By Madilyn Jacobsen Special to the Telegram & Gazette, Posted Jan. 8, 2016 at 6:00 AM
WORCESTER — This Worcester-based group has opened for pop singing star Patti LaBelle. Its members have performed across the Worcester and throughout Massachusetts. Over the past four years, it has won nine trophies in competitions, six of them for first place.
The group is the dance team In Da Zone, and its members have become ambassadors for the Boys and Girls Club of Worcester. In Da Zone specializes in hip-hop, but works to infuse dance genres such as lyrical, Latin, Afro, modern and ballet into its routines.
In Da Zone was established a year after the Harrington Clubhouse of the Boys & Girls Club of Worcester opened its doors in 2006 on Tainter Street in Main South, when the youngsters at the club requested an arts program.
“We had a couple of kids interested in trying out for another dance team. I didn’t want to lose (our club) members, so I made this dance team,” said Dance Program Director Shauree Allotey, who created the group with Assistant Director Azziza Julue.
Ms. Allotey had previously served as a youth worker for several local organizations, including Girls Inc. and World Rhythms Dance Studio.
“With the schools cutting back on the arts, this is really the only place for our kids to have exposure to both music and dance,” said Executive Director Liz Hamilton.
Over the past decade In Da Zone has grown from 12 members to around 60, with mostly female dancers who range in age from eight to 18.
“The movements are so clean and the creativity they employ is very inspiring,” said Jon Erik Brodhurst, the co-director of Hip Hop Collabo, a dance group at Clark University.
“What’s most impressive is that although the ages vary, their ability to keep up with each other and feed off of each other is impeccable. They have the dancing abilities of young 20-something dancers,” he added.
When performing, the dancers of In Da Zone are uniformly dressed, and their cohesion is hard to miss. The team dances to recorded music in pairs and groups, rhythmically stomping their feet or clapping their hands, dancing in synchronicity with each other.
According to Ms. Allotey, In Da Zone practices almost anywhere at almost anytime for between four to 12 hours a week. The dancers work for about two hours at each weekday practice and four hours every weekend, not just with an eye to not just to performing but to winning competitions.
At practices Ms. Allotey counts, “Ready, one-two-three-four-five-six-seven-eight-GO!” As the dancers mobilize, she added, “You guys have been doing this for a long time. You got this!”
The team regularly ventures to competitions across New England against some of the best youth dance teams, including I.T.M (In the Making), 860, Movement Specialist, Unyted HYpE,and more.
Dancer and high school senior Alexa Macgranaky-Quaye recalls the Prelude New England Urban Dance Competition, held in Medford last April, which included a number of college teams.
“Even though we didn’t win, there was this (positive) sense in the crowd and the impact our theme had on them,” Ms. Macgranaky-Quaye said, adding that other teams approached her squad afterwards saying that even though In Da Zone didn’t win, the people who saw their show would still remember their name.
In Da Zone also performs at colleges and regularly competes at Assumption College’s Dance Competition. Last October the group opened for Clark University’s Hip Hop Collabo Dance Team during the latter’s Halloween weekend show, “A Hip-Hop Horror Story on the Clark Campus.”
The team also is producing its third dance video.
In addition to developing a love and passion for dance, In Da Zone dancers are required to satisfy minimum volunteer and academic requirements. They have to submit quarterly report cards and maintain a 3.0 grade point average to keep performing with the team.
“It’s not a regular dance program. You’re not just going to get dance. That’s probably third on the list out of the two most important: academics and how we treat our neighbor,” Ms. Allotey said.
In Da Zone has also spurred the growth of teen leaders, including seniors Catherine Afriyie and Ms. Macgranaky-Quaye, as well as sophomore Rachel Ansah.
The three young women agree that their ability to grow as leaders has been of the most valuable things they have learned on the team. They are hoping inspire other club members to experience similar personal growth and to want more for themselves, inside and outside of the club.
“Two summers ago, I was nominated into the Worcester Youth Leadership Council,” Ms. Macgranaky-Quaye said, by way of example.
“My experience (with In Da Zone) has been very positive; it keeps my mind off my home life, and it’s built me to be a better person,” adds co-captain Ms. Afriyie. She adds that her participation has given her an outlet to learn and explore her creative and community interests in a way that she has not been able to at school.
The dance team has become an integral part of the Boys & Girls Club of Worcester. Ms. Hamilton refers to the dancers as “ambassadors for the club.” Ms. Allotey believes they represent the epitome of family beyond immediate family.
And Joanne Fowling, the assistant director of operations at the Boys & Girls Club, believes the team participants embody the spirit of “club kids.”
“Your heart gets invested in the club and you want to do more than just dance,” Ms. Fowling said. “You want to start working with other teams and programs and getting more engaged in other activities.”
“The biggest thing I’d like people to know (about In Da Zone), is that when you see them, you say, ‘Oh cool! I want to be a part of dancing’,” Ms. Allotey said. “That’s fun.”
“But, it’s a lot more than that,” she added. “It’s challenging them to want more, do more and want better for themselves — to want to get out of the status quo and the idea of being stagnant and to grow in all aspects of their lives.”
The Boys & Girls Club charges $25 a year for membership for all kids and relies heavily on donations, fundraisers, alumni support and the support of volunteers throughout different divisions of the club, including In Da Zone.
To learn more, visit www.bgcworcester.org.