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Meet the Birmingham Hip-Hop Crew That Builds on a Cultural Phenomenon

The BhamBeatBullyz Dance Crew takes center stage during the UniverSoul Circus's recent visit to Birmingham. (Amarr Croskey, For Birmingham Times)

By Amarr Croskey and Sym Posey | The Birmingham Times

BhamBeatBullyz, a 10-member hip-hop dance crew, doesn’t miss a beat. The group performed before a sold-out crowd on the main stage for “Family and Friends” night at the UniverSoul Circus’s 10-day run at Legion Field, which wrapped up earlier this month.

The crew, made up of members who are 18 and older, is filled with youthful excitement and an unmatched passion for dance.

There is Tyreona Peterson, who has a certain pop and attitude to her dance style—as if each movement is an exclamation point to her confidence in dance.

There is Kemiya Carroll, who has an infectious smile and a bubbly spirit to match. Her love for dance and seeing others move brings her a recognizable joy.

Kemiya Carroll photographed during a break at BhamBeatBullyz rehearsal. (Amarr Croskey, For The Birmingham Times)

Then there is Christopher Pugh, the founder of the group, who just three days earlier was at Magic City Dance Studio in Fairfield, Alabama, taking his crew through a two-hour rehearsal in preparation for the Legion Field performance.

A misstep, a wrong turn, or a moment out of position would spell a redo for the entire dance crew. The importance of preparation had not escaped them, and the devotion of Pugh and the rest of the dance crew paid off during their exciting performance.

Founded in 2022 by Pugh, the BhamBeatBullyz have performed at the 2022 World Games, the Birmingham Museum of Art’s 2022 season of Art on The Rocks, the Sidewalk Film Festival’s award show, and a host of other events around the city.

“This is not my first time performing for the UniverSoul Circus,” he said. “I got to do it with my old crew back in 2014, but this time was different now that I have my own BhamBeatBullyz. I’m happy to share this opportunity with my crew.”

Made up of five male and five female dancers – Pugh, Carroll, Peterson, Trenescia Alexander; DeWaun Collins Jr.; Martin Elston; Uche MgBodile; Keon Powell; Dominique Washington and Antijha Wesley — the BhamBeatBullyz are a mixture of performers from all walks of life.

The BhamBeatBullyz Dance Crew energizes the crowd during the UniverSoul Circus’s recent visit to Birmingham. (Amarr Croskey, For The Birmingham Times)

A Lost Art

What makes the BhamBeatBullyz unique is they still perform what is considered a lost art in many communities.

The hip-hop dance style originated in [The Bronx borough] of New York City during the late 1970s. The influence of the music genre, fashion style, and dance [went global]. … [and] became widely known after the first professional street dance crews formed, including Rock Steady Crew, The Lockers, New York City Breakers, and The Electric Boogaloos, according to Performing Dance Arts. “Much of hip-hop dancing came from the 1990s’ adaptation of funk styles such as the Running Man, the Worm, and the Cabbage Patch. The 2000s brought forth dances like the Cha Cha Slide, and the Dougie.”

A student of the local dance scene, Pugh, 31, has seen a lot of crews formed in the Birmingham metro area over the years—from M.A.D. (Music And Dance) Skillz and Illumny to Creative Mindz and I.V. Motion. About eight years ago, he had the idea for his own group while working at Magic City Dance Studio.

“I had just started teaching as the hip-hop coach for their competition team. They needed a name, so I came up with the LadyBeatBullyz,” said Pugh. “I am big on alliterations or things that repeat. For example, my dance name is CleanCutChris. It something that is easy to remember, it flows off the tongue.”

Fast-forward to 2021.

Pugh was putting together his own group to audition for World of Dance, a California-based dance enterprise known as the largest in the world, in March 2022.

“We had a name, but we didn’t like it. It didn’t stick,” he recalled. “So, I suggested the BhamBeatBullyz. We represent Birmingham, we dance to music, and we needed an image.”

Dancer Martin Elston is part of the BhamBeatBullyz. (Amarr Croskey, For The Birmingham Times)

“Bullying The Music”

Asked why he chose that name, Pugh said, “When most people see the name BhamBeatBullyz, they might get a negative image, but we chose that name because we tell music what to do. I know a lot of people would say that is so negative, but we bully music. We don’t let the music tell us what to do.”

