Let the opening hip-hop rhythm set the beat.
Keep in mind, as the song builds, that this is a free community center in Kansas City’s core.
An array of dancers, of widely varying ages and attire, ease into the pulse of it, kind of like the way the Mary L. Kelly Center was figuring out its purpose two years ago.
You have your after-school tutoring, your exercise room, your GED classroom, your computer lab access and community sports — the kinds of things you’d expect. And a dance floor.
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Then bam! The music explodes and the dancers are suddenly in wild sync, hopping, flying, spinning — stunning.
They’re polishing their routine for a Krizz Kaliko music video that is to be shot March 6 in Union Station, with the effect of a startling flash mob.
Kaliko is on Kansas City-born rapper Tech N9ne’s Strange Music label. Kaliko sees a powerful affirmation for the center since his search for 50 to 100 dancers led him here.
He’s asking them to dance to something he calls “waltz and samba … all of that mixed with hip-hop,” Kaliko said.
Tech N9ne, who is a producer of the video, has seen them dance, too, sending out a clip on his Instagram account, writing, “I love it! So this is what goes on deep in KC …”
The center’s director, Jason Williams, can’t claim genius for bringing in the dance, because the dance came on its own.
And that in a way was by design, he said.
“We’ve become a dance hub, and that was not intentional,” Williams said. But the facility was set up to adapt to the needs of its community and took on staff as instructors who brought their own talents.
Enter choreographer E.J. Staxx, the performance name for Edmond McNack, and his core troupe of dancers, the Weirdos.
The center’s free dance studio has drawn in teens and adults with a range of dance experience and abilities, whose top performers are honed for Hollywood videos.
Dancer D’Eirre Jackson, 31, grew up and still lives in the neighborhood near the center at 2803 E. 51st St.
“There’s an affectious love here,” he said. “People feed off that affection. Kids don’t have anything (outside of the center) — nothing that these families can pay for — but this is free.”
The Mary L. Kelly Center opened in September 2013 as a grand expansion of social services that began with after-school reading programs in the Upper Room.
The center, named after a longtime community activist, represented a heralded reclamation of a closed Kansas City district school building, Grace Elementary School. It opened with support of the Joe and Jeanne Brandmeyer Family Foundation and partnered with programs that would help generate revenue.
While community centers might be able to reasonably predict what adults need and would use, teens and young adults have long defied the centers’ best intentions.
And if they do come, that can itself be a problem if behavior strays off course.
So Kansas City police have been curious, and visitors have included Maj. Diane Mozzicato, Metro Patrol Division commander.
“I was floored,” she said. She saw the range of people using the building, children and adults. “And I haven’t heard of any issues that I’m aware of. I’m very encouraged by what they’re doing.”
Records requested by The Star show that police calls for service in the past year have been few and minor.
“We’re kind of a family,” said 16-year-old dancer India Sorrells.
They will stay late some nights, working until 9:30 or 10 p.m., said Sorrells’ mother, Shanetta Franklin, and there is always a feeling of safety, she said. “There are no issues. The kids are respectful. You don’t have to worry about getting into trouble.”
Prince Jones, a 25-year-old dancer, comes from Independence as part of Staxx’s team.
“This is a great pastime for kids,” he said. “It’s a place to do something with all the energy they have.”
And, he added, “You see how Kansas City is full of talent. It just doesn’t (often) get discovered.”
Kaliko imagines the dancers at the peak of his video for the song “Talk Up on It” on his new album, “Go.”
In the video, he is trying to impress a woman, wooing her and then stunning her with a Union Station flash mob of dancers.
As the video story goes, the wooing doesn’t work. But it sure won’t be the dancers’ fault.