Her Brilliant Career

Suzy Stone is a driven dance teacher who has turned her troupe, the Hip Hop Kidz, into a big-league draw. Is it any wonder she's also a bit of a tyrant?

 I'm a control person. -- Suzy Stone

Suzy Stone thinks we should start with the video.

“I think we should start with the video,” she says in her disarmingly girlish voice. “This will really give you a great overview of what we're all about here.”

Onstage, upbeat, and according to Stone, making an 
impact on millions of people
Courtesy of Hip Hop Kidz
Onstage, upbeat, and according to Stone, making an impact on millions of people

Here is the modest world headquarters of the Hip Hop Kidz dance program: two small offices near the Falls shopping center in South Miami-Dade, a few filing cabinets, a computer or two, and telephones that never seem to stop ringing. We is the phenomenally popular local dance troupe she founded nearly nine years ago. What we're all about is not quite clear. So roll the tape, please.

Lights flash. Very young girls and boys appear onscreen, dancing in a frenetic suggestive manner typically seen in music videos. They all sport Dr. Martens and brightly grafittied denim overalls. On the overalls, which are the trademark of Stone's enterprise, “2 FUNKY” is spray-painted down the left leg in rainbow colors. Down the right: “Hip Hop Kidz.”

The scene shifts to personal affirmations.

“It pushes me to the limit to where I can succeed in life,” one girl testifies stiffly.

“It is a way to get fit and a way to be strong and have fun. It's a time to shine,” intones another.

Then Suzy herself comes on camera. She has a pretty face. Her frosted brown hair is impeccably trimmed. Her eyes are big and brown, and her broad smile reveals the whitest, straightest teeth imaginable. “We have made an impact on millions of people,” she says. “Whenever we perform in the community or nationwide, our office phones ring off the hook.”

Stone watches her performance uneasily, fidgeting with the tracking so the picture will be clearer, or closing the blinds so the screen will be easier to see. The five-minute video took more than 100 hours to produce, she notes. The slogan espoused onscreen -- No drugs, no violence, just dance! -- is a message Stone hopes to parlay into success beyond her already enviable achievements. This video, she truly believes, is going to secure for her what she's always dreamed of having: her own television show, stardom for her and her kids.

In a little more than five years, Stone has expanded her after-school modern-dance program from one studio in Kendall to sixteen studios spread over three counties. What began as an ad-hoc dance class based out of her home is now a highly structured system catering to nearly 900 kids in Pinecrest, Weston, Boca Raton, and elsewhere. The elite all-star team cultivated from this wide base of young dancers (no one is older than age fifteen; most are younger than age ten) has showed up on national stages such as the Orange Bowl Parade and Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade and made appearances with the Backstreet Boys, among other musical groups.

In addition to a nationally syndicated television show, Stone predicts breakout stardom for her most talented performers. Soon enough there will be a Hip Hop Kidz franchise in every suburb in America. But while she marches toward this glorious future, Stone must battle a contingent of parents who insist she drives her young charges too hard and that she's using them to pursue her own fame.

Stone acknowledges she's tough. “I'm going to do things my way,” she declares. “I think people get jealous of my success, but I've had to work for everything I've ever had. Every little thing.” And she is utterly unapologetic about expecting the same from her dancers.

INEZ, Ky. (AP) -- A massive spill of gooey coal sludge into eastern Kentucky streams forced officials Monday to close car washes, coin laundries, and classrooms to conserve the clean water that's left.

-- Recent lead story in the Williamson Daily News

Suzy Stone grew up in Williamson, West Virginia, a gray Appalachian town staring across the Tug River at the wooded hills of Kentucky. Lucrative seams of coal are central to Williamson's identity, and the mining and transporting of it is the town's sole purpose. Every day impossibly long trains of coal stop downtown traffic for fifteen minutes at a time. The chamber of commerce meets in a building covered in a black façade composed of 65 tons of the fossil fuel. With a population of 4000 residents, Williamson is the seat of Mingo County. The county honors its most famous citizens every summer with the Hatfield and McCoy bluegrass festival.

“It was a town, seriously, where if you were bored you watched the grocery trucks loading and unloading,” Stone recalls. “I knew from an early age I wanted to get out.”

When Stone showed an early aptitude for dance and gymnastics, her family committed to her career. Three days a week her mother drove her two hours each way to the state capital, Charleston, for advanced instruction. On Saturdays Stone took more lessons with another teacher. She put her lessons to use in the talent competitions of several beauty pageants, including Miss West Virginia 1976. She was a runner-up in that one. The title of Miss Tug River Valley is hers alone.

At the University of Miami, she cheered the football team while majoring in physical education (and minoring in drama). After a sojourn in Michigan to secure a master's degree in exercise physiology, Stone returned to Miami in the mid-Eighties and set up shop as a personal trainer. She was a pioneer in the field, one of the first to hustle together a roster of clients for private workouts. As an aerobics instructor, she became a marquee draw. Work was steady but she thirsted for more.

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