Wheatley Plaza in Greenville—a shopping center decorated with boutiques—is hardly a place where you’d expect a break dancing group to practice. However, it is here that Momz-N-Da-Hood, a group of mothers over 40, spends countless hours proving that break dancing is not just for kids.
Momz-N-Da-Hood consists of Captain Barbara Adler, 49, Susan Estep, 53, and Lori Lee, 43. There have been a few changes to the lineup due to age and family matters, but the concept remains the same. Adler and Estep have been there from the beginning, 11 years ago, when it was just a hip-hop exercise class taught by artistic director Lancelot E. Theobald Jr.—choreographer of the New York Knicks City Dancers, among others. When he saw the dedication of a few of his dancers (“They would practice behind my back,” he says), he decided to work closely with the select few, and Momz-N-Da-Hood (MNDH) was born.
Practice begins with extensive stretching. “We gotta stretch them out cause they’re a little older,” Theobald jokes. Standing in sweatpants, a red Yankees cap and two pinkie rings that compliment his watch and wedding ring, Theobald might be mistaken for a football player rather than a dancer. This is because he actually was a football player. After surviving a deadly plane crash, he decided to pursue his dream of becoming a performer.
Recognizing dreams later in life is something the Momz can identify with. For Adler, MNDH helped fulfill a long-lost dream of performing. After her parents dissuaded her from going to a performing arts high school, Adler got a job, married and had three sons. Now, her job is the group. She handles the marketing and publicity and when the kids are doing homework, she practices head spins and comes up with new moves for their routines. She is also the group’s music editor. Estep, a recent grandmother, danced in her younger years and still takes ballet to stay in shape. Lee, the youngest member, found Theobald after reading a New York Times article. When she was 39, Theobald approached her after class and asked how old she was. Already depressed at the prospect of turning 40, she reluctantly told him she was 39. “Come back to me in a year,” he told her. Realizing he was considering her as a member of MNDH, she went from dreading 40 to looking forward to it.
In the 11 years the group has been around, it has evolved from a posse of eager moms to a dance crew that regularly appears on national television: MNDH has performed on Good Morning America, won the short-lived game show Hole in the Wall and even auditioned for America’s Best Dance Crew. They also went to Hip Hop International—an annual hip-hop competition with crews from 35 different countries—in Las Vegas this year. “We’re going global,” Lee says with a giggle.
The women clearly have a strong bond, as they nudge and laugh with each other the entire time. “This gives them a part of themselves that they lose after becoming a mother,” Theobald says thoughtfully. “Mothers give so much to their children that they lose their identity.” However, MNDH embraces their motherhood and doesn’t try to hide it.
“We know we’re middle-aged women,” Estep says. “We don’t pretend to be young.”
This is why, although they have mastered many break dancing moves, Theobald makes sure they don’t overdo it and hurt themselves. The women wear kneepads and Adler wants to do a commercial for Tylenol and ThermaCare, “since those are the two things that make it possible for Momz-N-Da-Hood to continue.”
At rehearsal, everyone, including Theobald, has on a MNDH T-shirt or a bag with the group’s name on it. “Let’s walk through it once,” Theobald yells out. The music begins with a kid yelling “Ma! Ma!” over and over until Adler slides out and goes “WHAT?” The women then go full-throttle through their routine, busting moves some 20-year-olds wouldn’t be able to pull off. Once it’s over, Theobald exclaims, “We were supposed to walk through it.”
Alder breaks into a huge smile and turns to him. “We don’t walk, we run.”
To see a video of Momz-N-Da-Hood in action, go to www.longislandpress.com.