ST. PETERSBURG — Professional choreographer Gwenetta Martin is giving young people of all different backgrounds the chance to shine in the spotlight with her dance company Kali Kali.
The company’s name stands for Keeping the Audience Live and Inspired, and the troupe features dancers of all ages, running the gamut from elementary school kids to college students.
“I have kids who attend Gibbs High School in the arts program and John Hopkins Middle, even kids who graduated that come back to perform with the company. There’s one from University of Tampa and one attends the University of Florida who still comes back to dance,” Martin said.
There are about 30 dancers in the troupe, and though it is all one company, Martin explained, there are three separate groups divided by age.
“It started off in 2009 as an all-girl dance company,” she said. “Eventually I had an audition and it became co-ed.”
The company has competed locally, winning several awards at dance competitions. But its crowning moment came when it competed nationally on BET’s “106 and Park” on the Wild-Out Wednesday competition, where it won over $5,000 on two appearances. Not only did Kali Kali go home with top honors, but the company set a prestigious mark.
“We came back again and competed for the all-star week and won again,” Martin said proudly. “We broke the record for the number of votes received.”
This year’s recent “Dancing in Versatility” was the third annual dance production put on by the dancers of Kali Kali, following “Dance Kraze” and “Dance Reloaded” from previous years. The shows are marked by various imaginative costumes such as colorful salsa outfits, African inspired garb or even reggae-influenced dress, depending on the dance pieces.
Martin handles most of the choreography herself; though she has brought in guest choreographers and even had one of her dancers choreograph a piece for her this year.
“A lot of times I want to see what my dancers can give their peers,” she said, explaining her motivation to let the dancers take charge of some pieces. Some productions have had as many as 35 dance numbers.
They practice several times a week at various locations around town, such as the James B. Sanderlin Studio and the Academy of Ballet Arts Center in St. Pete.
“We’re year round,” Martin said, “so we pretty much do stuff all the time!”
This includes local events, competitions and out of state performances, such as one coming up in October in Atlanta. Martin said it takes about a year to prepare for the one big production that the troupe puts on each year.
The experienced Martin has also been a part of the Dundu Dole Urban African Ballet Company for about eight years, danced in “The Chocolate Nutcracker” for five years and has put together other companies, such as Killit, a hip-hop dance group that she founded with Charles Smith, which gained considerable local acclaim.
“We would compete in dance showcases and we would win. Everybody wanted to be in our dance group because we were the bomb!” Martin exclaimed.
And it is a sense of professionalism that she tries to instill in her dancers, even insisting that all her students’ re-audition for every major performance.
“I make all of my dancers reaudition and go in like it is their first time doing it,” Martin stated firmly. “They have to know that dancers can be replaced, because the person right next to them can be just as good as them. So when they go into the real world and have to go through these different auditions, they’re used to it. With many pro dance companies you have to reaudition anyway.”
But the fruits of labor are rewarding for both teacher and students, as Martin loves to see her work shine through other performers, especially young people.
“The kids make me push harder and we push each other to get better at what we do,” she affirmed. “I don’t have to be onstage, I see them living through what I give them and I just love that!”
Martin’s gifts don’t end with her talent for choreography, as she is an accomplished rapper who performs under the name Miss Netta. With two albums out on the Stylish Entertainment label, her danceable songs include the popular “Boom I Got Your Boyfriend” along with the infectious “Mirror, Mirror.” Martin performs locally and has entertained audiences in cities such as Atlanta and even New York, where she competed as a rapper on 106 and Park, going on right before her dancers took the stage.
“I have to split my time up musically, rap artist and dance choreographer,” Martin said. “Either way I’m always doing something that I love!”
Martin would like to get support from the community and welcomes any sponsors who could help with necessary expenses, such as costumes and travel.
“I’m doing my best at trying to keep the youth involved and keep them off the street,” she said, “because Kali Kali is not solely based on dance. I make sure that they know about love and family and they keep their grades up because education comes first. We’re doing something positive in the community.”
To contact Genetta Martin, visit www.facebook.com/kalikali.coed, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 727-642-2925.
To reach Frank Drouzas, email email@example.com.