You can just give us your name, basic introduction, and where you’re from
So my name is Kim Holmes, I’m from New York, actually Harlem, New York, and been dancing, professionally, I would say over 25 years.
What kind of styles do you do?
Various styles. The styles of dancing that I do are African, Hip-Hop, House, Contemporary, which we used to call Modern, and what else do I love? Touch on a little bit of swing, Lindy Hop.
So what is Hip Hop? How do you define it?
What is Hip Hop? Oh wow. What is Hip-Hop to me, it’s life, it’s culture, it’s joy, it’s speaking to the masses about hardships and how to come out of it.
When were you first exposed to Hip Hop?
I was 15 when I was first exposed to Hip-Hop through a girlfriend of mine, Marjory Smarth, and they used to do block parties around my building. I was supposed to perform and I got nervous and I chickened out. They were playing Chuck D and I was just like “Aight”. It was new to me, so it was like I wasn’t really sure about it.
So how old were you?
That was about 11, I was 11, yes.
What was the feeling you had that made you unsure if you were going to choose to dance or not?
The thing that made me uncomfortable was, first of all, I was really young. I was 11, coming out of doing, you know, African and Modern dance, so this was really new to hearing and I didn’t know how to move to it yet. It was weird, as we say now. But the more I got around a lot of my friends and seeing the social dancing of it, it was more comfortable for me to take a step into it.
How did you first meet Marjory Smarth?
My friend Marhjory Smarth, I first met her at my high school (Manhattan center for science & mathematics). We were rehearsing for a talent show and I was dancing for another group of girls but I wasn’t sure about working with them yet. So I seen Marjory and a couple of other friends that I went to the school with and she went to FIT, not FIT, she went to High School of Fashion Industries and she was coming over to help them. When I watched, I was just like “I think I wanna go dance with them” and I was little bold at that point in time and I asked her, you know, could I dance with her. And she was just like “Could you dance?” and you know, when you young, you feel, you know, you know it all. So i was like “Yes I could dance!” and she said “Well, could you do this step?” And my audition step with her was the Running Man. But the thing that she changed up on me was doing the running man with the spins and when I was able to do it, she was just like “Oh okay, no problem. You could dance with me.” It was so much fun and we turned the whole talent show out. I think the greatest thing for me was exposing me to what it meant to be around women that dance but also having the confidence behind it because that was something that I struggled with being younger, it’s like “Am I supposed to do this? Am I not supposed to do this?” Like African and Jazz and modern was great for me but Hip Hop is a totally different beast.
What made you start dancing?
The thing that made me start dancing was my grandmother. I was a little girl, 4 years old and I had a lot of energy. So for her, it’s like “I can’t keep you in the house like this, so we gotta find something for you to do with all this energy” and I went to a school called Sounds in Motion, which used to be located on 125th Street and Lenox Avenue. That’s where I began doing Jazz and I think the great thing for me was learning how to take class with live musicians and I think that was the best thing for me at that point in time, as I see now when I look back to how I teach and the kind of music that we use. It was really inspiring.
Did you ever have an “Aha” moment? “This is what I want to do.”
I’ve several “Aha” moments. I think at 18, graduating was just like “I do not want to do a regular job. I do not want to go to college.” And my college, for me, was going on tour at the age of 19 and it was with a gentleman named Lucas that was on Uptown Records. I was the only girl, usually. The funny thing is, one of my closest friends, who’s no longer here, had a big argument and we could not get anybody else and I knew all the choreography cause I was helping out a girlfriend of mine, named Joyce Vanhook, I was her assistant. She called me maybe the night before “Could you go on your?” Kim: “What do you mean could I go on tour? For how long?” And it was maybe about 6 weeks. So I was like “Yeah, this is gonna be my life!” and to get paid to do what you love to do, oh yeah, that was my “aha”, like oh yeah, I’m gonna do this.
You were 19 when all that happened?
I was 19, my grandmother was a wreck, like “You’re leaving me! What’re you doing!?” I was like “I gotta go see the world.” I don’t even think it’s so much old school, it was new, you know, to us at that time. We were, I think for the kids coming out of that era, I was graduating in 90’. So that was the changing of events of watching us go and do videos, doing tours, dancing behind artists, so a lot of it was just like, I was a changed person for my community, I was pretty much the first woman leaving the projects on the east side and it was big for me. I didn’t know it until now, the people that I was inspiring.
