Tucker Barkley: A League of his Own

October 14, 2010

Cyber-stalk Tucker Barkley and you’ll come up with no fewer than 25 YouTube videos—not to mention message board testimonials like this one: “Tucker is the best hip-hop dancer I’ve ever seen!” Yet the most telling page may be Tucker’s profile on Boogiezone, where he shares his personal dance motto: “The audience may forget what you did, but they will never forget how you made them feel.”


No doubt about it: The dance world is “feeling” Tucker. When he hits the floor, he takes no prisoners with his crisp, in-your-face style. Yet his movement is tempered with a graceful fluidity typically exhibited by ballerinas. Top that with an almost frightening degree of flexibility: One of Tucker’s many talents is an uncanny ability to contort his limbs. “I don’t think I have any joints in my upper body,” he laughs. “I can clap my elbows, pull my arms behind my head, and almost completely dislocate my torso.”


If the past few years are any indication, this limber lad will have no shortage of opportunities to twist and turn. Among Tucker’s recent projects: Janet Jackson’s videos for “Feedback” and “Rock with You,” the Cheetah Girls’ “Fuego” video, a retro ’50s dance scene in Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story and a stint with Wade Robson on “Dancing With The Stars.” And that was all before he turned 18 in January!

All in the Family

Tucker Barkley got his start at his mother’s studio, Carla’s Dance Studio in Amarillo, TX. From tap to jazz to clogging, no genre was off-limits for this burgeoning B-boy and his older sister Kelcee. “I kind of grew up inside the studio,” Tucker remembers. “My mom put me in dance classes as soon as I could walk!”


Dance quickly morphed into one of the only constants in Tucker’s life, as his family moved from Texas to Kansas and finally to Florida, where Tucker began hitting the competition scene with a vengeance. “He brought home a scholarship almost every time,” his mother explains. (See “Trophy Case” on p. 52 for Tucker’s comp kudos.)


One convention that made a lasting impact on Tucker’s career was Monsters of HipHop. At age 11, Tucker got his first real exposure to the form while attending a regional event in Dallas. “Once I did Monsters of HipHop, I was hooked,” says Tucker. “I met Brian Friedman, Gil Duldulao and Rhapsody, and their amazing hip-hop choreography just stuck with me.”


Tucker made a big first impression on Friedman, who says Tucker’s dancing was “brilliant” even at a young age. “He was one of those raw talents that doesn’t come along very often,” remembers Friedman. “I saw something special in him—he was a little bit crazy and spastic and wild, but it’s great to have all those qualities because you can harness that into something really incredible.”


Ready to focus on hip hop, Tucker enrolled at Pop Starz Dance Studio and Production Company in Boca Raton, FL. As part of the program’s competitive hip-hop crew, Tucker took master classes with Shane Sparks and Wade Robson. In 2004, Tucker traveled with the Pop Starz Production Company Dancers to L.A. for the World Hip-Hop Championships.


After getting his first taste of Hollywood at the championships, Tucker realized he was ready to leave the comp scene and go pro. “Being a competition kid was fun,” Tucker explains. “But I knew that once I started working, I would get to dance with so many different choreographers and have the chance to be seen by people who might not necessarily be in the competition circuit.”

Going Hollywood

In early 2005, Shane Sparks, who remembered Tucker from Pop Starz, recruited him for the monthly L.A.-based Carnival Choreographer’s Ball. Tucker and his mom were soon bound for California, while Tucker’s dad stayed behind in Florida for work. (Kelcee had moved to Texas.)


“I came from Florida with just a few suitcases, and only planned to stay in L.A. for one month,” says Tucker. “But I booked a national commercial for DirectTV the first day, and I realized, ‘If I’m able to get work here, why go back to Florida and just take class?’” After living in hotels for several months, Tucker and his mom put down roots. “He was ready for it,” Carla explains. “I’m from a dance background, too, so I knew that this was what he was meant to do.” Though it was tough being separated from his dad and sister, there was no doubt about it: Tucker was in L.A. to stay. (He finished one year of high school through home schooling, then got his GED at 16.)


Almost three years later, Tucker now lives in Burbank and is a fixture on the Hollywood dance circuit. (His mom will move back to New Mexico, where his dad lives, this summer.) His days are jam-packed with auditions (“I’ve occasionally gotten some direct bookings, but I still go on hella auditions”), gigs and classes—both taking and teaching. Tucker now teaches hip hop at Millennium and jazz funk at the EDGE every week. “I believe teaching is one of the most amazing things you can do as a dancer,” he says. “It allows me to share my own unique style with others. My routines range from girly hip hop to smooth chill to hard-hitting and crazy.” Soon, Tucker will be taking his classes nationwide, since he was recently tapped as a headliner for Monsters of HipHop: Next Generation (a new spin on the existing convention). Joining Tucker on the faculty will be Misha Gabriel and Tony Testa, among others.


True to his original goal, Tucker has also worked for Hollywood’s hottest choreographers. “Some of my favorites have been Shane Sparks, Gil Duldulao, Brian Friedman, Wade Robson, Dave Scott and Kevin Maher,” Tucker says. “They are all so different, yet all inspiring, cool and amazingly talented.”


Though Tucker has kept busy, there is still one major goal on his mind—dancing on a world tour for a major artist. Sparks has no doubt that Tucker will accomplish that and more. “Tucker is able to adapt to any dance style, and when you have that ability, there is nothing you can’t do,” Sparks says. “He is one of those dancers who almost intimidates choreographers a little bit, because it’s like he’s saying, ‘I need more.’ I truly respect his gift. He will be ‘The Next.’”