BlackOut was formed in 2007 by the directors of the X-treme Dance Academy Candice Wallace and Hamid Abdul Rahman. All of the members of BlackOut range in age from 15 to18 years old. Kelsey Des Vignes (captain), Shawna Mitchell (vice-captain), Shanika Fernandez, Shandelle Loregnard, Charissa Harris, Katherine Benjamin, Thais Serrette, Jardena Harding and Maya Cozier were selected to form the elite dance group that would use cutting edge dance to promote hip hop dance as a positive option for at-risk-youth against some of the destructive influences plaguing them.
The teenaged girls, who were already students at the X-treme Dance Academy, were chosen after auditions at the studio to form a group that could compete at the varsity level of national and international dance competitions.
Wallace is a director of the X-treme Dance Academy as well as a dance instructor. She had been dancing hip hop and dancehall for ten years before she decided to teach dance. “We decided that we wanted to train a varsity team and that’s how we formed BlackOut. By looking at the students in the dance school, we saw the potential. So we held auditions and once we chose the girls it was time to train them. We hired gymnasts to teach them how to flip and roll.”
She said that the girls who exhibited remarkable talent from the start have really developed their star quality over the years. “I have really seen them grow. Especially in terms of their expression. Some of the girls came from different dance schools. Some of them had advanced training in tap, ballet and modern. So, not all of them had hip hop skills. Their skills level has increased tremendously in the different genres of dance. We have very versatile dancers.”
In 2008, BlackOut represented Trinidad and Tobago at the World Hip Hop Dance Championships held annually in Las Vegas. BlackOut placed 14th out of the 28 countries that participated in the competition. They competed again at the World Hip Hop Dance Championships in 2009 and placed 28th out of 40 countries. BlackOut also won the National Hip Hop Dance Championships.
According to Wallace, BlackOut aims to empower girls: “We wanted to encourage young girls to dance. By looking at them, they could get interested in dancing. The all-girl dance group sends a strong message because you rarely find girls dancing as hard as boys. Usually girl dancers show a lot of skin or perform mostly sexy moves. We wanted to show that our girls can dance with power on stage, do the same stunts they do and gain the same amount of respect. I really wanted BlackOut to show that girls could dance without selling themselves or lowering their self respect. We had good clean routines.”
To prepare for the competition, the girls maintained a rigid schedule that included school, lessons and rigorous dance rehearsals every day until 10 pm. Wallace said: “I think they got used to the intensive training when we prepared for the international competitions. They are very disciplined and their parents are very supportive.”
Des Vignes,16, said that it was very difficult at times to balance all of their obligations: “It was very, very hard. It was like school to lessons to dance and then go home and do homework. So it was stressful. Amazingly we pulled it off.”
Synergy’s No 1 Dance Crew competition really challenged their creativity and technique. Not only did the girls have to learn other types of dance like East Indian and folk dancing, they also had to excite the crowd by giving them something they did not expect.
BlackOut dancer Serrette,15, said that the Synergy’s No 1 Dance Crew competition selected dancers from different types of dance and put them on one stage to compete against each other. “It was a bit awkward because our style was different from the other groups. Like many of the dance groups had experience in dancehall and we were a hip hop group. So we would look at them like, we can’t do that.”
Des Vignes said that the competition was a good experience and forced them to branch out into other styles. They were able to draw creativity from each of the girl’s strengths and each girls personality, so they could evolve. “Each week, we would think our routine is good, but the other groups might come with something crazy and outshine us. So we also learned a lot by watching the other participants too. So we just tried to find new ways to top them.”
The groups that moved forward to the next round of competition were chosen based on judges points and public votes. Serrette stated: “The voting was really hard because we had to depend on people we did not know. We depended on those supporters. So that was nerve wrecking. We did not think we had so much support. There were other groups that had people screaming in the audience, so we thought they would have the advantage.”