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The commitment Stone requires grates on many of the parents she deals with, those whose daughter narrowly missed the cut, or those who think such demands are inappropriate for girls and boys as young as seven years old. Others don't like the idea of pushing their children toward the Hollywood career Stone insists is obtainable. Sometimes, Stone says, it seems all she does is field calls from these parents, answering their questions, calming them down. “I spend most of my day doing this,” she reveals, smoothing the hair on her forearm to indicate pacification.
“A lot of time my clientele -- I don't want this to come out wrong -- I try to tell parents: “You're doing your children a disservice if you let them slide. Nobody is going to be standing over their shoulder at a job interview or in college.' Parents who get it, their kids do well in my program.
“When I get down,” she continues, “I pull out a file of letters that I've saved. One mother, she said, “You have given my daughter the tools so that when I am not around, and she's in college, she will utilize them.' That's what I hope to teach in this program: If you baby the kids too much, it's really doing them a disservice when they become young adults.
“This is such a passionate point with me. If you want your kids to be in the Production Company, it comes with the territory. If you don't, then keep her back in Hip Hop I, where she won't be treated like that. She'll be treated like it's a fun kind of recreational class. But they want everything. They want to be at the Heat game. They want to be dancing with the Backstreet Boys. But at the same time, they don't want me to push them. That's what bothers me. If you're going to be in the Olympics, you gotta pay the dues. If you don't want to pay the dues, then don't complain.”
Even those paying the dues, though, sometimes blanch at the way Stone keeps parents in line. “Suzy terrifies me in the respect that she can make your life a living hell,” says a mother whose daughter was a member of the Production Company for two years, until she was booted out. “Suzy felt we couldn't put the time and energy in, so she kicked us out. What bothers me is I was paying for this time, and she still kicks us out.”
This mother does not want to be named, for her daughter's sake. She notes there were many positive aspects to the Hip Hop Kidz program. Stone, she says, provides a wonderful opportunity for kids to dance and perform. She teaches great choreography. The talented few who reach the top level radiate with a sense of accomplishment that, for a young child, is invaluable. The trouble is in the means to the end.
“I don't think Suzy loves these kids,” the mother continues. “I think she uses the kids for her own spotlight. She told the parents blatantly, flat out, that she puts people where she wants them because it's her name out there. It's not Hip Hop Kidz; it's Suzy Stone's Hip Hop Kidz. It made me realize she's doing this for herself. She wants to be on TV. She wants to be known for creating phenomenal dancers.”
Stone acknowledges her desire to develop the talents each of her kids is born with. She claims, though, that everything she does is in their best interests. With her most promising dancers, she is the one commissioning the headshots, she is the one sending them to commercial auditions, sometimes over a parent's protest. “I push the parents into doing it,” she admits. “Often they don't see the vision. Sometimes I run into a situation where Mom is supportive but Dad isn't. When that happens I bring the parents into the office and say, “Look, this kid has potential, and we have to nurture it. If not I feel a diamond in the rough is being ignored.'
“I have some kids who are so talented, I'm pushing them but they don't respond. Those I just let go. I want to shake them. I say, “I wish I was in your shoes. You can be in Hollywood now. You could be in New York.' But they don't want it. They want to play Nintendo.
“When I was little, there wasn't a lot of opportunity for me in West Virginia,” she adds. “There just wasn't. I would daydream a lot about opportunities. I feel if I can be the one who can direct kids to opportunities, I would love to do it. People might perceive me as living through my kids. I don't think that's my case. I've had such wonderful experiences, but I also wished somebody would have helped me when I was younger. That's why I step in and say, “How can I help?'”
One former Hip-Hop parent, Stacy Heller, recently broke away from Stone's program. Heller, a dancer herself, promptly leased space at a Falls-area gymnasium and has begun leading her own dance classes. She calls her program Hip Hop Starz and has registered the name with the state. Heller declined to be interviewed for this story, stating only that she's afraid of repercussions from Stone.