Art on the Street: Hype Elite Dance Company

Many of Miami's creatives are transient, showing up on our shores and disappearing as quickly as the tides. The Art on the Street series will document this overlooked and ever-changing element of South Beach culture.

The actual distance between South Beach and Opa Locka may be only about 15 miles, but the cultural divide seems wider. The Hype Elite Dance Company, a group of entrepreneurial young performers born and raised in northeastern Miami-Dade County, bridged the gap Saturday afternoon by bringing their hip hop choreography to the east end of Lincoln Road. Check out their moves and motivations in the video by filmmaker Aiden Dillard after the jump:

A few feet from their impromptu stage, European tourists at electro-pumping lounges sipped cocktails and smoked flavored hookahs, apparently ignorant of the tattooed teenage youth executing synchronized booty shakes behind them. Pedestrians were few in number, likely scared into air-conditioned shelters by the sweltering temperatures. But neither the thin crowd nor the 92-degree heat deterred the dancers from krumping out performance after performance, while strategically sending their youngest and cutest members to solicit donations from spectators.

Their leader is Anthony Thurston, a 24-year-old who started the group almost by accident. "Just a couple of us used to dance at parties all the time, and someone [brought] to our attention that we should start a group, and it was a good idea, so ya know, we started one," he said.

That was January of 2009. Today the informal group has 26 members, with an age range from five to 25 years old. "People in the area seen what we're doing, and they liked what we were doing," Thurston said. "And as far as the young ones, their parents, they wanted them to stay off the streets, so they brought them over and we just took them in, and from there we kept going."

They're not affiliated with any school or community organization, but they hold rehearsals at a pavilion at an elementary school in Opa Locka. School officials look the other way and give the group use of the space because they think the crew is good for the community, Thurston said. "I'm not a babysitter --- I'm a choreographer," he laughed. "But people look up to me in the area because I'm doing something positive, and I'm influencing to do something positive, and that's basically how it keeps going. And every month or so we get more people."

He said a lot of the adult members are unemployed, and dance helps to keep them from getting mixed up in Opa Locka's street scene. The older crew members look out for the younger ones in what is a sort of improvised mentoring program, Thurston said. "Dancing is about expressing how you feel. So for example, if you're going through something at home and you're angry, you can always take your anger out in your dance," he explained. "Put all the energy in your dance. And that's why I love dance so much, because you can express yourself in different ways, whether you're sad, happy, or mad."

He said growing up in Opa Locka presented some difficulties, but that navigating life there is like doing it anywhere else. "It's kinda crazy, but it's the same as in any area," he says. "There's always gonna be violence, drugs, the usual. But you have to overcome those things. It's not where you stay, it's how you live. Everything is your choice."

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Camille Lamb Guzman is a journalist who writes on wellness, travel, and culture. She is also finishing a book of creative nonfiction.