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Hey kids: The Wiggles play two Victoria shows this weekend

Standout 16-year-old Tsehay Hawkins — the youngest Wiggle to date — was a diehard fan of the group not so long ago. “I grew up watching The Wiggles. I don’t think there were any kids who didn’t, while growing up.”

THE WIGGLES

Where: McPherson Playhouse, 3 Centennial Sq.

When: Saturday, Oct. 29, 12:30 p.m. and 3:30 p.m.

Tickets: $45 from the Royal McPherson box office at 250-386-6121 or rmts.bc.ca

Note: Children under 12 months are free but must be issued a ticket

Compared to her fellow members in The Wiggles, the legendary Australian song-and-dance group, Tsehay Hawkins is technically a rookie. But the spirited performer has been taking dance lessons since she was two, which also makes the 16-year-old something of a stage veteran at this point.

“I started dancing before I could walk,” Hawkins said. “My parents knew that was where my energy could be placed. They knew that performing was something I always wanted to do. I haven’t had a proper high school experience, which I don’t think I ever really wanted. I wanted to be a dancer.”

Hawkins, who joined the group this year, is the youngest member The Wiggles to date, and is only the second female member during its three-decade existence (she filled the role vacated by Emma Watkins, who was a Wiggle from 2010 until 2021.) Despite her age and relative inexperience, Hawkins said she’s been embraced by fans of the group. Which makes sense: She was a diehard fan of the The Wiggles not so long ago, and says her mother played their music a lot when she was learning to dance.

“I grew up watching The Wiggles. I don’t think there were any kids who didn’t, while growing up. The Wiggles are like Aussie legends.”

The Wiggles were formed in 1991, when leader and founder Anthony Field — the lone original Wiggle still with the group — hatched the idea of a musical outfit awash in bright colours that would appeal to preschool-aged children. While not the most radical of inventions, the songs were catchy and the project took flight, eventually selling 30 million copies of their CDs and DVDs across the globe. The Wiggles are now considered one of the most successful groups ever to come out of Australia, with a reported $25 million in annual revenue in 2021.

Hawkins joined an offshoot of the group in 2021, when she was just 15, starring as Red Wiggle in videos on the band’s YouTube channel and subsequent tours. She was promoted to the character of Yellow Wiggle in January, and as one of four core members of one of Australia’s biggest musical exports has since become an inspiration to a new generation of fans — and their parents.

“It’s always the parents who recognize me,” she said with a laugh. “Sometimes it doesn’t register with the kids if I’m not wearing yellow.”

Hawkins will be front and centre alongside Field (known as Blue Wiggle), Lachlan Gillespie (Purple Wiggle), Simon Pryce (Red Wiggle) and a crew of support performers for two performances Saturday at the McPherson Playhouse, the group’s first Victoria dates in more than three years. The group’s fans are clearly ready to celebrate, as both shows are nearly sold out. If you’ve never seen a live performance by The Wiggles, it’s akin to a pre-school version of Beatlemania. The key, according to Hawkins, is to develop thick skin. Children can often be stern critics.

“They are the best audience, because you can definitely tell if they like it or if they don’t. For a lot of kids, it’s their first time being in a live concert, and being around other kids in theatres, so it’s a bit overwhelming. But I’m having so much fun.”

Hawkins is the only member in Wiggles history not born in Australia and is the group’s first Black member; she was born in Ethiopia, and was adopted at birth by her Australian parents. The Wiggles have always championed diversity, Hawkins said, with various lineups including members of Indigenous Australian, Latino, African, and Filipino heritage. But she realizes her presence in the group comes with added pressure.

She’s eager to rise to the challenge. “Representation and diversity on screen is super important. Princess Tiana from The Princess and the Frog [the first African American princess in the Disney Princess franchise] was my icon because I could relate to her. We looked the same. I’m happy I get to be The Wiggles’ next step to being more inclusive. “

Her mother is her chaperone while she’s touring, and sees that she continues her distance education online. The Wiggles spend between eight and nine months a year on the road, so hers is a busy schedule. Hawkins said she has enjoyed the hectic pace thus far. Prior to signing on with The Wiggles, Hawkins was a full-time dancer, with several Australian titles to her name, so her work ethic has been a saviour, she said.

“I know this may sound clichéd, because it’s my job as a Wiggle, but I rarely have down days. I do get tired, but I’ve always run on a few hours of sleep. I’ve just started, so I’m absolutely loving it. I haven’t had any bad days so far. If you’re doing something you love, it makes you smile anyway.”

mdevlin@timescolonist.com

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