In 1993, at a street festival in Houston, dance choreographer Kathy Wood met a group of Hispanic and black teenage boys who knew how to dance to hiphop, but knew little self-discipline.
"They had a lot of incredible tricks and movements, and they were primarily soloists," Wood said. "They'd form a circle and do a spectacular trick and try to top one another. They didn't necessarily dance with an audience in mind."
Their potential was obvious. Their presentation and their natural love of the stage almost made up for their inability to sit still in a classroom, listen to instructions or take constructive criticism.
Wood had all she could handle as she molded the five boys into a structured dance ensemble - the original version of the FLY Dance Co. She was coach, mother, chaperone and chauffeur.
"The first group did not like to rehearse at all," Wood said. "They were willing to try it, but it was very difficult for them."
Soon, though, they caught the attention of the Houston dance community with a piece Wood choreographed called "Out of Context." It mixed the classical music of Antonio Vivaldi with hiphop dance and, at a time when genre-splicing was not yet in vogue, was startling for its combination of cultures as much as its raw movement.
In the decade since, FLY has evolved into an international touring group, still known for its mix of musics and explosive, back-breaking moves. The group tours 25 weeks out of the year, has performed in Estonia, France and Germany, and arrives in Juneau on Thursday, Jan. 29.
FLY will perform at 8 p.m. Friday, Jan. 30, at the Juneau-Douglas High School auditorium.
The troupe will host a community dance class from 6 to 7:30 p.m. Thursday at the Juneau Dance Unlimited studio in the Scottish Rite Temple, 206 Fourth St. Cost is $10, class size is limited, and registration is required. FLY also will present a student concert from 10:45 to 11:45 a.m. Thursday. Admission is $1 at the door.
"Very few people choreograph for hiphop dance, but it's starting to come around," Wood said. "I taught in public school using the same principles.
"It's really a collaborative effort," she said. "I structure things, but they contribute the movement and sometimes they help with the structure."
Most importantly, the four dancers in the group now, none of whom were original members, all like to do ensemble work. The four - Rock Williams, Isaac Barron, George Casco and Javier Garcia - met Wood when she was teaching a pilot program for hiphop dance at a Houston junior high school. They asked her for help with their choreography. She was already coaching FLY, but she took the new group on as a junior ensemble. When the original five members, then unpaid, decided to concentrate on college and families, the new group stepped in as Wood's main ensemble.
"The company has improved immeasurably because of the guys' willingness to work hard and work on the ensemble work," she said.
Williams, Barron, Casco and Garcia have been with FLY for five years. A fifth member recently quit to care for his baby.
Williams is a student of the martial arts, Casco is a natural comedian. Barron is a master of break dancing, and Garcia is known as a power dancer.
"Hiphop is about being an individual and changing," Wood said. "Each guy has a planned style. They all have their strengths, and they all have their things that they can do and no one else can do."
Korry Keeker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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