we’ll do an Italian and German tour and then two weeks in Gothenburg.
Jennie and I are still great friends. We own a gym and dance studio together, too.
“Benke” must be the worst stage name ever. My middle name is Bengt, and in middle school a classmate heard it and said, ‘is your name Bengt? Benke!’ And it stuck. Now I answer the phone with Benke. ”
– As told to RP in November 2015. First published in Scandinavian Traveler in 2016.