B-boys to Men

Kathy Wood choreographs her troupe's dances. Books their gigs in Europe. And makes them turn off their beepers during rehearsal.

Fly was trying to get discovered in the City of Angels. They plastered street corners with flyers and "represented" as best they could at the Summit. But L.A.'s agents weren't awaiting their arrival with open arms, so now they're back at the Unitarian Church doing a free show -- most of them, anyway. Kathy says the experience did put them back in the hip-hop state of mind: "I hate to give them any time off 'cause it's such a monumental task to get them back in gear."

Kathy doesn't like to have to nag them all the time, but she thinks deep down they enjoy it a little. "I think they get a sense of attention out of it," she says. "I think they want somebody to set those boundaries."

She once set the boundaries for a dancer planning to quit school by taking him into her own home. "His parents obviously didn't care," she says, "or weren't able to." At least not as much as Kathy cared. She got him out of his "environment," made sure he got to class and helped him with his homework. He became the first in his family to graduate from high school.

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Kathy remembers this story as she's dropping the youngest member of Fly, John, off at his friend's house in a rough part of the Second Ward. John jokes about the gang activity in his neighborhood as he hops out of the van, saying, "You don't want to be wearing a lot of red over here." He's wearing red parachute pants from the show. John doesn't live at home either. Not far away from the friend's place where he's staying is the tiny duplex housing eight members of his extended family. But that's where his uncle used to beat him up.

John is Kathy's latest cause within the company. The high school senior is sweet, shy, obedient and the best head-spinner of the bunch. He's got a tough past and a future that Kathy thinks she can influence. "John hasn't given a thought to college, but I'm going to find some money somewhere," she pledges. "He's gonna need to go to school. Otherwise he's not going to make it out of that area over there."

As we leave "that area" Kathy notices a lot that used to have a building on it. "Oh, they tore something down," she sighs. "I hate it when they tear something down.... I just hate to see a waste."

Like most moms, Kathy spends a lot of time in her minivan, shuttling the Fly guys to and from work, school, home, rehearsal and performances. The kids sit in the back, of course, and Kathy keeps an eye on them in the rear-view mirror. She smiles when they fall sweetly asleep; she chides them, "Those who party must pay," when they're hungover; she educates them when she hears a cell phone beeping Beethoven; she beams when they tell stories about Paris, Helsinki, Estonia or any other foreign destination where she has managed to book them; she blushes a little when they compliment her new haircut ("Got the layers working. Right on, Kathy Wood."); and she drives like a bat out of hell when they're late, which is often.

It can take more than an hour just to get Fly to a local elementary school for one of its bread-and-butter Young Audiences of Houston edutainment shows. On a typical trip, Kathy loaded Fly's considerable costumes and props into the back of the van and then waited -- and waited -- on Mario to show up at the studio. He was on hip-hop time. At Toby's house, Kathy honked and fretted for nearly ten minutes before the dancer's face appeared at the window of the front door. She immediately adjusted her future pickup strategy: "Next time I'm going to tell him to be standing on the curb waiting." Kathy rolled down her window to tell Toby to hurry as he ambled out of the house. His relaxed gangsta gait never changed rhythm.

The adventure grew even more absurd at Ragland's house. Mario and Toby didn't seem to understand Kathy's anxiety about Ragland's failure to respond to the minivan's horn -- even after she told them they were pressed for time. Mario strolled up to the door and gave the bell an easy push. No answer. Kathy took matters into her own hands: She rang the doorbell, she banged on the door, she knocked on the windows, she called out Ragland's name, then she went around to the back of the house and repeated the summoning process. Meanwhile, Mario and Toby argued over whether Toby would cut Mario's hair later. Toby's sly excuse: "I'm gonna be pressed for time -- just like Kathy is." They've obviously learned more than modern dance from her.

Finally, Kathy called the house on Toby's cell phone. A very confused Ragland stuck his head outside -- phone still attached. He had fallen asleep.

Thankfully, only these three performers were needed for this particular Young Audiences show. "I'd be gray-haired if I had to round up five of them all the time," she says, without much relief in her voice.

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