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D.C. Go-Go Dancers to Compete on MTV

D.C. Go-Go Group to Battle on ‘America’s Best Dance Crew’

By Kate Kilpatrick
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, August 9, 2009

View video by Ashley Barnas here.

Three weeks ago the Beat Ya Feet Kings, a group of five go-go dancers from Southeast Washington, couldn’t fill 20 chairs at the Petworth Branch Library. On Sunday night, millions of Americans will tune in from their living rooms to watch them perform.

Go-go is go-going prime time.

The Beat Ya Feet Kings were one of nine dance crews across the country selected to compete in the fourth season of MTV’s reality dance show “Randy Jackson Presents: America’s Best Dance Crew” — “ABDC” to anyone under the age of 18. The season premiere airs Sunday night at 9.

The show has a devoted following: The series ranked No. 1 in its time frame among 12-to-34-year-olds and the Season 3 finale of “ABDC” drew more than 3 million viewers. Commercials for the new season, which moved from Thursday to Sunday night, bear the slogan “Sundays Are for Worship.”

The new gods and goddesses of pop dance include the fierce femmes of Vogue Evolution, fronted by male-to-female transgendered Leyomi (a supreme diva whom Our Lady of Divine Diva-ness Beyoncé has allegedly ripped moves from). There’s Southern Movement, a black-cowboy hip-hop/line-dancing hootenanny from Nashville. And local competitors the Beat Ya Feet Kings, a rough-and-ready crew from the District who want to bring “beating your feet” — the capital’s indigenous street dance — to the world.

Beating your feet — a high-speed dance marked by stomping footwork and jerky arm movements — emerged from D.C.’s go-go scene in the ’90s, around when the music lost some of its groove and adopted a faster, more up-tempo bounce.

But “ABDC” fans aren’t yet sold on the style. Commenters on the show’s blog have already dismissed the Beat Ya Feet Kings’ dancing as “footwork on drugs,” and “a better version of clogging.”

“People in New York call it ‘pots and pans music,’ ” says Porche “Queen P” Anthony, 26, a member of the Beat Ya Feet Kings.

But once people see the music and dancing together, she says, they’ll be able to finally appreciate go-go culture — and where it really comes from.

“In D.C. you think about politics and the White House and monuments. But go-go is something that probably has never reached the White House, has probably never even been around the Capitol,” Anthony says.

“Somebody wants to come visit D.C., and they’re a tourist, they don’t say, ‘Hey, take me to Southeast and Southside and the ‘hood.’ They want you to take them to where all this hype comes from. And go-go doesn’t come from the hype of what D.C. looks like to everybody else. It comes from the kid on the side of the street banging on the trash can.”

For the Beat Ya Feet Kings, go-go is high-energy, feel-good music.

“When I walk in the go-go, it’s this little sensation I get, like ‘Aw, man, I’m in here, what I’m gonna do next. Somebody about to get roasted,’ ” says Richard “Rich Boy” Ogunsiakan, 24, who is known for incorporating flips into his dancing. “It’s so live to me. I just like having fun.”

“I was never a person who could dance,” says his dance partner Jose “Foots” Hancock, 26. “I couldn’t do a one-two step to save my life. But once I heard this music, the go-go culture, I was like, ‘Oh my God, I must learn this dance.’ ”

At its peak, around 2000, beating your feet could be seen in schoolyards, at bus stops and on street corners around the city. But as dance battles turned bloody, the city cracked down on clubs that played go-go.

“D.C. got such a negative vibe with go-go music,” Ogunsiakan says. “We can’t play in public parks or on the Mall or stuff like that. We’re only subject to nightclubs, and not even in D.C. anymore — we can only play in Maryland.”

In the summer of 2006, Diallo Sumbry, a local West African percussion performer, was so inspired by “Rize,” a 2005 documentary about krumping — a style of Los Angeles street dancing — that he organized a dance-off between krumping and go-go at the University of the District of Columbia. Sumbry invited go-go dancers around the city to compete, flew in the Krump Kings from L.A. and offered a cash prize to the winner.

Ogunsiakan and Hancock and Hancock’s brother Dante, 22, — who attended Ballou Senior High School together — went to the battle. Even though they didn’t win, Sumbry encouraged them — along with their friends who’ve since left the group — to organize a dance crew. He would be their manager.

Sumbry landed them appearances in music videos for local rappers Wale and Tabi Bonney, and a performance on “Showtime at the Apollo.” To replace the dancers who left, he brought in Anthony — a hip-hop dancer with the D.C. troupe Culture Shock — and Brandon Faulkner, 23, a gifted popper who was drawn to go-go music.

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In June, the Beat Ya Feet Kings auditioned for “America’s Best Dance Crew” in New York. They got a callback and auditioned again. At the end of July, they were flown out to Los Angeles to begin taping.

“This is the largest representation of D.C. go-go from the ‘hood ever,” Sumbry says about the group appearing on the show.

The Beat Ya Feet Kings want to bring go-go dancing back, and influence kids who want to pop, lock, krump, jerk and wu-tang to also want to beat their feet. Despite its tainted reputation, they say, go-go dance helps keep young people out of trouble.

“Whenever I’m upset or mad or whatever, I go in the house and session up,” Dante Hancock says. “It’s a way to relieve stress.”

What will relieve even more stress is if the Beat Ya Feet Kings are crowned Season 4 winners, taking home a touring contract and $100,000 prize.

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