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?

Until recently a Hip Hop kid who hit age twelve or so had to begin thinking about retirement. So Stone formed a new teen group to give these older dancers a home. She recruited a roster of older male black and Hispanic break dancers with names like Boo and Exzooberant to give the team a grittier street edge, along with some marketable ethnic diversity. With the Production Company class ending, the Hip Hop Teenz take to the floor, ready for their workout. The younger Production Company members sit against the studio's mirrored walls, eyeing the older dancers with awe.

“We've got our own Britney Spears,” Stone exclaims, indicating a blond teenager dancing in the front row of the older troupe. “She has an amazing voice. There is no doubt in my mind that she's going to be a star someday.”

Nine-year-old Anna Guinea stands to the side of the gym, near a mirrored wall. She is not a dancer but the daughter of one younger performer's nanny, a reflection of troupe's general economic makeup. “They are beautiful,” Anna observes, eyes wide. “It's amazing how they dance so well, in formation like that.”

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

Stone sees Anna talking. She did not expect this. She does not know what Anna is saying. Quickly she walks over to the young girl and places both hands on Anna's slender shoulders. She asks Anna what she said. When she hears that the response meshes with her vision, she smiles theatrically. Nodding, she lets the girl know she said the right thing.

I refuse to let Stone talk to my daughter the way she talks to those kids. I am not okay with it. But I guess that's the price to be paid for -- what? This vague dream of fame, I guess. And there are parents who are willing to pay the price.

-- A former Hip Hop Kidz parent

Coral Reef High School. Two years ago. Stone despises the dance-academy standard practice of holding one big recital at the end of the year. Perhaps the best thing about the Hip Hop Kidz, she boasts, is their frequent public performances. But that's for the Performance Troupe and the Production Company. There still are hundreds of kids in the program, all with the overalls and the shoes, who never get called to dance at Heat games or at Madonna's parties. For them, regrettably, there is the recital.

Just because they aren't all-stars or natural talents, though, doesn't mean Stone isn't holding these recreation-level dancers to her same high standards. Backstage one group of girls lines up for their performance. One child, just eight years old, announces she has to go to the bathroom. That's simply unacceptable, she is told by a parent supervising the troupe at Stone's request. Professional dancers go to the bathroom well before their performance. Request denied.

But she really has to go.




Perhaps it was too much to ask of an extremely young amateur dancer. Perhaps there really wasn't enough time. All that is known -- all that has been verified by Stone and by other dancers in that specific performance class -- is that the girl proceeds to urinate onstage, in front of everyone, a dark wet spot spreading across her denim overalls.

Same night, same place: Before any of the kids take the stage, Stone spells out the ground rules for her audience. Videotaping and/or photography will not be allowed. If anyone wants a record of their daughter or son onstage, they can buy the official video from Stone after the show. Many of the parents already are familiar with these rules. At a recital held at Palmetto Middle School, Stone had volunteers roam the auditorium during the performance, tapping the shoulders of anyone caught violating protocol.

Yet in this room, after she had made herself perfectly clear, someone has dared to tape his daughter's performance. Stone can see the camera's glowing red light just as plain as day. So she stops the music. Midroutine. Stomping to the center of the stage, she calls out to the scofflaw. “I see you!” she shouts. “I told you: No videotaping!”

“The rest of us sat there in shock,” recalls one parent who was in the audience. “My husband walked out right then. He told me never to drag him to one of these things ever again.”

Another parent, a grade-school teacher, pulled her two daughters out of Hip Hop immediately following the recital. “We are talking about seven- and eight-year-old kids,” the parent explains. “There is a certain way to talk to children and motivate them without cutting them down and without being nasty and without being disrespectful. Suzy makes kids cry and hurts their feelings. She says things that are inappropriate. And that's really not necessary to get good work product out of children.”

Stone is familiar with both incidents. She points out that the girl who urinated on herself received numerous apologies, a new pair of overalls, and free tuition for four sessions. The girl stayed in the program and has worked her way up to the Performance Troupe. “So there's a happy ending,” Stone says. As for the draconian videotaping rules? Those are designed to protect the dancers from possible exploitation on the Internet, she points out. And all those blinking red lights out in the crowd can be distracting.

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