Dance, Sisterhood, Love: Martha & Niki Have It All

Searching for a path in life while battling against male dancers; sisterhood and a shared burning passion for dance that burns burns burns — these are the themes that are raised in Swedish director Tora Mkandawire Mårtens’ heartfelt feature ‘Martha & Niki which opens in Swedish theaters on January 22nd.

Martha & Niki unfolds in Stockholm onto Paris where the film’s starring Swedish power-duo Martha Nab and Niki Tsappos battle it out in numerous hip hop dance-offs against dudes…after dudes.. after dudes..countless times. None of which could possibly measure up to the magic they create in each and every routine.

Martha & Niki - The Documentary Pht: Folkets Bio
Martha & Niki Pht: Folkets Bio

Paris 2010, marked a milestone in their career when winning Champions of Hip Hop for their kick-ass performance at the annual Juste Debout making them the first females in history to win the prestigious and acclaimed award.

The saga takes off from there, and Mkanadawire Mårtens goes deep as she always does – as in pour-your-heart-out-deep by examining the dynamic between the two beyond dance, digging into the profound impact it has on people and uncovering what they’re all about on and off stage. It goes without saying, it’s the most memorable dance partnership to hit the screen.

Martha & Niki crowd winners at Juste Debout, Paris 2010Martha & Niki crowned winners at Juste Debout, Paris 2010

The film recently received an Honorary Mention at the Nordisk Panorama Awards for its ‘cinematic energy in telling the story of two talented, driven women’ and judging by the trailer alone it certainly speaks for itself – the dancing, the uncanny connection, the powerful sisterhood – all adds up to a film one only can fall in love with.

Hi Tora! So please tell us why you chose Martha and Niki to be the subjects of your documentary? What was it about them that made you want to document their story?

– The first time I saw them dance was on Youtube, I was instantly amazed even felt seduced… no.. almost obsessed! Both of them carried so much that needed out through dance. I felt so excited about their energy and decided to capture that on film. They’re very different as individuals, which makes their relationship the more interesting to explore.

Director Tora Mårtens, Pht by:
Director Tora Mkandawire Mårtens, Pht by: Judith Belle

Their friendship really touches the viewer on so many emotional levels (even made me slightly jealous) how would you describe their connection? I was instantly swept away by their friendship from scene one and caught myself laughing, crying…even dancing –  why do you think their friendship is so gripping?

– They’re very honest and straightforward about everything and that kind of honesty was exactly what I wanted to portray – nothing was held back, everything is real and upfront – honesty is what moves people. Words and communicating are however an area they’re lacking in, they communicate best through dance and expose themselves entirely. Dancing is really what keeps them connected, it’s also the beauty of their connection. Martha calls it an ‘infatuation’ – which comes across in the film and is quite striking to watch.

14_M&N_Instagram from Tora Martens on Vimeo

Snippet from Martha & Niki – The Documentary

They’re very popular and the audience seems to love them, why do you think that is?

– What’s not to love about M&N? Their love for dance is something they treat with pure honesty and that comes across in each and every move. They go deep and put their hearts into it – the crowd loves it. It’s important to also mention they were pioneers and represented something completely new to the game – beaming of charisma and a confidence that led them to their victory. They crushed all male competitors, which was a first, that was a big deal, it almost came off as a provocation because they were so used to winning. 

You shot the duo during a 5-year period in numerous cities across the globe – what was that experience like for you as a director?

– Joyful! We laughed a lot together and the girls were so generous about sharing and being themselves throughout the entire process. I have to say, making documentaries is, however, always a challenge. Getting emotionally involved is part of the role as a director, because people open up and share their stories, which I cherish deeply, I’m held responsible for making everyone involved pleased. That goes for – processing all feelings during the making and dealing with nerves. So, I’m extremely pleased with the fact that Martha and Niki’s participation in the film has played a therapeutic part in their lives – in terms of expressing and dealing with hardships. I appreciate that.

Screenshot: Martha & Niki - The Documentary, shooting in Soweto, ZA.
Screenshot: Martha & Niki, shooting in Soweto, ZA.

Describe some wow-moments that occurred for you during shooting?

– Oh there were plenty! But I must say, one of them was of course when they won the Juste Debout competition, beating the men and becoming world champions. Magical! I remember us blasting the stage in that very moment. I couldn’t help it, pure impulse and emotional climax drove me to do it! And also, the moving speech straight after, and the massive support received from the crowd, there were just so many emotions pouring out, there wasn’t a dry eye. Besides that, there was also Soweto, where we shot at an orphanage which brought even more feelings to the surface. We watched kids sing and dance and were all deeply moved by being there, it meant a whole lot to the camera crew, as well as for Martha and Niki, we couldn’t stop crying.

In one scene, Martha mentions that ‘a person’s true self can be seen through dance’ which makes sense to me, in your opinion – who are Martha and Niki when dancing? What do they express?

– I see power, superiority and plenty of confidence, beautiful to watch. When dancing as a duo, they’re expressing one thing, but whenever they do a solo, they go deep and express their true selves. I mean, they just tell so many stories. Martha, for one, has got a more serious approach to her style, she really shows it in her facial expressions, she shares so much pain and sorrow in her mimicry and eyes, exposing her vulnerability. Niki, has a different demeanour and exuberates joy, she smiles and tells a different story.


Finally – why should people see the movie?

– You don’t have to be into dance or hiphop to watch it, it moves people regardless. There’s no integral explicit message to it, it rather circles around several messages. But, as a whole, the core message is really about honesty, staying true to yourself and not pretend. Our goal was to create an authentic feel to the film, we want to take the viewers with us, to experience the full package by making them feel as if they’re actually there watching the battles live. See the film, if you want to get inspired and enjoy watching people dance – because dance expresses so much without using words.


‘Martha & Niki’s official release In Sweden is on Jan 22nd, the film will also be screened in South Africa and worldwide during 2016.

For more updates, visit:



Martha & Niki (Official Trailer 2016)

Director & Script Tora Mkandawire Mårtens

Cast: Martha Nabwire & Niki Tsappos

Cinematographers: Erik Vallsten, Niklas Nyberg, Senay Berhe, Tora Mårtens // Artistic Advisor: Kalle Boman //Music Composers: Kicki Halmos, Per Egland, Red Wood, Kalle Bäccman, Andreas Unge //Film Editors: Tora Mårtens, Therese Elfström // Sound Design: Red Wood // Re-recording mixer: Aleksander Karshikoff // Colorist & Online: Nils Fridén, Velourfilm  //Graphic Design: Joel Cornéer, The Apartment  // Producer: Tora Mårtens/Neo Publishing AB