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Chris Brown's Backup Dancers Fell in Love, and Now They Travel the Country Teaching

Randi Kemper and Hefa Tuita. Photo by Lee Cherry, courtesy of 24 Seven Dance Convention

To celebrate Valentine's Day in the most dance-centric way possible, we sat down with five powerhouse dance-teaching couples to talk about their love stories. What do they admire about each other? What are their couple goals and their teaching philosophies, and how do they make their relationships work, especially when they work together? Get ready to swoon!

If you've ever taken a class from Randi Kemper and Hefa Tuita, you know that their number-one teaching priority is to have fun. Week after week they travel the convention circuit with 24 Seven Dance Convention, spreading the joy of hip hop with aspiring dancers. After growing up as competition dancers (Kemper trained in Colorado with Michelle Latimer Dance Academy, and Tuita trained in Utah at Center Stage Performing Arts Studio), they know that their students need a good and uplifting experience. They have each enjoyed professional commercial dancing careers, having worked with Beyoncé, Jennifer Lopez, Janet Jackson and others. For five years, they worked together as dance captains and backup dancers for Chris Brown.

Randi: We first met on an MTV Video Music Awards performance gig, where we performed with Usher. The job was super-fleeting, so we didn't get to know each other that well, but we were definitely impressed with each other. Nothing happened until six months later, when we both booked Chris Brown's tour. When you work a tour, everyone who is out there becomes family, and it was the perfect place for our relationship to grow.

Tuita and Kemper teach at the Dance AwardsPhoto by Nick Serian (courtesy of Break the Floor Productions)

Hefa: Randi is such a confident performer. I was drawn to her the moment I saw her dance on that Usher job. She is the kind of dancer who pulls your eye to her for all the right reasons. When you watch her, you know that she was born to do this, and you can't look away.

Randi: We hit a point in our lives where we knew that we wanted to transition out of backup dancing. We had done it for a long time and felt like we had fulfilled what we needed to. Around that time Break the Floor called and offered a chance for us to teach at a NUVO in Dallas. We were honestly terrified. We felt so young and inexperienced, but by the end of the weekend we were totally fulfilled. We realized that we had a lot to give to the rising generation, and it felt like this is what we were supposed to be doing right now.

Hefa: We find balance just by living minute by minute. It can be really challenging. We are sure to take advantage of the hours that we have off, and really spend them together. We like to go fishing with our dog, and we schedule vacation days when we can. Thankfully, though, we get to do this together. I would never want to do this by myself. We are so lucky to travel side by side.

Randi: Hefa knows how to connect to his students no matter what age they are. When it comes to the minis, he is really just a big little kid at heart. He is always making them laugh, and if they ever cry, he knows exactly how to turn it around and get them smiling again. When he works with the older students, he brings a warm energy into class that makes the kids want to have fun. There is nothing intimidating about him.

Hefa: Everything we choreograph to has to be super-fun. We look for music that can stand on its own when it comes to bringing an exciting energy into the room. If it comes on and we look at each other like "Ahhhh," then we know it's the right one. Lately we've been doing throwback songs, which are super-nostalgic for us. Current hip-hop music is a little scary, so we like to go back in time to bring our students some happy stuff.

Meet the four other couples including Kirven and Antonio Bouthit-Boyd, Simon Ball and Frances Perez-Ball, Allison DeBona and Rex Tilton and Allison Holker and Stephen "tWitch" Boss.

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How does your studio handle enrollment for boys? Photo courtesy of Shona Roebuck

I recently set up a classical ballet partnering master class for my youth dance company. A pas de deux class, if you will—think Swan Lake, Sleeping Beauty and The Nutcracker, etc., chock full of promenades, pirouettes and lifts.

I knew we would have plenty of girls interested in signing up, but enlisting boys is always a challenge.

Without much thought, we offered it for free to boys who attended because, here's the thing: no boys = no class. At least, in a ballet partnering class—every Sugar Plum Fairy needs a Cavalier, right?

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Dance Teacher Tips
Photo by Sean Boyd, courtesy of White

Julie Hammond White is an associate professor at the University of Southern Mississippi, where she directs the dance education BFA. Here, the mother of two (Townsend, 10, and Dominic, 7) takes us through a typical week of juggling her personal and professional life. We caught up with White in October on the first day of work after her fall break. —Jill Randall


6:30–10 am Up and trying to rouse the boys. Throw in a load of laundry, pack lunches, set out uniforms. Drop kids off at school and head to the library. Finish planning advanced ballet.

10:30–11 Read 99 (?!) work e-mails. Taking a few days off is a bad idea…

11 am–12:30 pm Teach advanced ballet. I'm doing what I call "vitamin phrases": 2- to 3-minute phrases that focus on one aspect of ballet (this week, petit allégro).

12:40–1:55 Teach Methods in Dance Education. This is a course that all juniors, regardless of their major (performance/choreography or dance ed), must take to learn how to effectively teach dance in K–12, studios, higher education or community programs.

3:30–4 Grab a quick salad at restaurant across the street. Read letters from the promotion committee—passed the first stage of being recommended for full professor!

4–6 Grade DED 360 papers. These take a while. DED 360 is one of two writing- and speaking-intensive classes for the major. In their papers, students comment on eight areas of diversity as defined by the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education and find a media resource that addresses each to compare and contrast their views.

7–8 Grocery: bread, cantaloupe, Go-GURTS, apples, bananas, peanut butter, Nutella, pasta, cheese and oatmeal.

8–9 Laundry. Three loads. Also do a quick pickup of the house.

9 Boys home from day with Dad. They shower, brush teeth and set out their clothes for tomorrow. I sign homework and read them a story. Hugs and kisses, then bed by 10 pm.

10–10:30 More e-mails. Bed.

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Dance Teacher Tips
Photo by Kyle Froman, courtesy of The Ailey School

Depending upon whom you ask, there are different approaches to mastering the art of turning. Whether it's fouetté turns or a single pirouette, every teacher tends to have their own unique way to break down the physics of pulling off balance, strong arms and quick spotting to students. And here's one more visual to consider, courtesy of master ballet teacher Finis Jhung.

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You've no doubt heard that the fabulous Alicia Vikander is playing Lara Croft in the newest iteration of Tomb Raider, which hits movie theaters this Friday. But while her training for the high-octane action role was crazy tough, she says, studying at the Royal Swedish Ballet Schoolwas far tougher.

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DaSilva (center) teaching at Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and the Performing Arts Center in NYC. Photo courtesy of DaSilva

Chanel DaSilva has two pillars of focus for every class she teaches: performance quality and musicality. The former Trey McIntyre Project dancer asks her students to really listen and be the music, emphasizing the importance of being expressive artists. She wants students to find that euphoric place dancers feel when they're under the lights with an audience watching. "I want that in class," she says. "Don't wait for the stage."

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