‘Once you dance, it’s a different world’
Five teens gather downtown at the St. Petersburg Shuffleboard Club and dance as if their limbs are rubber. They take turns doing intricate arm and finger movements, pirouettes, handstands and whatever dance move comes to their mind next.
Junior Javier Bailey leads a freestyle dance crew called Emoji. There are 12 members in the group, including Lakewood's Bailey, Kendrick Simmons and Ronkisha Eva, and they dance to all types of music.
The other members are Brandon Barco, Charles Payne, Tyler Holt, James Carter, Bryan Leshore, Darlyl Gray, Derrick Broadus, Ashlee Brisco and Kayh Aych. Barco, Payne and Holt are all students at Gibbs High School. Carter, Leshore, Gray, Broadus, Brisco and Aych are all graduates of Pinellas County schools.
"I put together an all-star dance crew. It doesn't matter what music we dance to because we all can dance," Bailey said.
Emoji practices at Thrive Dance Studio, 559 Mirror Lake Drive. Every Saturday the crew meets at 11 a.m. and rehearses until 2 p.m. The owner of the studio is Eric Thomas-Bryant, an experienced dancer who has worked for Disneyworld, Universal Studios, Nickelodeon and other large entertainment companies.
Thomas-Bryant, also Emoji's manager, has connections in the dance world and is scheduling the crew to perform for commercials and various events.
"He seems like a great guy. He's been helping us out a lot which is pretty cool of him," member Barco said.
Emoji has had seven paid performances and used to work for Teen Art, Sports, and Cultural Opportunities, better known as TASCO.
Bailey said he and the other members of Emoji all want to pursue careers in dancing but if dancing doesn't work out they all have backup plans.
"I'm not planning on being a professional (dancer). I just dance for a hobby. I'm trying to go into law enforcement," Simmons said.
Bailey, just like Simmons, has a backup plan. He plans to be a video editor if dancing doesn't work out for him.
Bailey mixes music for Emoji to dance to. He takes popular songs, adds different beats and remixes the songs. Along with making the music, Bailey is starting to put together choreography for the group.
"Once the choreography is done, we will be dancing at more places," Bailey said.
Simmons and Bailey started the dance troop about five years ago.
"I used to battle JJ. When we decided to make a dance crew, we were looking at other dancers who were around. We would watch other dancers and if they weren't already in a crew, we asked them to be in ours," Simmons said.
Several members of the crew have come and gone throughout the years. Bailey said that he had to cut one member for not working well with the other members. But overall the crew has a close relationship and they often describe each other as family.
"We dance because we all want to dance. It's fun and stress-free. Once you dance it's a different world," Bailey said. "We also want to stay off the streets."