Long after school has been dismissed at the Grover Cleveland Middle School, the gymnasium comes alive with the sounds of blasting hip-hop music, rubber soles squeaking across the parquet floor, and bodies moving in unison.
This isn’t a basketball game. Welcome to dance practice with Thee Slap Bracelets.
At a time when many other teens and young adults are at home worrying about chores, social life and college applications, the late-evening ruckus at the Cleveland’s gym has become a regular affair in the past few weeks. Thee Slap Bracelets (affectionately called “The Slaps” for short) are training hard for an upcoming dance competition in Chicago, one that they are not entirely sure they will be able to attend.
The Slaps were the only dance troupe from the city of Boston to be accepted for participation in the 2010 World of Dance Competition in Chicago, an international event featuring some of the world’s most talented young dancers. The Slaps are having trouble raising enough money to make a showing, however. According to the group’s manager, Jaye Morris of Hyde Park, the Slaps raised money by dancing at various events, by “canning” and performing dances in public areas for change, and by reaching out to the community for donations. The Slaps have raised nearly half of the estimated $4000 for their travel budget, but the competition will be held starting November 26. With deadlines looming over the next few days, Morris has begun to take more drastic measures, contacting the media, in particular.
“ “It would be really heartbreaking for the Slaps to not be able to attend because they are good kids and they’ve worked so hard,” says Morris. “There are so many negative things that they could be doing, but instead they are doing something positive.”
Though the prospects of showing up to the World of Dance Competition seem grim, the Slaps continue to practice with an intensity that surpasses their financial circumstances. In one moment, they are regular a group of teenagers, laughing and enjoying their after-school activity. In the next moment, they solidify into a single force of fluid motion with a discipline that was drilled into them by none other than Morris’s son, Khamari Bendolph, founder and lead choreographer of the Slaps.
At 17, Bendolph, a ballet major at the Boston Arts Academy, has experienced more than most people twice his age. A lifelong dancer, Bendolph found solace through dance after his father Willie James-Bendolph, 35 and brother Jorrell Morris, 18 were brutally murdered in 2004. He has developed into an accomplished dance teacher, choreographer, and dancer, teaching dance at the Boys and Girls club and earning a spot at the Debbie Allen Dance Academy. He aspires to continue his career in dance at the University of California Los Angeles next fall.
In July 2009, Bendolph founded the Slaps after other dance groups he was involved in were dissolved, taking the name “Thee Slap Bracelets” from the popular novelty accessory that shares a early 1990’s “birthday” with most of the dancers. He founded the Slaps as a dance group with a certain sense of social responsibility and, as such, the Slaps have collaborated with community groups such as Peace Boston and participated in awareness events since its founding, such as the Louis D. Brown Peace Institute’s Walk for Peace. The Slaps have also performed at the Citi Performance Center’s City Spotlight and Governor Patrick’s End of Summer Celebration.
“We like to deliver a message,” said Bendolph. “We like to show people who are victims of violence in the community and young kids that dance is a way to do something positive in life.”
“Let’s get it together! You’re looking sloppy!” says Bendolph at several points during practice. “I’m not going go through [the choreography] every time with you.”
While Bendolph may seem hard on his dancers, his critical eye and attention to detail has undoubtedly paid off. Over the course of a year, the Slaps have attended three competitions, Origination Inc’s East Coast Throwdown and the 2010 Beantown Bounce, both of which ended in a first place win for the Slaps and Prelude New England, where they placed second. Mixing in with the Bendolph’s strictness, there is a lightheartedness among Slaps dancers which lends to an almost collaborative practice, explained by members as the result of a closeness between the Slaps. Dancers freely offer up new suggestions and catch Bendolph whenever his count is off.
“If you go to other places, other people are scared to say anything,” said dancer Catrina Murphy of South Boston, 20. “We repect Khamari when he’s serious but we’re also just like family. We can talk to him about anything.”
With Bendolph and a few other Slaps members retiring for college in the next year, the Slaps hope to end the season with a bang.
“We really want to make this year really strong,” said Bendolph “For some of of us, this is really the last year...If people see us in the show in Chicago that could open up opportunities.”