The story unfolding on a North Miami Beach stage in pulsing torsos and rippling arms, slamming splits and wild leaps is of an aspiring dancer fighting for a place in the hip-hop world with the support of her ardent community. It’s a story the two dozen performers hope will come true for them someday.
“We’re gonna make it happen!” producer Ekandem “E” Essiet shouts from the stage at the end of the show. “Everyone here who’s a dancer stand up!” Half the 500 people in the Julius Littman Performing Arts Theatre on this Friday night come to their feet cheering.
For the dancers and Essiet, who has been producing this showcase for five years, a happy ending to that onstage story means breaking into the big leagues of commercial dance entertainment. Those hopes got a boost last year when the movies Rock of Ages and Step Up 4: Revolution were filmed in Miami, employing local dancers and raising their profile for roles in TV shows, commercials and pop tours.
The movies “started a sort of spark, ‘Oh, everyone is going to Miami, we gotta go there too,’ ” the producer says. He points to recent casting sessions for the Fox series Glee and the sequel to the 2007 movie Stomp the Yard and to dance studios around Miami-Dade where hip-hop classes fill schedules along with ballet and jazz.
“Everything has grown tremendously, especially for Miami,” says Essiet, 28, who studied dance at the Northwestern Senior High School magnet program and Florida International University. “Hip-hop went from being a fad or a phase to a recognized part of the industry.”
Dondraico Johnson, a top, Los Angeles-based hip-hop choreographer who has worked on the Footloose remake and the Step Up films as well as tours for Madonna and Jennifer Lopez, was in the audience for the North Miami Beach showcase.
“They’ve come a long way, and the growth is only going to come up,” Johnson says of Miami’s dancers. “This community breeds amazing talent. Now they’ve got a taste and they want more.”
For many people, hip-hop dance conjures images of guys in sneakers doing body-twisting flips and head spins — what dancers call break dancing or B-boy. But that’s only one aspect of contemporary hip-hop dance, which has grown into a broad, inventive genre that’s an essential part of pop tours, music spectacles, reality shows like So You Think You Can Dance and hot movie franchises like the Step Up series. For the 6-and-younger set, Disney has just released Master Moves Mickey, a head-spinning Mickey Mouse doll.
“It used to be that [hip-hop dance] had no structure or technique — you either had it or you didn’t,” says Phillip Kendrick, 31, folding his tall frame into a seat after the showcase. A dancer who moves with a riveting combination of fluidity and explosive power, Kendrick teaches at several studios and has been in videos for Flo Rida and Jason Derullo. “Now hip-hop style evolves every five minutes.”
One of the showcase’s choreographers, Kehynde Hill, 38, started at age 10 break dancing for business crowds in downtown Miami, imitating what he saw on music videos. His studies took him deep into the original hip-hop style as well as jazz, ballet, karate and Lindy Hop and helped make him one of the city’s most respected hip-hop dancers and teachers.