Hip-hop dancer Charles Parks, who toured the world as a back-up dancer with Madonna, is now teaching street dancing at Red Deer’s Pound It studio.
Although Parks was most recently residing in Los Angeles and Arizona, the Chicago native admitted he’s no stranger to the kind of cold he’s now experiencing in Red Deer.
In fact, Parks said he first met Pound It studio owner Rico Martinez at a dance competition in Calgary some years ago. The two then renewed their friendship at a competition in New York City.
When Martinez invited Parks to come teach at his studio, the 35-year-old professional dancer saw it as a two-fold opportunity. Parks admitted he wants to help Martinez restart his dance business now that most pandemic restrictions have been lifted.
But he also wants to get his name out in Alberta so Parks can continue building up his own Creation global dance crew. So far, it has about 86 members, from Israel to Montreal, but none in this province.
The crew members are mentored under various leaders and given various dance opportunities that crop up — from commercials to half-time shows, to dance battles and concerts, said Parks. “I’m super excited to expand to Alberta…”
Martinez is similarly thrilled to have a high-caliber instructor as King Charles (as Parks is known in dance circles) join his operation.
The pandemic was hard on Pound It, which like other fitness-related businesses was seriously impacted by COVID-19 restrictions. Martinez said his 170-student roster is now down to about 100 students.
“But we’re going to build that back up again,” said Parks, showing the confidence and determination that have taken him far in the street dance world.
Parks started his career track in his native Chicago. As the son and grandson of professional musicians, Parks said he was expected to follow on the same career track. But early on, he realized “my body is my instrument” as he grooved to tunes by Michael Jackson, MC Hammer and In Sync.
His mother first noticed his talent when he was about six years old and already showing her dance moves that she used to win a local competition. Although self-taught, Parks said he’s had a lot of mentors helping him along the way.
His first break as a professional dancer came when he was hired by American cable channel VH1 to perform at a tribute to rapper Missy Elliott.
Parks next took a giant step into the dance stratosphere when he was hired to be one of 16 backup dancers for Madonna’s 2007-2009 Sticky and Sweet world tour. Parks said he also became a choreographer on the tour that crossed North and South America and Europe.
While Madonna was an exacting boss — “She knows what she wants and you’d better give it to her,” said Parks — she also became a mother hen to the dancers. “Madonna started out as a dancer so she’s very encouraging to young people…
“We became like a family because Madonna doesn’t go anywhere without her dancers,” recalled Parks.
He was taken to a party at Elton John’s house and crossed path with many celebrities, including Lenny Kravitz, Justin Timberlake, Pharrell Williams and Will I. Am.
Several years after the Sticky and Sweet tour ended, Parks was brought in to teach Madonna’s kids hip-hop dancing.
“I never had a passport before I was hired for Madonna’s tour. What Madonna did for me is she expanded my world,” said Parks, who’s since picked up some Japanese language, as well as French and Spanish.
As a teacher, he hopes to help young dancers “find the spark they don’t know they have so they can become the next big artist.”
Martinez learned hip-hop dancing in his native Mexico. He excelled at winning street dance battles before marrying an Albertan and starting Pound It a decade ago. He recalled his first studio started with six kids in Eckville and “blew up” when word got out about the unique program.
Martinez is intent on building up his school now that it’s re-opened. He’s planning to bring in another seasoned hip-hop dance instructor, Sho-Tyme, next month. The Queens, N.Y. native has choreographed for Jay Z, Gwen Stefani, P Diddy, Shakira, Katy Perry, and many other artists.