Fun fact: You lived really close to Chrybaby Cozie
Oh my gosh, I grew up maybe about 3 to 4 blocks from Chrybaby.
You guys never met?
No, he’s so much younger than me so, no he didn’t know.
If you don’t mind me asking, how old are you?
I am 46, I’ll actually be 47 on the 17th (July 17th).
How is it like being a woman in the dance scene?
I knew that question was coming. I would say being a woman in it, it can be very challenging if you don’t know who you are. You have to make different stands versus the men with things that you’re going to do, being very aware of body language, very aware of what you say because there’s so many other women thats looking up to you to either be a change for them and showing what can really happen in standing your ground. I believe for me, it was, I didn’t know how much I was affecting so many females coming behind me, I was just, I was in it! It was fun, I was enjoying it but being a young mother, my whole thing was making sure that my daughter would be able to have a better life. So if this was the way I had to do it, I was going full blown ahead, you know. It made me really stand up to a lot of things that I probably would have backed down from.
Today we have Hip Hop all over the internet, dance studios, and schools worldwide. How was Hip Hop before all these changes?
It wasn’t so much that you couldn’t sleep at night without it. You know, it was very, it‘s like a baby, very infantile. So you had, you were able to go to parties, you were to go to block parties, you were able to have friendships and talk to people, face to face versus on the internet all day, everyday, “Can you go to sleep?”, “Can you put it down?” You were part of something bigger than you but you didn’t know how big it was gonna be, so it made you respect it a little bit better versus everybody having their hands in it now. You can’t go anywhere with Hip Hop, whether it’s for cereal, a commercial for cereal or a commercial for a car. It was kinda takes away the real aspect of what the culture’s about, you know. It’s looked at some time as buffoonery versus this is peoples’ lives. We stand for more than just marketing.
How were the Jams?
11:52 – 13:09
Well first and foremost, it was a level of respect about jumping into, what we call, a cypher. Everybody didn’t jump in. you were able to go to different blocks but you were careful about who you were going to battle against. Different friends, different places but it was- I had so much more fun back then than actually now. It was more sacred, I would say that, thats word that I use. It wasn’t everybody in it. You found out people who had the real skills or you found out the people who didn’t. It was great to see DJs even being apart, like all the different competitions the DJs were in. if you really was a dancer, how long you would battle. It wouldn’t be like “Ok, well you have 5 seconds” or the countdown “5,4,3,2,1” and it’s over. No, we didn’t do, you’d battle all night or you’d come back the next week and battle or the next day or when you got back to school, you’d find out who really won or who didn’t. It was a different time but it was so much more enjoyable than what it is now, to me.
Could you give a description of the craziest night you ever had
Wooh! My girlfriend, Taesha Pryce is her name, she was a year older than me. We went to her graduation party and the funniest thing was we would all meet up at somebody’s house and get dressed, or Marjory would dress us, and then we would take off maybe about 10 o’clock at night and go to the first party. It never was that you went to one party, you bounced around. We were to the top of the Bronx and we partied with her for a little bit, and then from there we went, train ride, and we went all the way down to the Lower East Side to this party at the Whirl, and I didn’t know about breaking night at that time. So you party, you dance, you had a good time and then it was the Shelter party, 7 o’clock in the morning. My eyes felt like they were never gonna open up again cause I was so tired and you watched people sleep then get back up and dance, somebody else coming in from another party and they just battled all day & night. So I think I was out from 8 o’clock that night to 2 o’clock the next morning, I was exhausted and I said I’d never wanted to do this ever again my life cause I didn’t really understand like “Why are we partying like this?” We partied to 2 places, 3 places, train rides, food, “when did we eat?” cause I’m always the one “Please feed me. If you don’t feed me, I can’t do anything for you.” It needed my energy but it was watching the different demographics of people who would come in, the different people who would actually really party or just stand around and watch one another dance, and then the jokes. You always had to have jokes on certain things that was going on. But it was fun, you know, for us at that time. It wasn’t that it felt like a job and that was the thing I’ve always learned, when you’re dancing becomes to feel like a job, you got to move away from it because the real reason you came into it is kinda like diminishing and you never want to feel like that because then you can’t give from your most authentic self. But it was a night of ins & outs and I just felt like I was on a whole rollercoaster ride that I was never getting off.
