“Hip-hop has its own foundation and language,” Hill says. “There’s dancers who can dance, but you can tell they have no training. If I tell you six-step or lock, and you don’t know the language, you can’t keep up.”
Miami’s multiethnicity and connections to Caribbean and Latin culture help set its dancers apart, and its thriving Latin music and TV industries are a major source of work. Many dancers become fluent in Latin styles to work with Spanish-language pop singers or shows like Univision’s Premio Lo Nuestro.
“We’re very expressive and passionate because of where we’re from,” says dancer Kerine Jean-Pierre, whose parents are Haitian and who has a particularly sinuous and exuberant way of moving. “The mix of cultures means we’re very expressive in how we talk and walk, and that carries into how we dance.”
Jean-Pierre’s talent for expression persuaded Brigid Baker, a modern dancer and choreographer who has worked in New York and Europe, to turn her 6th Street Dance Studio in Little Havana into a center for the Miami hip-hop dance scene. Jean-Pierre was a modern-dance student on scholarship eight years ago when she persuaded a skeptical Baker to let her start a hip-hop class.
“I was like, ‘errrr,’ but I decided to look, and I couldn’t believe what I was looking at because the talent was so extraordinary,” says Baker, who now offers classes for adults and children as well as workshops and programs to foster talent.
She believes the energy and creativity Miami dancers bring to the form make them heirs to the hip-hop pioneers she knew in New York in the 1980s.
“There’s no place like South Florida for hip-hop,” Baker says. “Part of my mission here has been to provide a space for these urban artists to push the boundaries and find new ways of developing.”
For all their talent, local hip-hop dancers are straining to keep up with their counterparts in Los Angeles, New York and Atlanta. Occasional film shoots and music videos can’t match the constant work in the entertainment nexus of L.A.., which draws many of Miami’s most talented dancers. Those who remain reel off names of friends who’ve gone on to dance with the likes of Lady Gaga, Rihanna, Beyonce, Britney Spears, Katy Perry and Nicki Minaj.
Danielle Rodas may follow them soon. Only 19, Rodas got her first professional gig at 16, on Premio Lo Nuestro, and has worked in L.A. on the Teen Choice and Alma Awards shows. She loves hip-hop dancing — “the hypeness, the bigness, how the crowd feeds off you” — and dreams of touring with pop stars and dancing in movies.
“I want to build a name for Miami and myself,” she says. “It’s possible to make a name for yourself here, but then it’s time to travel and set bigger goals.”
Essiet and others are trying to create more opportunities here for dancers like Rodas. Frustrated at negotiating her own jobs with the likes of Spears, Ricky Martin and the MTV Music Awards, choreographer and dancer Amanda Tae started an agency, Tae Talent, in 2007. Today she represents more than 100 clients and owns one of Miami’s top hip-hop dance studios, Focal Point, in Kendall, which trained Jeanine Mason, the fifth-season winner of So You Think You Can Dance.