Once upon a time, in the late ’90s, Anthony Rue II, a.k.a. Antboogie, and three of his classmates at Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School for Music and Art and Performing Arts in NYC gathered during their lunch breaks to freestyle street dance moves. In an eighth-floor classroom, they taught each other different hip-hop styles while chatting about life, school and, of course, girls. Soon, the Brooklynites began commuting to school together, and eventually they became best friends. After the group performed at a school talent show, they got the attention of their peers and the professional dance world; choreographers and agents began approaching them about auditioning. The now-famous crew, the AmountBoyz, was born.
Sounds easy enough, right? Technically, yes. Starting a crew can be as simple as rounding up a few of your pals to B-boy after school. The complicated part is taking the crew from your basement to the big time, while sticking together through the ups and the downs. We’ve rounded up tips from top dance crews to tell you what you need to know, from getting started to marketing your group and everything in between.
What exactly is a dance crew?
Though “crew” is a fairly loose term, as there are no set rules or requirements—anything goes when it comes to dance style and group size—most successful crews attribute their achievements to finding people who support them as dancers and as friends. Bradley “Shooz” Rapier, who formed the L.A.-based Groovaloos in 1999, says a crew is less like a dance company and more like “a family who dances together and has a common approach as to how they want to present dance.” The Groovaloos are known to do anything from BBQing to jamming at their Groove Nights together.
Why form a crew?
If your specialty is unique, such as clogging or vogueing, being in a crew can help you network with people who share similar interests. (A crew can dance any style—even ballet!) And if you’re like Antboogie and attend a school with thousands of people, being part of a close-knit group can make a big world seem smaller. For former New Yorker Ali Iannucci of We Are Heroes (“America’s Best Dance Crew” Season 4 winners), joining a crew made it easier to acclimate to L.A. “Being part of a crew reminds me of when I was younger and bonded with other dancers at competitions,” she says. “In L.A., I lost that bond. But now I have good people to talk to.”
Joining a crew is also an easy—and free!—way to discover new moves. Each member usually brings different tricks to the group that you can learn. And you won’t have to compete with a room full of dancers to get one-on-one attention. “When you start a crew it’s like making a soup,” Ali explains. “You need potatoes, carrots and different elements. The more diverse you are, the more options you have in terms of learning new styles and incorporating them into your choreography.”
Another perk of being in a well-known crew is that it can boost your reputation as a solo dancer. “If there are 500 people in a room auditioning, and the casting directors can’t watch everyone,” says Cristina Benedetti from the Groovaloos, “they might know me because of the Groovaloo name and give me more attention.”
Marketing your crew
The first thing on your crew’s checklist should be creating a mission statement addressing the group’s goals. Think in particular about what style you’ll be dancing and what you’ll wear, since image is essential to making your crew stand out. For instance, We Are Heroes branded themselves by taking on a superheroes theme with a touch of Japanese anime—distinctive and memorable. Having a signature look and feel will help you stick in people’s minds.
Once you’ve nailed down your image, hit the Internet and spread the word. Antboogie says that an online presence is the best—and cheapest—way to get the word out about your crew. He created a website, antboogieworld.com, where he posts videos of AmountBoyz shows and battles, as well as information about performances. The website has become a social networking site for crews, where they can make profiles and interact. If you’re not sure about creating your own website, hubs like Dancemedia, Facebook and Twitter are other fast, cheap and user-friendly ways to create buzz. (And be sure to enter clips of your crew in the Dance Spirit Video of the Month contest!)
When your crew is first starting out, you should enter as many battles, jam sessions and shows as possible. Most of these events are publicized on local websites or by word of mouth, so keep your eyes and ears open for opportunities. (Can’t find any events like this in your area? Set up your own battle!) You can also look into performing at banquets, school productions and private events. Once you create some buzz, you’ll be able to land bigger gigs, like industrials, TV shows and commercials, and perform at major events, like Hip Hop International (an L.A.-based televised hip-hop competition).
Most crews used to dance behind big-name solo artists, but with crews now growing in popularity, they’ve started to become the main act. Since “ABDC,” people have begun to understand that crews have a specific place in the industry. The Groovaloos even produced their own show, Groovaloo, which has played in L.A. and NYC and starts a national tour this month.
Following the leader
A strong leader is essential to diffusing the tension that inevitably arises in a group setting. “Someone has to have the last word,” Antboogie says. “I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to be the bad guy.” While having a leader isn’t an absolute must, it’s something that well-established crews recommend. If you’re not sure who your crew’s leader should be, consider the member who has the best management abilities and dance or choreography skills. He or she is likely to be the most respected.
The perk of being the leader is having some artistic control. Though most crews are more informal than dance companies (which typically put members under contracts), the leader helps the crew execute its mission statement. The strongest leaders also “know how to get everyone collaborating, instead of dictating,” Shooz says.
Dealing with drama
Because crews spend so much time together, drama can stir up pretty easily. But many crews say it’s that “we are family” mindset that keep them going. “Patience is key,” Shooz says. “The family aspect is essential to us. We’ll sit down and talk instead of running away from things.”
Get off your feet!
With good friends around you on the dance floor and after the show, you’ll be motivated to accomplish big things. “I consistently feel challenged to get better,” Christina says. “There’s always someone pushing and inspiring me. Sometimes when I feel a bit down I go to Groove Night and watch. It gives me energy and drive.” So what are you waiting for? Grab a few pals and start jamming!
From top: Photo by Maho; Levi Walker