Hip-hop dancers open doors at Janesville Craig
Members of Janesville Craig High School’s 2010-11 2xclusive dance team are Shakoyia Evans, Zada Givemore, Kendra Green, Samantha Heimark, Emily Hesse, Donqunay Lee Davidson, Mia Metcalf, Olivya Martine, Rylee Mullikin, Kyara Murry, Rochardia Nance, Sharvia Prichard, Cassie Reed, Kylah Scales and RaeAnne Schiefelbein.
JANESVILLE They are girls who just wanted to dance—their way—but that simple desire has turned into something bigger at Craig High School.
Students can now be seen moving to a different beat at basketball games, and they can be heard talking about something that always could use more airing out—race relations.
The 2xclusive dance group has shown its stuff during halftimes of basketball games since last school year. Students seem to love the hip-hop groove—even the opponents’ fans have been seen applauding.
The girls made an impact in Craig classrooms and hallways as well. When they held tryouts last spring, only girls of color showed up. So when they held auditions for the new school year, the signs said—in big letters—that all were welcome.
The group is now racially mixed, demonstrating that music crosses cultural borders.
But some students didn’t understand.
“A lot of people talk to us about it and say, ‘Oh, I thought that group was just for black people.’ But that’s not how the group is,” said RaeAnne Schiefelbein, who is white.
They were accused of “trying to be black,” Schiefelbein said.
“You don’t belong there. You don’t look like the rest of them,” is what another white dancer, Rylee Mullikin, heard from classmates.
“Oh, you guys are not ‘too exclusive’ anymore,” was another comment, said Mia Metcalf.
“2xclusive is ruined now that there are white people in there,” one student told them.
Was that student white or black?
“Mexican!” the girls responded as they broke down laughing during a recent group interview.
The problem, said member Shakoyia Evans, is that “they’re looking at the outer shell and not the inside.”
Evans said the negative comments are an opportunity to break down racial barriers.
The girls take the comments in stride, challenging or dismissing the negative ones and embracing the positive.
“A lot of people were really negative until they saw us, and then it was like, ‘Wow, you guys are really good,’” Mullikin said.
The girls said they also have heard many encouraging words.
Schiefelbein said she was nervous about being accepted when she joined last fall, but she was welcomed.
“Thank you,” Schiefelbein said to fellow 2xclusive members during a recent interview. “We really do get along, and we’re like a family. I can trust you guys with everything.”
2xclusive got started in fall 2009, when a handful of girls decided they wanted to bring something different to the school’s homecoming, Evans recalled.
They put together a routine and performed for fellow students.
“They (fellow students) were shocked at first, but they were really excited,” Evans recalled.
The girls felt encouraged, so when Assistant Principal Monte Phillips asked them to perform at basketball games, just like the school’s pompon and cheer squads, they agreed.
Poms is more of a jazz style of dancing, and cheerleaders are more about cheering and stunts, the girls reasoned, so there is room for a different style.
Their style is hip-hop, the music and dance that originated among inner-city youth more than 30 years ago. Its most obvious features to a newcomer are a driving beat and a rhythmic poetry form called rap. But dance has always been a major part of it.
The girls reasoned that Craig could benefit from a diversity of styles. They originally tried hyper-athletic break-dancing moves but found them too challenging for beginners. Hip-hop, however, provides a variety of high-energy, expressive moves that the girls adopted.
Members soon realized they needed a name and guidance. The name they brainstormed themselves. For guidance, they approached Spanish teacher Heather Lawrence, who agreed to be their faculty adviser.
Lawrence said she knows little about dance or hip-hop, but she agreed readily.
“And now she’s like our mom,” Evans said.
Indeed, the girls in a recent interview showed many characteristics of a family. They have conflicts, they said, but they can’t maintain that tension for very long, and they end up laughing.
“It’s playful fighting … We get over it,” said Emily Hesse.
“It’s sister love,” said Kendra Green.
The girls create their own routines. Just a few of them have formal dance training, but that doesn’t stop all them from embracing the joy of dance.
The other dance group—the pompon girls—would seem to be natural rivals, but that hasn’t been the case. Poms girls have been supportive, cheering them on during their routine, 2xclusive members said. A couple of 2xclusive members are in both groups.
They get along so well, in fact, that they’re talking about a joint performance.
Lawrence said 2xclusive members are good students. Two former members are in college, and several of this year’s seniors have been accepted for college.
For the future, the girls are keepin’ it fresh with new routines.
“It gets more challenging every time,” Evans said.
Lawrence praises the girls, noting they run their own rehearsals and raise their own money—about $1,000 so far—to pay for costumes and to have their music mixed.
“I think they’ve all grown in multiple ways, she said.