Nicki Minaj's "I Get Crazy" blares in the studio as the dancers watch themselves in the mirrors. One will stomp and dip his head, and the others will mimic. They pause to tell each other what they think they should do, each demonstrating specific moves.
"We're all choreographers," Kelvin Fabian, one of the members of Rhode Island's DraZtik dance crew, said. "It's not just one person. That's what's unique about us."
The crew uses the studio at the High Steppin' Dance Academy — located on the second floor of a commercial Johnston, R.I. property — as its workshop space.
Typically, they meet two or three times a week to practice and choreograph their own dance routines.
But there was nothing typical about the weeks leading up to DraZtik's audition for a spot on MTV's "America's Best Dance Crew," when they met to practice daily. Their performance on the show — where they competed against other teams from the East Coast — was a remarkable feat despite their elimination at the regional level.
Not that success was a surprise for the team. DraZtik will celebrate their one-year anniversary in March, but they are all veteran dancers — some members have been dancing since childhood. They bring to the table many different dance styles — raw hip hop, pop flair — which they creatively combine, "with a swish of DraZtik attitude to top it all off," member Marvin Horsley said.
They have competed in contests as a team and performed a Michael Jackson tribute dance last year at a Dominican heritage festival in Rhode Island, dedicating the performance to a cancer-stricken boy.
When the opportunity presented itself, they knew they needed to make "America's Best Dance Crew" their next goal.
"I knew we could do it because we have people who are dedicated and into the dream," member Genesis Camacho said.
They wanted to test themselves, but they also felt compelled to put Rhode Island on the map. Street dancing is popular in the state, member Christine Torres said, "but the scene is so small."
The seven-person crew auditioned in Boston on Dec. 11. Normally, the dance team has eight members, but because "America's Best Dance Crew" limits the squads to seven, member Sheila Henriquez stayed behind. The two days of auditions exhausted the crew, they said. On the first day, they presented their own dance mix to the judges. The second day consisted of a challenge in which the crew had to formulate a routine incorporating a random prop — in DraZtik's case, two ladders.
It was an intense two days, but they are two days the crew remembers fondly.
"It was all worth it," Fabian said. "Obviously it was worth it because we made it."
DraZtik made it through the audition stage and onto the show in Los Angeles, where they competed in the East Coast regionals. They performed the dance routine from their audition with a remastered mix, with adjustments based on the audition judges' critiques.
Then, finding themselves among the bottom three teams in the regional, DraZtik was forced to enter the battle rounds. In that part of the competition, they needed to make up three different routines for the three different rounds, though they would only end up performing one of the dances. Horsley called the dance they performed an aggressive, "in your face" piece.
Not that DraZtik's performance attitude reflected their relationships with other dance crews behind the scenes. DraZtik and the other teams fed off of each other's energy, because of both the competition and the camaraderie that developed among the squads.
DraZtik members said Legendary Seven, a squad from Boston and the other team eliminated from the East Coast regionals, was constantly making them laugh. The two squads still keep in touch.
There was enough time between their elimination and the show's airing on Feb. 4 for DraZtik to fly back to Rhode Island and watch the episode with their friends, family and fans — including Henriquez, who said she was extremely proud of her teammates.
"I cried the night before, I cried the nights of and after," she said, adding she only wished she could have joined them in Los Angeles. Her teammates assure her she was with them in spirit.
DraZtik's members said they wish they could snap their fingers and be back in Los Angeles, competing for the top prize. But they refuse to be disappointed. They have upcoming performances at local universities and high schools, including Bryant University and Classical High School. They have bonded with other dance teams and kept in touch with them. They have gained several new Facebook friends, both on their own profiles and the team's page. They have met the "good people" of MTV, taught their skills to other dancers at the Academy, and experienced "the realization that people support us," Horsley said.
And they have vowed to return. DraZtik will audition again when season six rolls around, they said. They want to continue dancing and think they have something unique to offer in terms of personality and style. They want to improve and do better next year, with the goal of winning it all. For this — and because they love what they do — DraZtik continues to put their name out there.
"Everyday you dance, you grow," Horsley said. "Period."
The members of DraZtik are Genesis Camacho, Gabby Cruz, Kelvin Fabian, Sheila Henriquez, Marvin Horsley, Josh Perez, Jared Rivers and Christine Torres.