You said your grandmother wouldn’t let you out, right?
Ah, you remember that. My grandmother, my grandmother was a BIG part of why I dance. She said “All little girls needed grace and discipline” and that was the main thing about watching me dance or several girlfriends and she would be like “Oh no, this one is not going to be a dancer. She’s not going to last too long in this” because she would watch. Your parents really watched to see who you gonna be around and Marjory was the only person that she would pretty much allow me to go out with and she used to call her Marathon. And the funny thing about Marathon, she’s just like “Her legs. Watch her legs and how much, how her stride was.” And the thing about with Marjory, I don’t know what kind of conversation they may have had when I was in the back but she told her that she would always watch over me and she pretty much did, you know, during the beginnings so my career. She was very, like “Oh no, not that one. Don’t come around that one. Don’t touch her. Nope, uh-huh” to make sure I got back home. But, there was one night we did go out and I came back home without them and I was on punishment for maybe about 3 weeks, I didn’t even see the streets. She’s like “Oh no. Can’t come out.” And I was so nervous cause it was my first time taking the trains by myself cause all the schools I went to was in the neighborhood, so I didn’t really have to travel like that.
I remember you mentioned an audition you couldn’t make because you had to go to school
So, what happened, what transpired with me having to stay at school and they were doing the Diana Ross video “Working Overtime”. It was Voodoo Ray, Marjory, another gentlemen that’s no longer here with us, Keith Williams, Joyce Vanhook, it was a whole bunch of us and they did it at the Soundfactory Bar. We had found out about it, we were kinda like the cool kids at that time, and found out about it but my grandmother was just like “You are not going anywhere.” I felt so bad cause I was like “I’m missing my first chance to be in a big time video with this, you know, wonderful artist!” I tried to leave but it was just like, the security was around all the different exit spots. So unfortunately, I wasn’t able to participate in that one. But there were so many more that I was able to be in.
What are some of your favorite artists that you worked with?
Wow, I had a great time working with Missy (Missy Elliot) doing “I Can’t Stand the Rain”. We did also “Sock it to You”, actually I was able to work with lil Kim, the “Crush on You” video. Who else? LL Cool J, Will Smith, through Buddha Stretch, we did… I can’t remember the name to it, that’s really bad. Oh gosh, Salt-N-Pepa. Salt-N-Pepa I got to really tour with. So that was a really big opener to seeing women who rap and being able to dance behind them and seeing what it was to be a woman in the industry from another perspective of being on the mic, you know, what they were telling at that time. And all the songs, you know “Push It” and “What a Man”. So it was great to see something like that for me, being a female, like “Oh wow, this is great for us” because now there’s other voices and it’s just not us dancing, we can speak our story also and kinda go against the grain with certain things with the men.
Did you dance for “What a Man” & “Push It” in the vides too?
No, I actually did the actual tours but the video, “Are You Ready”, and I think the thing that was so fun about that was watching Pepa bungee jump off a bridge. It’s just like “Yo, she’s crazy! I’m never gonna do anything like that!” But she had a heart to do the craziest things.
How was the industry back then?
It was a lot to the way it is now. You had to know people but I think there was more of an understanding about people trying to get on and taking new steps to open doors for others, you know. The pay-scale was different, we didn’t have managers or you didn’t have all these agencies at that time, so it was, you had to know somebody who was really in it to put you on. But so many people knew your craft and knew if you could really work or not, it wasn’t so much about selling sex back then either. We were clothed, so I appreciated that and you gain great relationships with, not just your dancers, but the photographers, the videographers, and the directors. So it was, they would remember your face like “Oh I remember you! Please make sure you give me your number” and, you know, stay in contact with one another and you would definitely get called from the artist. It wouldn’t just be that it was “Oh, my agency knew” or blah blah blah, or sending forty of y’all out for one job. Artists would definitely say “Okay I want to work with this person” and that’s how I got to work with Foxy Brown. We were doing her first video “I’ll be” with Jay Z and the funniest thing was, I was in the back and she asked me, she was just like “Why are you in the back?” Kim: “We all getting the same check, it doesn’t bother me. I don’t mind.” You know, I was a hungry dancer at that time. She was like “Give me your phone number” and she actually held her word and she called me and I was on tour with her for maybe about 2 years, 2, 3 years. So I really value that, someone keeping their word and not just being like “Oh yeah, I’ll just take your number.” She was on it, in reference to her game. She really was, and I think she was a great rapper. Some of the things that happened outside of it, I won’t talk about, but she made me really understand what it was to keep your word with different artists and different individuals.
