Rhese Thomas exudes the kind of natural and infectious optimism that makes it impossible not to feel a little better in having spoken with him. Thomas never comes across as anything but sincere, and he honestly wants to spread that love and positivity through his dance. A member of the Bhangaz dance crew, Thomas and company have made dance in all its myriad forms the guiding force in their life.

It started off simple enough. Thomas and longtime friend Lamar Young would freestyle in bars and clubs when they went out, which over time developed into a routine. Thomas admits, “We kind of just stuck with it. We became a family and became a crew. We performed at a school, and we gave the kids a chance to come out and Cameron (Coy) was one of them.”

The Bhangaz are all about inclusion. The quartet found their fourth in kindred spirit Shy Davis. Practice makes perfect. The Southern Indiana based crew have regular performances and rehearse at Spirit Explosion in Georgetown, Ind., or they meet at the Riverfront Amphitheater in New Albany.

It’s no hyperbole to say that dancing is their life. Of the four, three have day jobs. According to Thomas that’s just the periphery. Dancing, learning about dancing, and bringing it to the community is the big picture, and they are all focused on the big picture.

“Figure out how to make money or practicing. Planning our next trip or our next event. From there we come with what we want to do. Last month we hosted a dancer’s day out. We invited pretty much all the dancer’s in Louisville and had a big battle and hung out,” says Thomas of their dedication to their craft adding that dancing is, “like our freedom. It’s to relieve our stress. It’s like a brotherhood when we start dancing.”

A Brotherhood Based on Dance
Each member of the crew brings their own strength to the feel, an element that they work off of to build the greater whole. Thomas says, “I played sports. I looked up to my brother and he got into dance, he took it seriously. Shy is a gymnast. Cam has always been dancing. He was a dubstep dancer. We are all self-taught, unless you want to count Youtube as a lesson. We pretty much train Monday through Thursday. We pretty much dance every day.”

He adds, “When you’re with a crew you’ve got different personalities. Even if you are all being goofy at the same time. Like when we get a crowd going, there are so many people with different personalities, that one of our personalities will catch a crowd. If I’m doing something funny and goofy that brings it to a positive, then everyone in the crew feeds off that. If I do it by myself, it’s hard to maintain the balance of keeping everyone energetic and positive and so forth.”

That air of humility and the subtle hint that anyone can do it is what makes Thomas and the rest of the Bhangaz so compelling. Whether performing at The Flea Off Market, or a bar or a bar mitzvah, they want you to believe in yourself and to spread that joy.

“For our live shows, when we’re out doing street shows, we really have to grasp the attention of anyone that’s close,” says Thomas. “We try to reach out to people surrounding us, because everyone wants to see something different and cool. Anything that can capture a person’s eye. When we’re doing live shows, we pretty much want to catch their attention. You get four different types of dancing. We just keep people entertained pretty much. There are people that walk away from our shows, but most likely they always come back.”

Taking Their Act on the Road
Their hard work and determination paid off last year when members of the Bhangaz auditioned for the FOX competition dance show, So You Think You Can Dance. Of the four, Young alone went ahead in the competition. Thomas offered only support and encouragement to his friend, humbly admitting that his own test was well-received, but in an already crowded field.

“It was a great experience for all of us,” says Thomas. “We got there late. Lamar did breakin’ and there weren’t a lot of break dancers in his category. When he was in Vegas, he broke one of the bones in his wrist. Cam was too young to get on the show. They gave him a ticket to his next round, but told him to come back when he’s 18.”

He continues, “My experience was great. I met a lot of people and they were upset that I didn’t go as far as everyone else did. It’s hard to get on. I really didn’t do anything heroic. They told me I was good. I don’t really audition for anything, I just dance. It was a good learning experience for me.”

It wasn’t their only experience either. The Bhangaz crew just returned from the Hip-Hop International, an international hip hop dance competition held in Las Vegas.

Thomas explains, “The whole week we just danced, watching competitions. We met a lot of old school people while we were out there, and we learned some new foundations for what we do. We met some people from out of the country, and we applied what they do to what we do too.”

Anyone Can Dance
It’s that ability to find gold in their experience that drives their work. Thomas believes, “What we do, we have self-motivation, as far as motivation on our own. If you don’t fail enough times don’t do it. If it’s something we can’t do outside, we won’t do it outside. When we’re outside it’s about building that confidence and determination. When we’re in a gym we can try something a bit more dangerous, because it’s safe.”

And they think you can dance, too. For the Bhangaz it’s about breaking down inhibitions and letting joy in, which feels so natural hearing Thomas describe it.

“We reach out to people that want to dance,” he says. “We think that dancing is one of the most positive fulfilling things you can have in your life. For us it’s an escape. Dancing is just an all-around bringing-us-together type thing. There are a number of people in town that dance that we’ve met up with. We meet up with them, and they’ll be twenty out there dancing. We don’t encourage people to be shy or cocky. Nobody should feel they’re better. We hold some battles that brings the community together. Even if you don’t win your battle, we still let people know they’re good. We have people that are like 40 years old to kids that are like five.”

Syd is a freelance writer and musician. He co-runs the Louisville Music and Culture blog Never Nervous, and has contributed to The LEO Weekly, Louisville Magazine, The Courier Journal, WFPL, and the Voice Tribune. You can follow Syd on twitter @ttaurisb and find samples of his work at sydbishop.com.


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