“Miami dancers have a huge fire inside; we’re much more voracious and passionate,” Tae says.
But, she says, outsiders often take advantage of that eagerness. “A lot of directors or producers realize there’s amazing talent here, and also how much cheaper it is than L.A.. or New York.”
The naïveté and insularity of the local scene hurt local performers as well, she says. “A lot of dancers here get comfortable and they forget to train. I tell them, ‘You need to get better, you need to take class. A choreographer from L.A.. doesn’t know how good you are.’ ”
Essiet has organized many classes to give Miami dancers a chance to learn from, and be seen by, the people who are shaping the hip-hop dance world. “It’s always an audition, from the moment you walk in,” he says.
On a recent Saturday evening, some 50 dancers gather at a studio in Gold’s Gym in Miami Lakes for a workshop he arranged with Kiki Ely, a choreographer whose credits include the movie Drumline and rappers Nelly and Ludacris.
Sporting elaborately layered, highlighted hair and low-cut sweatpants that show off her mobile mid-section, Ely is looking for dancers for a new singer she’ll be working with.
“A dancer needs to be able to connect with the music and tell a story, to have personality and charisma onstage,” she says.
She teaches a sequence that combines flamboyant, loosely defined moments where the dancers can cut loose — “Guys, you can show your stuff here. Girls, you can do your sexy thing” — with precise, rapid-fire sections. She has the dancers repeat the sequence until they’re gleaming with sweat. “When you get tired, that’s when you gotta pull it together!” Ely exhorts.
Many of the dancers stay afterward for a meeting of Miami’s nascent chapter of the professionals’ union Dancers Alliance. Organizer Dionne Renee urges them to insist on rehearsal pay, a minimum rate for music videos (often a quarter of what’s paid in L.A.. or New York) and generally join together for better pay and treatment. “Let’s stick to these standards so our community can go higher, and not have to go to L.A.. when they get to a certain level,” Renee says.
Hill, the choreographer and teacher, struggled between his ambitions and his ties to Miami. Although he sometimes travels to L.A.. to dance, he opted to stay in Miami and get a day job — he’s been a city of Miami firefighter for 13 years — and now has twin baby boys. Much as he believes in the hip-hop dance scene here, he’s judicious when asked to predict its future.
“I encourage people to leave, but to let people know where they come from,” he says. But Hill is hopeful that Miami dancers’ talent and ambition will work for them in the long run.
“As long as the community keeps on rolling and stays focused,” he says, “we’ll be fine.”