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.

The Fly guys didn't have time to warm up, but they didn't need it. They're always on.

Even when they're only dancing for the mirrors at The Duplex, the boys ricochet off the walls like bouncing rubber balls and crack each other up with cheesy, come-hither stage faces. "They throw away more movement than I ever thought of in my entire life," says Kathy.

When they're not dancing, they huddle like some kind of MTV boy band, snapping their fingers and harmonizing with their boy-band-brethren Az Yet's remakes of Chicago classics like "Hard to Say I'm Sorry."

"After all that we've been through (snap) / I will make it up to you (snap, snap) / I promise you..." Watch out, teenyboppers: The Fly guys are out to steal your heart.

When they're not dancing or singing, they're eating. It turns out that the food in the fridge is the only thing Kathy's husband, Mike, needed to worry about. But Kathy doesn't mind: "I don't think they get enough to eat at home."

Mike still gives the guys a hard time, but these days it's often about less controversial subjects, like the proper line for pants. Modeling, to the boys' hysterical delight, his slim-fit jeans with the waistband that actually hits him at the waist, Mike commands, "None of that baggy crap that y'all wear. Tight and skinny."

These are good times for Fly. Kathy has gone "from wanting it my way to doing it our way." She's consulting the guys and giving choreographic credit to both herself and Fly. Mario, Ragland, Chris, Toby and John know and accept what's expected of them. And the whole gang's looking back at accomplishment and forward to opportunity. They've performed at every major modern dance venue in town; they've got their own evening-length concert coming up in June; they've performed all over Europe; and well-respected choreographers from Yakov Sharir to Doug Elkins want to set pieces on them. Hip-hop roots aside, Fly has taken the modern dance scene by storm. Next they'll work on a long, seamless touring production like Stomp or Tap Dogs. And, of course, Fly will need a New York agent.

But first there's the matter of when they'll rehearse next week. Ragland is, as usual, reluctant to commit. Kathy's temper flares, and she asks him to step outside the door to discuss the issue. Waiting inside, we hear the muffled sounds of an argument -- not between an artistic director and a dancer, but between a teen and a parent.

Kathy: "Saturday is our designated time... I deserve some consideration!"
Ragland: "That's not the point!"
Kathy: "You're not listening!"
Ragland: "Everything in my life doesn't happen ahead of time!"

Ragland and Toby arrived early to their out-of-Kathy's-earshot interview at the Daiquiri Factory. But sipping his bright red, frozen Cardiac Arrest, Ragland apologizes for wasting my time. It seems he has nothing to say -- he's no longer a part of Fly.

The drama started at rehearsal earlier that evening when Kathy and the boys were trying to rework an old piece. Ragland thought they might as well just come up with an entirely new number, which seems innocent enough, maybe even a little ambitious. But you can guess that the suggestion probably came with a little attitude, a tinge of defiance. Then he pushed her: "If there's a big problem, why don't you fire me?" Kathy is not a woman to be dared. She took Ragland up on his offer.

With that off his chest, Ragland's got plenty to say, and Fly's PR party line has flown out the window: You know, he never liked dancing to classical music. In fact, he'd like to do some of his own choreography once in a while. And he wants more variety in the venues Fly plays; he worries that the modern dance community doesn't think they're up to par because they don't do plies.

And while we're on the subject, he's offended by Kathy's stories about how the boys are hard to work with and how she saved them from the street. Ragland went to private school, he points out: "I'm not dancing because I've got nothing else to do." Toby chimes in about the black-guy-with-a-beeper stereotype that shows up in many of Kathy's interviews: "She's got a cellular phone, what's that?"

Toby is here with his own Cardiac Arrest as a sign of somewhat ambivalent solidarity. He's going to stick with Fly, but only if Kathy "starts listening to us" and stops "trying to seem like she's the mom or something."

Ragland, on the other hand, claims to be happily fired. "I need a break from everything," he says. "I need to focus on myself... my music." He runs his hand over his half-shaved, half-ponytailed head and contemplates going to barber school. He could cut hair for the whole hip-hop community.

But he doesn't seem to be convincing himself. Ragland has peppered his entire rant with reminders that Kathy has done a lot for him and his friends and that Fly has a shot at really making it.

"It's just like any other relationship," says Kathy, by way of explaining the firing. "We had a knock-down-drag-out." Then they had another knock-down-drag-out and an un-firing. And Ragland was back.

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