St. Petersburg Kali Kali dance team to compete live in New York City
By: Jennifer Garcia
Neighborhood News Bureau
After a nation-wide audition, Black Entertainment Television (BET) chose the St. Petersburg Kali Kali dance team to compete live in New York City on the BET stage for “Wild Out Wednesday at 106th and Park” on Wednesday, June 22, at 6 p.m.
Kali Kali will compete against a dance group from Texas and a dance group from New York. The winner of the competition will be named best hip-hop team around.
For Kali Kali, the climb to participate at this level didn’t come easy.
“Myself was actually on BET in October, October 20,” Gwenetta Martin said. Martin, also known as “Miss Netta,” is the dance choreographer for the Midtown group.
“One of my girls actually sent in a taping of our dance team because some of my girls that actually background dance for me they’re also part of our dance team as well,” Martin said. “They actually responded back quicker; faster than what I thought, so that was good.”
At this career highpoint, finances for the group were in a slump. How to pay for the BET trip was troubling.
“Unfortunately they don’t pay for anything so you have to get your own expenses for everything,” Martin said. “The team collected donations from parents, family, friends, and even from the Rays baseball team.”
Kali Kali regularly uses the James B. Sanderlin Center for rehearsals and fundraising.
“We are trying our best to get there the best way we can; praying for the best,” Martin said.
Martin said her proudest moments of the team are getting to this level of competition and starting out as an all-girl dance group.
“It did come to a point where you know myself and some of my other girls who were still, you know, hanging on with the dance group we were like you know ‘where do we go now?’” Martin said. “I’m more so proud of them just staying focused and staying dedicated to Kali Kali and what we are about and who we are.
“Regardless of what people may say … we’re not this and we’re not that and no one doesn’t dance anymore, well look at us now ‘cause we going on BET.”
Locally, Kali Kali competed in numerous talent competitions with University of South Florida St. Petersburg, the Boys and Girls Club in Tampa, and performing for an audience in Fort Pierce, Fla.
The group also entertains at community events, birthday parties, fundraisers, Black History Month events at Sweetbay and the Sanderlin Center. BET’s “Wild out Wednesday” will be Kali Kali’s first national competition.
According to Martin, the name Kali Kali for the group has an interesting spin.
“We were actually sitting around in rehearsal and one of my dancers, her little sister was actually there and we were trying to figure out what are we going to name our dance team and she say ‘I think you guys should call it Kali Kali,’ Martin said.
“So we kept Kali Kali and what we actually did was we came up with a meaning for Kali Kali which means keeping the audience live and inspired. So we actually liked it and we ran with it.”
Martin’s added another layer to the group by making it co-ed in January. The new mixture added more variety to the groups dancing style.
“I always had maybe dedicated four out like 15 girls that I had because a lot of them either went to college or a lot of them got jobs and didn’t really have too much time for it anymore,” Martin said.
The Kali Kali dance team includes teenagers in all levels of middle school but mostly eighth-graders who are entering high school. Members also include high school students and a few college students.
Martin formed a younger girls group in May 2010 called Mini Kali Group or (MKG). MKG is mostly comprised of students in first or second grade, but is also open to middle school girls.
Eight of the 15 performers from the Kali Kali group were selected to compete at BET studios in New York.
“We would have loved to bring the whole team,” Martin said.
“But I decided to give some of the veteran dancers who were with me from day one a chance to compete.”
Martin said the others dancers along for the BET competition were selected on their abilities to perform at the required level and learn the dance moves in a few short months.
One of those lucky students, a male dancer who has been with the group since it became co-ed, Tai White, 25, said the team was prepared to perform on stage and on national television.
“Oh yeah, we’re nationally ready!” White said. “This is going to be really interesting.”
Each team will have to compose a one minute, 15 seconds routine to perform in front of a live BET audience. The two winners of the first round will move on and perform two 15 seconds battle routines. At the end, the audience and viewers will text or type their vote online to select a winner for BET’s “Wild out Wednesday” competition.
According to White, one of the other teams competing against Kali Kali at the BET event has auditioned in television programs such as So You think You Can Dance. White said going up against a team with experience makes the competition more important for Kali Kali.
Jah’tia Haynes, 18, and veteran dancer with Kali Kali since the beginning in 2009, was thrilled about the BET competition.
“I’m really excited! I’m ready for the world to see what St. Pete has to offer,” Haynes said. “It’s a very small town and it’s not known really, and we have a lot of talent here. So I think BET is a perfect opportunity to showcase what we have.”