Super Freaks

December 31, 2009

Now that reality show celebrities are practically a dime a dozen, their stars tend to dim once the proverbial 15 minutes of fame run out—but not those of the the L.A.-based Beat Freaks crew. Close to a year after the Freaks’ second-place finish on MTV’s “America’s Best Dance Crew,” the all-girl force’s fan base is bigger than ever, ensuring that they won’t be forgotten anytime soon. The millions of viewers who called in faithfully each week to “Freak the Vote”—a phrase the group’s managers came up with to keep the phones ringing—are now flocking to support the girl-power group at master classes, special events and performances around the globe.

Watching the Beat Freaks in action, it’s easy to see that their reputation isn’t just hype. The dancers hold their own in a world dominated by males and strive to set a new hip-hop standard. “It’s been cool to show that females can break dance, too,” says Alex “B-Girl Shorty” Welch. “We’re seeing the next generation and paving the way for them.” Pairing street cred with Hollywood chops, this crew’s signature style features a hard-hitting hybrid of breaking, popping, locking, funk and hip-hop choreography.

Yet perhaps most central to the crew’s longevity is its commitment to inspiring others to follow their motto and “Freak the Dream.” “ABDC” was just the first step in the Beat Freaks’ mission to make a lasting impact; since the show, their campaign has morphed into a powerful mantra about keeping a positive mentality. For crew members Teresa Espinosa, Lindsey Blaufarb, Keeley Kaukimoce, Alex Welch, Jules Urich, Rino Nakasone Razalan, Marie “Maryss” Courchinoux and Alison Faulk, it’s all about helping others feel the same high they get when they step onstage. “We have a message: ‘Stay true to yourself, follow your passions and your dreams will come true,’ ” Keeley says. “We want to leave a mark.” And with millions of inspired fans reaching out to the Beat Freaks through online communities, it’s safe to say the group is off to a good start.

Stars Align

Collectively, the crew’s eight female members have shared the stage and screen with everyone from Miley to Madonna—and that’s just the tip of the industry iceberg. (Check out our “Meet the Beat Freaks” sidebar.) Most of the Beat Freaks have danced together for close to a decade, as all but Shorty and Rino were first part of the Groovaloos (for more on the Groovaloos, see p. 50).

And even before becoming Groovaloos, many of the girls met on the underground dance scene. The group started to hang out regularly at “Groove Night,” the Groovaloos’ open dance jam at North Hollywood’s Center Stage Dance Studio, and a solid bond was formed. “It was a natural friendship that happened by practicing with each other,” Jules says. “It was organic that we decided to form a separate all-girl crew.” After years of freestyling together for fun, the time was finally right for the group to audition for the third season of “ABDC.” “I ran into [choreographer] Hi-Hat at the World Hip-Hop Championships and she suggested we do the show,” Rino remembers. “I was like, ‘Why not?’”

Once Rino presented the idea and got all the Beat Freaks on board, everything fell into place. Though synchronizing schedules had proved challenging in the past, everyone managed to be available—Lindsey had finished choreographing Avril Lavigne’s tour, Teresa had just completed three years of working with Miley Cyrus and Maryss had just come off a tour with Chris Brown. The only missing link? Alison, who had already committed to choreograph Pink’s world tour. As a replacement, the Beat Freaks enlisted Shorty, a longtime friend who had performed with them at the Teen Choice Awards.

“The ‘ABDC’ thing was miraculous the way it came together,” Jules says. “The timing was perfect, and we knew that if we didn’t do it, nothing would ever happen with the Beat Freaks. We would always be an underground crew, but we wouldn’t have anything to put our energy into and make us focus. It was now or never!”

They Got the Beat

From that point on, things catapulted forward. To prepare for the November “ABDC” audition, the Beat Freaks started hard-core training—enlisting choreographers like Sonya Tayeh and Flomaster for sessions on partnering, endurance and floor work. The group also began taking tumbling classes at Los Angeles Valley College.

It was precisely that type of dedication that propelled the girls so far once “ABDC” kicked off. As one of nine competing crews, the Beat Freaks were required to divert all of their energy toward the show. Between rehearsals, choreography, brainstorming sessions and shooting, the crew “got no sleep at all,” Shorty says. “It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, but it was so much fun.” Jules agrees: “You have a very small window to create what the judges and audience want and design the most outrageous routine ever. We were constantly trying to elevate and innovate.” (She’s not kidding: During the show’s eight-week season, the crews were challenged to do everything from housing to krumping, locking and even magic.)

The group’s “girl power” motif was a hit with “ABDC” fans, who responded enthusiastically to their “Freak the Vote” campaign. (Some even got tattoos to show their support!) Many Beat Freaks routines ended with a peace sign doubling as a “V,” to subtly remind viewers to vote for them. The group’s managers also designed contests, websites and merchandise (bearing the group’s boom box logo) to help get the word out. The energy in the “ABDC” studio was palpable: “The crowd there is ridiculous. You have to be in the room to feel it,” Keeley says. Adds Rino, “It’s pure excitement!”

Since the “ABDC” finale, the Beat Freaks have been in high demand for workshops, conventions and public appearances everywhere from “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon” to Las Vegas’ JET nightclub. Last fall, the crew also reunited with the Groovaloos for the celebrated stage show Groovaloo. The girls continue to rock the small screen, having teamed up with Lil’ Mama for an MTV special and performed at the 2009 Fox Reality Channel Really Awards. Next up? A feature film co-starring several “ABDC” crews, which is due for release in late 2010.

For the Beat Freaks, inspiration is the name of the game. Their “Freak the Dream” tagline has spread and they’ve got big plans to move forward with it—from books to TV shows to clothing lines. “I want the Beat Freaks to have a legacy,” Teresa says. “A legacy of creativity, positivity and strength—not just for women, but for everybody.”