- March 25, 2015
It was a flash from the past that would turn into a career change for dancer-turned-custodian Kris Powell.
While working at Brentwood Elementary three years ago, Powell, 25, ran into Principal John Weida, who was his assistant principal when Powell was a student at Booker Middle School. Weida remembered how good of a dancer Powell was, and he was surprised to see he didn’t make a career out of it.
“He said, ‘What are you doing here? I’m going to get you a job,’” says Powell.
For three years, Powell has been teaching dance classes at Brentwood Elementary as the first physical education hip-hop dance instructor for Sarasota County Schools. He teaches kindergarten through fifth grade, as well as students in Exceptional Student Educational programs.
Powell, a choreographer and dancer, encourages the students in his hip-hop dance classes to be open to the music.
Powell has made his dancing and teaching career something of a freestyle as well. A native of Sarasota, Powell began taking ballet classes in the third grade and picked up hip-hop when he was 18. He graduated from Booker High School’s dance program before attending college at the New World School of the Arts in Downtown Miami.
After some financial trouble during his junior year at college, he was unable to finish his degree. He began working and earned some appearances in music videos, but ultimately, he decided to move back to his hometown and began working for Sarasota County Schools Facilities Department.
At the end of an hour-long dance class, he lets his students perform the choreography they learned and anything else they want to add to the end. Each student has a moment to shine in a Soul Train-style lineup, in which they take turns freestyling and cheering on their classmates.
“I love it,” he says. “The biggest challenge is to keep the kids inspired to dance. Hip-hop is unlike most styles. For me, it’s really important for them to understand that the music inspires the dance.”
Jamie Davis owns Soul Studios dance school on Bahia Vista. When she heard about Powell from a parent of one of her students, who attends Brentwood Elementary School, she offered him a job.
“For me, it was his genuine energy,” she says. “What he brought to the table was so much more than hip-hop dance; it was artistry, and it also included technique.”
Powell now teaches seven hip-hop classes at Soul Studios. Having loved dance throughout childhood, Powell recognized the lack of boys attending dance classes. Through Soul Studios, Powell and Davis came up with the idea to start an all-boys dance class, called B.O.S.S., or Boys of Soul Studios. He hopes the class will help boys appreciate dance at a young age and learn what it really means to be a male dancer.
“They’re at that age where boys are going to act a certain way around girls,” says Powell. “This creates an environment where they’re comfortable. It’s all about confidence when they freestyle and do their own thing.”
Entering its second season, the class has grown so much that Davis had to rearrange the dance class schedules to accommodate B.O.S.S., which she says now includes 20 students.
Although Powell originally sought a career as a dancer, he says he’s found teaching to be just as rewarding.
“We’ve been learning a lot from each other,” he says. “I’m really starting to find myself as a teacher.”
Watch the B.O.S.S. hip-hop class freestyle here.