Born and raised in Birmingham, Pugh grew up in the East Lake neighborhood, and he takes a lot of pride in the city and is extremely proud of where he is from.

He recalls performing for the first time at his church, Living Word Baptist Church, on the Southside of downtown Birmingham: “It had to be about 2006. I joined the step team, and it went from there for fun. I started making it a thing around 2009 by going to different events and meeting different dancers throughout the city.”

Pugh also credits the 2004 dance drama, “You Got Served,” a film about a Los Angeles, California, street-dancing crew that engages in dance battles, for fostering his passion for dancing.

At 16, Pugh did his first tour for a local airbrush design company run by Erica “Erica B” Byrant.

“She put together a tour that ran through different churches. It was called the ‘Paint the City for Christ Tour,’” he said, adding that he and his older cousin were part of the show.

By 2012, Pugh took his first professional dancing steps when he auditioned for Fox Broadcasting Company’s reality dance television show “So You Think You Can Dance” in Atlanta, Georgia.

“That was my first taste of doing something big outside of Alabama. That following summer I joined my first professional dance crew, Illumny. It really put me on the map and led me to doing more in the dance community,” he said.

Asked what makes a dance team have staying power, he said, “Application of discipline and intentionality. Everyone must be on one accord and fully committed to the goal or objective that what we do will yield the desired results. I tell the crew, ‘You must maintain that focus and control at all times while dancing on purpose with purpose.’ Lastly, optimism. You must have an open mind and believe in yourself.”

Pugh is “very proud” to have his own team now. “I wanted to have something like this a long time ago,” he said. “I’ve always tried to join other people’s stuff and be a part of it, but it just never went through. So, I made something for myself the way that I see [fit] while providing a space for other people, as well.”

Songs the BhamBeatBullyz like to use in performances include hip-hop hits like “Party,” by Chris Brown, “HEHE” by SBU Beats, and “Shake Somethin’,” by Cali Swag District.

Dominique Washington goes through dance moves during BhamBeatBullyz rehearsal. (Amarr Croskey, For Birmingham Times)

Safe Spaces

Dancers Peterson, 24, and Carroll, 24, are not only BhamBeatBullyz members but also best friends.

Carroll joined the team first in 2021: “I was recommended to the crew by my mentor LaLa D’iore. She told me about [Pugh] after a Halloween dance event I had done with the both of them,” she said.

One thing led to another, and the next thing Carroll knew, Pugh was asking her to audition for a spot on his crew.

“I was kind of nervous at first, but I saw a couple of people I used to work with in the past at the audition, so I did it just to see where it would go,” Carroll said.

Peterson, a former member of the dance team at Minor High School, said she hadn’t danced since she graduated in 2018.

“When I got back from college, I hadn’t really danced since my high school dance line,” said Peterson, who attended Alabama State University. “[Carroll] told me about the crew and the opportunity, but I was so busy working that I couldn’t make it to practice or just to see them perform.”

Prior to joining the crew, Peterson had been working two jobs.

“One night, [Carroll] told me there was a class going on. I happened to work a later shift that day, but I was pretty insistent about making it to that dance class. [My employer] told me I would be fired if I left. I left anyway, and I’ve been part of the team since,” said Peterson.

BhamBeatBullyz caters mostly to young adults, but anyone 18 or older is welcome to join. Experience is not required but preferred.

“I established BhamBeatBullyz with us in mind,” said Pugh. “I wanted us to have a space that is for us, by us because we don’t have too many creative, safe, open spaces where we can express our creativity, especially within the dance style of hip-hop.”

For more information about booking or joining the BhamBeatBullyz Dance Crew, email thebhambeatbullyz205@gmail.com or follow on Instagram @bhambeatbullyz205.

Founded in 2022, the BhamBeatBullyz have performed at the World Games, the Birmingham Museum of Art’s Art on The Rocks, the Sidewalk Film Festival’s award show, and a host of other events around the city. (Amarr Croskey, For The Birmingham Times)