You’ve seen ESSENCE Festival performer Ledisi recently, right? In case you haven’t, she’s lost four dress sizes, and she looks amazing. Ledisi credits her transformation to a new outlook on life, as well as to a commitment to stay active. And with the help of veteran choreographer Brandee Evans, she’s found an innovative way to do just that.
Evans, the former assistant director to the NBA’s Memphis Grizzlies dance team, founded Hip-Hop in Heels in 2010, “a series of dance classes for women focusing on improving confidence, building strength, finding ‘sexy,’ and having fun,” according to the web site. Sounds fun, doesn’t it?
Evans, who is currently on tour with Ledisi (catch her in the video for Ledisi’s single “I Blame You”), spoke with us about dancing in heels, confidence, and where she hopes Hip-Hop in Heels will go from here.
ESSENCE: What was the motivation for Hip-Hop in Heels?
Brandee Evans: I danced for the Memphis Grizzlies for three seasons, and then became the entertainment coordinator. When doing that kind of dance, you are never wearing heels. So when I got to Los Angeles and started working with music artists, it was a big shocker. It’s completely different from a dance team in which you have on jazz shoes. I was like “Oh my gosh, I have to turn and dance in these high heels!” I was very used to putting on my boots or sneakers.
So, I thought I should do something fun for my ladies in Memphis so I can show them what I have been up to in L.A. For the first two years, starting in 2010, I ran Hip-Hop in Heels as a scholarship program. I gave all the profits to a studio named Dance House and paid tuition for little girls who showed a lot of promise in dance.
Then I decided to rent space to start teaching women how to dance to hip-hop in heels. Now, I teach it all over the world. I’ve taught my course in the UK, Japan, Atlanta, LA and Memphis.
ESSENCE: What are the physical benefits of dancing in heels as opposed to sneakers?
Brandee Evans: It’s basically doing squats in heels! And it’s harder because with the extra height on your shoe, you have to go further down to get in the full squat position.
Also, it allows you to work on your balance, your core, your posture and your legs. Whenever anyone hears heels, they’re like “Oh no, I can’t do that. I have bad knees.” I have bad knees, too, so I teach the ladies how to do it properly to avoid injury.
ESSENCE: Dancing in heels is a very sexy thing to do. Was that part of the motivation to start this program?
Brandee Evans: Yes. This is all about confidence. For me– no shade to my small sisters or to my professional dancers — but I’m not there for them. I’m there for the women who want to drop a few pounds and for those that want feel comfortable in their own skin. There are women who are 200 plus pounds who are able to keep up with me. It’s for every woman and every size.
I want women in my classes to learn how to confront their insecurities. I force them to wear things that makes them look at themselves. For example, I’m knock kneed and I hate my legs, so I wear shorts because I can’t change my knees. As women, we all have insecurities, and we should embrace them.
ESSENCE: You helped Ledisi drop four dress sizes. What other artists have you worked with?
Brandee Evans: I’m Lauri Ann Gibson’s assistant choreographer and am currently working with a new artist named Ivy. I’ve also worked with actress Keesha Sharp, and Mary Mary’s sister, Goo Goo, has also been to my classes.
ESSENCE: What is your dream for Hip-Hop in Heels? Where do you want it to go?
My dream for this program is for it to be gyms everywhere. I want to be able to certify teachers to teach my course. But I want to make sure my vision is being properly executed. I want Hip-Hop in Heels to be a welcome space for women who are not dancers to come to class, feeling comfortable and unintimidated!