So you were tour when Tupac got shot right?
I was actually on tour with Foxy Brown when Biggie got killed out in L.A. and it was really, it blew my mind because we were all going out to the parties after the Soul Train Awards and that night, I couldn’t get it together. I went through like 21 different outfits, so me and the number 21 have a great relationship, and I couldn’t figure it out, so I stayed back at the hotel and maybe about 2 to 3 hours later, you getting phone calls, people are coming back and they’re running, talking about Biggie got murdered. It was so disheartening to us, you know, being from New York and we were doing the tour with Foxy Brown, the House of Blues, and I was just like “Wow!” This is really going on, you really seem like you were in, it felt like you were in a movie versus it was your life that was really flashing by you at that time. So they got us back home like the next day and I think the saddest thing about it was just like, you didn’t know how much work he was doing until he passed away and how much it affected Brooklyn, or it affected everybody in a certain kind of way that you got smarter about how you did work or how you made relationships, the different people you wanted to work with or who you didn’t want to work with, and at a time it was… I didn’t dance as much in the industry for a moment, I started to go back and teach. It was always told to me to always come back and I learned that from my very first dance teacher, like to always come back and plant a new seed and instill in the next generation behind you. So I did, I went back to my high school and I started teaching underneath the dance company, the kids company that I was in called the Repertory Dance Company of East Harlem until I was strong enough to go back out again.
I also notice that you gravitate towards community centers and trying to give back
You know, like they say, it takes a village and that’s how it came up for me is the village I come from. In Harlem, it was always about going to take a class at a community center or we were in somebody’s high school, the gymnasium that you learned African or you were with your friends that you had a space and you were learning your different routines. But it was always coming around these communities that you wanted to give back or wanted show what you can do. Also, I worked with a woman, Violeta Galagarza from KR3Ts, and watching her come up. So we were from the same community and you just found different ways to implement what you’ve learned but also give back to kids coming up and helping them strive to be better.
I remember you mentioned to me about Aaliyah
Aaliyah, yes! Wow, it’s like jogged a memory for it. We met so many different artists cause you would do, you know, all these different festivals at this time, so you could be on the build. So say, I was working with Foxy, we were on tour, but Aaliyah had her crew and we knew different dancers and she was so sweet. She would always speak to us, very open, lots of laughs, and I think it was hard for me when you find out that she passed, you know, the plane crash. Even my daughter got a chance to meet her cause I was able to take my daughter to certain rehearsals and to be on the video sets with that, that she could she see what her mother was doing versus like “Oh, I always got to get a babysitter.” It’s difficult, especially when you’re not the artist, its different for the dancer. And then things shifted, that dancers became more important or taking a new step, saying that we could do this work, we can get behind the screen, or become videographers and photographers and creating these documentaries that would tell our stories too. Cause we’re all important in this.
Going back a little more, you were in the “I’ll Be” video with Voodoo Ray
Y’all don’t forget anything. So “I’ll Be”, that was Voodoo Ray, so you had this woman Cindy Krano, Joyce Vanhook, myself, another woman, Kira Lam, Cameya Jones, Ixia Olivares, and myself. It was Voodoo Ray, it was these 2 gentlemen, Punch & Goofy, they were based out of L.A. but they were doing a lot of work with Mary, so they danced behind Mary J. Blige a lot, and Hammer. Randy Connor, 2 other gentlemen, and Chris Sawyer. We were a powerhouse, we were a powerhouse. And that was the year my girlfriend always said, Joyce Vanhook, that we brought dance back. It shifted because it was a lot of the gangsta rap that was going on before that time, so it was a lot of stuff that shifted, and that was like 97’, we did that. So it was “I’ll Be”, it was in January cause I was still working retail so I can remember, and from there it was “Crush On You” with Lil Kim. So it was back to back, and then it was Missy, and then it was Salt-N-Pepa, and then all those things started to happen even more cause everybody was like “Oh ok”, working with certain music labels, they need to get that next artist out. “Oh, they’re doing it this way? Ok well, we have this person over here.” But it was cool, we worked.
