NorCal troupe prepares for the big time in New York
Inside a Sacramento studio, in a small room with white walls, wooden floors and a wall-length mirror, a group of mostly girls and one boy fidgets while waiting. They spread their arms and pop and lock their shoulders, slide forward, stomp, spin. And again. From the outside, it may look erratic, like a kind of restless chaos. But for members of the Sac Allstars Street Team, their faces already slick with sweat, this is work. Actually, this is important work, because time is running out.
“We have only three more weeks to get this down,” their coach says over incessant chatter. “You guys are going to wait to the last minute and feel silly. We’re flying too far and spending too much money for that.”
The kids call her Ms. Kim. Her full name is Kim Hollingsworth. She’s 43 and a mother of two. She’s like that cool auntie who knows the latest trends and has industry contacts for days.
“Can you stand still and face forward please?” she says. “Go from the top, get in the circle quick.”
The group moves into formation, using blue taped lines on the floor for guides. Hollingsworth paces around the room, telling some to scoot closer together, fill in gaps. She walks to the stereo in the corner and suddenly music pours through the speakers, pulling at the dancers’ limbs like a puppeteer’s strings. They step back from the circle in separate directions and then come together in parallel lines. After a quick pause in the song comes an outburst of energy; the dance takes off. But after about 30 seconds, the routine fizzles. The rest has yet to be planned. And the clock is ticking.
On June 13, the Sac Allstars will perform in New York on BET’s music video countdown show 106 & Park. They’ll compete against two other dance teams as part of the weekly segment called “Wild-Out Wednesdays.” It’s not that they haven’t been in this situation before, weeks away from a big competition with a lot of work to do. But this is big.
“Are we adding something?” one of the girls asks, still moving her body after the music is off.
“Yeah, we’re about to add something,” Hollingsworth replies, her mind clearly racing. “We still got to put in tempo and do tricks. So from this day on, you can’t miss any Tuesday or Thursday classes. Right now, we’re just focused on New York.”
Since the dawn of breakdancing in the early 1970s, street dance has been an integral part of the hip-hop movement. It has evolved and spread over the past few decades, merging at times with jazz and house dances and developing into separate styles in different regions—like a few years back, when the high-octane style known as krumping blasted out of South Central Los Angeles.
There’s no argument that the phenomenon is sweeping the globe—from the fierce competitions throughout the year to the equally fierce moves by the entertainment industry to capitalize on them. You’ve seen Hollywood’s take on the trend in tired, bogusly depicted subculture films like You Got Served and Stomp the Yard. Last month, NBC announced a new hip-hop dance reality show for the upcoming fall season called World Moves, executive produced and hosted by ubiquitous American Idol judge Randy Jackson.
Pat Charles was one step ahead of the game when he created “Wild-Out Wednesdays” in 2005. Since then, more than 100 acts, including dance teams and R&B singers, have performed on the BET stage. Only about 10 percent to 15 percent get through the audition phase, Charles said. But when the Sac Allstars auditioned, he let them know immediately that they’d made it.
“They have great energy,” Charles said recently over the phone from New York. “They’re very organized. You can just tell that they would have rocked the stage.”
Next week, the Sac Allstars face off against teams from Gilroy and Las Vegas. Viewers determine who wins by voting online. If it’s the Allstars, they’ll return in two months for a competition against other summer winners. Regardless, though, Charles already has asked them to return in August for a street-dance documentary he’s making, called Blaze the Stage.
Right now it seems all good for the Sac Allstars. But success hasn’t come without some missteps.
Kim Hollingsworth was born in Germany to military parents but moved to California when she was a few months old. Growing up, her feet were turned in. A doctor recommended ballet classes to improve her walking. It helped; she stayed in ballet and became a cheerleader at Marysville High School. She studied dance and choreography at Yuba College.
A few years ago Hollingsworth worked as a coach for the Natomas Junior Nighthawks, where her daughter was a cheerleader. She found that her daughter and other girls, who were getting too old for the squad, wanted to keep cheering, but not for football games. They wanted to compete. So in May 2004, Hollingsworth created the Sac Allstars, a nonprofit cheer and dance company. Three months later, she had junior and senior cheer teams and a hip-hop dance team with kids between the ages of 11 and 17, coaches and a volunteer staff of about 12.
The street team, coached by choreographer Tamaira Sandifer, won the JAMZ national title in its first year. Sandifer stayed with the Sac Allstars for another year, but left to start her own company, the Studio T urban dance academy in West Sacramento, in 2006. Some of the Allstars and their parents followed her, like Terri Speed and her daughter Lauren.
“The reason why the kids followed Tamaira was simply because they needed to separate from cheer,” Speed said. “At least that’s what the kids were being told.”
Speed and her daughter eventually did return to the Sac Allstars.
“There was no animosity between Ms. Kim and the kids that left,” Speed said. “Ms. Kim was gracious enough to give these kids another chance. Their whole motivation is dancing.”
Now Speed attends every competition, traveling across the country with the team and cheering them on. She was there this past March when the Sac Allstars took the JAMZ national title in the senior funk hip-hop dance category for the third year in a row, now with Hollingsworth as coach.
It’s 9 p.m., the end of practice on Thursday, and the team is tired. Some sit on the floor, nursing scraped knees. Others head for the door seeking fresh air.
“This is your homework over the weekend,” Hollingsworth says before detailing some other steps to add to the routine. “We need to start putting it together piece by piece.”
One thing they do know is that they’ll be matching on stage, head to toe. They plan to wear black suits with black sneakers and their hair tied back in a bun. This type of uniformity, Hollingsworth says, is one constant and crucial detail that bonds them and sets them apart from other groups (they all wore hot pink wigs during their national run in March).
On days like this, it is hard to see beyond the next performance. Team members practice and practice and go home and practice some more. And after next week, judges will judge and crowds will clap, but the Sac Allstars don’t seem concerned about stage fright.
“When I first go out there I’m nervous,” says 14-year-old Taylor McKnight, “but when the music comes on, I’m in my mode.”