Meet the Dance Crews: The 410

Andie might find herself dancing in the rarified world of the Maryland School of the Arts, but her heart is back in the streets with the legendary underground Baltimore street crew she has long dreamed of dancing with: The 410. This ragtag crew is made up of a group of strong, flashy personalities whose completely original skills and hard-core passion for hip-hop make them among the city’s most creative and coolest dance teams—and the ones to beat at “The Streets” competition.

Casting the members of The 410, as well as the rival MSA crew, was a blast for the filmmakers because it gave them a chance to witness some of the amazingly diverse and magnetic dancing talent out there today. The audition process began with massive open calls in Baltimore and New York, during which 500 hopeful dancers were whittled down to just a handful of stand-outs under the demanding eyes of the filmmakers and the choreographers.

Authenticity was at the heart of every decision—the focus on dancers who could relate to the material with their hearts as well as their skills. The uncompromising leader of The 410 is Tuck, the intense street dancer who has his own feelings for Andie that get shaken up in the mix. For Tuck, The 410 is more than just a dance crew—it’s a kind of street family who stick together through thick and thin, and Andie’s departure to attend MSA, or what he dubs “that prissy ballet school” leaves him feeling both betrayed and jealous.

Playing Tuck is Black Thomas, a Miami native who cut his teeth as a dancer in the FAMU Connection, a hip-hop dance troupe at Florida A&M University, then went on to appear in such movies as “Stomp the Yard,” “Dreamgirls” and “I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry.”

Like the rest of the cast, Thomas felt a deep empathy for his character and his love of dancing in spite of his emotional confusion over Andie. “What I liked most is that this movie says a lot about how you view yourself, how you represent,” says Thomas. “The 410 is all about attitude. It’s all about unity. It’s all about strength and power. It’s not just about kids dancing, it’s about kids expressing themselves.”

The filmmakers were impressed with Thomas’ ability to evoke Tuck’s strength and belief through both his dance moves and his dialogue. “As Tuck, Black has the power to be at once vulnerable and scary,” notes Chu. “We wanted the audience to feel the friction and the threat of the character, and Black had it all. Plus, he’s an amazing dancer.”

The 410 crew’s female leader and Andie’s former best friend, Felicia, was equally vital to the story and the filmmakers found themselves drawn to Telisha Shaw, a rising young dancer who herself received a sought-after scholarship to the Dance Theatre of Harlem that kicked off her career dancing on tour with such artists as Christina Aguilera, Janet Jackson, Green Day, Kanye West and Beyonce.

A playful chorus of “Telisha plays Felicia” echoed throughout the production, but the filmmakers were very pleased with the serious work Shaw brought to the performance. “Felicia is such a hard role,” says Chu, “because she’s Andie’s friend in the beginning, then turns on her quickly, only to come around again at the end. When Telisha came in, she read the scene where she tells Andie, ‘It’s not what you want, it’s what you got’—and she turned it into one of the most memorable auditions I’ve ever been in. She read it in a way that I’d never even imagined that scene, in a way that made me want to cry for her. Telisha portrayed the character as someone who wants to believe in Andie, but everything in her life has shown her something different. She has to come to realize that the way you live your life is a choice you make.”

Also joining The 410 are a number of young stars from authentic hip-hop backgrounds who bring their own trademark tricks, moves, humor and style to the proceedings: Kejamel “KMel” Howell, a dance legend on YouTube and MySpace who also serves as Hi Hat’s assistant choreographer, is K-Mel; Rynan “Rainen” Paquio, who is part of the renowned Jabbawockeez crew, is Kid Rainen; local Baltimore b-boys Jeff “Rapid” Ogle and James “Cricket” Colter are Rapid and Cricket; Donnie “Crumbs” Counts, a world-class athlete and dancer with hundreds of popular videos on the Internet, is Crumbs; and acclaimed b-girls Shorty Welch and Alison Faulk are Shorty and Alstar.

Danielle Polanco, a Bronx native who began dancing at the Alvin Ailey School as a youngster and was on tour with Jennifer Lopez when she was cast in the film, rounds out The 410 crew as Missy, who brings a salsa touch to her dancing and is the only other person who dances with both The 410 and MSA crew. She, too, found herself deeply relating to what her character goes through in the film.

Says Danielle: “Missy is the kind of person who tries to make the best out of everything. When everybody else is arguing, Missy just enjoys life and looks at the boys. Jon lets us all ad lib and add a little of our own flavors to the character, and that made it so much fun.”

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