You met on set?
I met Voodoo Ray through marjory. Marjory was my door opener to a lot of the different dancers on the scene at that time. I was 17, yeah, like 2 years later I met. Cause I could go so far when she first was able to have me come out.
She ever took you to The Tunnel
We went so many places that I can’t even remember, but I used to go to The Tunnel , Soundfactory Bar, The Whirl was my first cub that she took me to and it was a whirl for me. That’s when I found out about the blue light, the blue stream light, that when everything else is dark, they had the blue light that runs around, the blue fluorescent light and it was like mind bottling to me. They had so many different rooms but I stayed on the main floor cause it was like you don’t go to the other rooms if you don’t have somebody with you, you never know what might happen to you. So, you know, there’s always a code to hang out now with your girlfriends. If you leaving with somebody, you gotta make sure you have their phone number. Well, back then, it wasn’t no cell phones and stuff, either you found out the license plate, where the person lived, cause if something happen, we gotta trace back.
What do you look for, as a Judge, in competitions?
So, when I became a judge for the first time, my main thing was being connected to the music and the heart of the dance. When I tell people, if you get me up to dance, then you’re doing a great job, but if not, and I don’t feel anything that you’re connected to the song, you’re not having a great exchange with your opponent. It kinda like turns me off. Being the soul of the dance, it has to move you. There’s different reason that different people come into dancing. its my gift, first & foremost, so I dance on a spiritual level and you’re speaking to the masses, depending on what style or what genre that you’re in but it’s bringing it across that everybody hears and understands why you are in this at this time. And I look at my dance as healing, its not about trying to make everybody feel good, it’s the healing aspect or what the love is that you share with the song.
What’s your favorite aspect about the dance? (Community, sessions, parties, etc.)
I love to perform on stage. I think that was the main goal as a little girl, you get on stage and you feel it the first time “Oh my gosh” and “You’re dancing for your parents!” But then after a while, it’s just like you perform on so many different stages but what is that drive to get there, it’s like the finishing act, that last act, I ended it on stage, I left my heart on the stage, no matter what stage it is, I left my heart there with you so you understood it. Being able to show little girls that they can do it. No matter what’s going on in their life, they can get on that stage, they can open up and express to the masses but also not in a negative, too much in a sexual way. I think sometimes we forget what we’re sharing with them, everybody doesn’t have to have bedroom experience on the stage. And the older I get, you know, different videos, they say when you know better, you do better. So we all have to go through different phases of our lives but at this point in time, it’s just like what are the babies seeing, we don’t wanna give them that. They’re gonna have a hard enough life, or maybe not, but you learn from your mistakes.
As a dancer with a wealth of experience & knowledge, what will you and your peers do to keep the momentum going forward for the youth?
I think things like this, doing documentaries, showing up is very important to different communities. Being there with your peers, being open enough to have conversations with students and with communities about the things that need to change. I also think that still seeing us perform, still having a joy for it. when I’ve seen plenty of different artists or guys that still battle or have had a leg cut off and they’re still dancing. You’ve seen people dancing with crutches but still keeping the soul of the dance alive, whether it’s the music, whether it’s by writing, whether you’re doing blogs, it’s still having your voice heard and on so many different levels, it can still be done. Not pushing back so much that you don’t think you’re around or you’re just dead.
What advice would you give to the youth coming up now?
To learn from everyone, you know, don’t just get so stuck in the studios and one style of dance because there’s many different styles that can help you grow. Go to the OGs, they are looking to the youth, to be that next catalyst, or what their breaking change is gonna be. But I feel that, don’t be so cocky and so arrogant that you can’t learn from an OG, you know, and it’s different ways that you learn from us, it’s different ways from having a conversation, don’t be afraid to come talk to us and don’t get so big on being famous because then that takes away from who you are supposed to be in the dance and it’s always bigger than you, it’s always bigger than you. Dance for me has been my life story on so many levels, from being a young mom, to seeing my daughter graduate and being able to change different mindsets, whether it’s liturgical dance, African dance, Hip Hop, House, it all tells a story of people and how better we can be together than actually breaking down somebody and making them feel worse about why they came into dance. It’s how I walk, it’s how I eat, it’s everything to me, you know. From the clothes I wear to the headwrap to even learning how to do your own hair, and always go back and give to your community because they need us. Just when you think that they don’t, there’s a call from somebody saying “No, we need you here. We need you to show up.” And whatever community it might be. From the Breaking community, it’s very different the language that’s spoken over there to in the African dance, to the Contemporary world, we are all in this together.
Any thoughts in mind, in reference to Marjory or Voodoo Ray
You know, they not the only fallen soldiers but there’s so many fallen soldiers, but I would give my– it’s a heartfelt thing with Marjory. I got into House because of Marjory and she used to call herself ‘Large Marj’. It always made me laugh when I watch Peewee Herman movie. But really understanding what her gift was, was bringing women together, bringing communities together, showing of her heart, and even when she had to be a little bit aggressive with people. Knowing the love that she had for this, and not knowing it was gonna be this huge, being at 15 and knowing that her love is in each and every one of us. She’s planted a seed in all of us and to share her dance and share her life and on a grander level, but knowing that she’s never far, never far away from us, she’s always in our heart. I miss my big sister but I know she’s sitting with my grandmother, and another girlfriend of mine, that really always pushed me and nudged me to keep dancing. You know, we all have those days that sometimes like “I’m not sure if I’m gonna do this anymore. I might wanna hang up my shoes.” and then, here comes some little girl like “Ms. Kim, I need you to teach me, I want to come to your class” or young gentlemen, like “I seen you dance and you gave me so much life, I need to come learn from you. So I give Marjory all the kudos for that because if not for her, I don’t know if I would be this at this time.
What’s some advice you can say to females now coming into the dance (industry & culture) if they come across a situation where they’re being taken advantage of?
I knew that was coming, I felt that right here. So, I never really had situations that I was pushed to a corner by any individual or situations that made me feel very uncomfortable but I know a lot of the females have gone through that at this point in time. You have to make sure that, 1) you tell somebody. Don’t ever feel like you’re in this by yourself. There are people who will speak up for you. Many women getting into, many young girls coming into this type of industry, they have to have a knowledge of who they are first. When you don’t know who you are, you kind of fall victim to a lot of different things. It makes it difficult seeing so many women who have fallen by the sideline to the drugs, the marijuana, and things that they think they need to do to actually be apart of this and they don’t. I didn’t smoke, I didn’t drink, not on the tour or anything like that. You gotta look at it as business, what do you wanna do when you come into this, do you want to be a dancer, do you want to be a choreographer, speaking to the right people who will guide you in that direction to help you be better. Sometimes you have to be a little bit stern, I won’t even say a little bit. You have to be stern with the men, you have to be stern with the gentlemen because, if not, then they’ll take you as a pushover. Gotta be careful kind of attire that you wear, even though we should be able to wear what we feel like, but some things in certain places bring on a certain type of energy, I would use, that have people feeling like they on a hunt, and if you dress a certain kind of way, they treat you a certain kind of way. So, just understanding what’s the body language, what are you saying when you come out, are you trying to get on the right way, or not. A lot of females know what they doing but a lot of them, you have women like myself, and I would say Violeta, or Michelle Byrd, or Robin Dunn, Tweet Boogie. We’re around to be as a help, Rokafella, but you got to listen too! You can’t just let it go in one ear and out the other because when a situation does happen, and we forewarned you about it, you don’t listen. So it’s just making sure you’re paying attention to your surroundings, making sure you’re paying attention to body language, how the men are speaking to you, cause also, you have to pay attention to that cause they could be talking to you in code and you don’t even know. Be very aware and make your points when you need to or find those women that you know that have been in it for a long time that can be that voice for you when you can’t.