A Dance Teacher's Passion for Hip Hop and Her Winning Downtown Team

Caprice Abraham leads an after-school rehearsal with members of her Somethin' Else dance team. Photo: Carl Glassman/Tribeca Trib

Feb. 17, 2019

…and kick back, kick-back-kick hit! Boom boom whoo! 1,2, boom boom circle circle bring it on up, hit and hit and lean, and up and down and up and down…”

That’s Caprice Abraham, directing her winning dance team, Somethin’ Else. And something else they are at Lower Manhattan Community Middle School (LMC), where performances of their tight, high-energy hip hop routines are met with raucous cheers, earning them the glory usually enjoyed by star school athletes.

The team is part of the school’s after-school program run by Manhattan Youth. Abraham, 30, brought her talent as a hip hop choreographer and dancer to the school seven years ago when she started the team.

Then she ran with it.

A video montage from the Somthin' Else performance on Feb. 3 at the annual LMC Got Talent show, held at Jing Fong restaurant in Chinatown. Video by The Tribeca Trib

“It’s been incredible. We just had tryouts for the spring season and they had 40 kids try out for it,” said Principal Kelly McGuire. “That included a couple of kids whose parents called in sick for them that day, and they still showed up for the dance trials in after-school.”

This month, the team—currently mostly sixth and seventh graders—won first place in the Bingos All-Star Dance Showcase in the Bronx. Last year, in the city-wide Step It Up NYC competition of nearly 100 teams, the LMC dancers took second.

Hip hop has been Caprice Abraham’s passion since she was a small child, alone in her room, imitating hip hop dance videos. “I wanted to be in a video, I wanted to dance backup, I wanted to go on a tour. Those were my aspirations,” she said.

By middle school she was making up dance routines to perform with her friends in talent shows. In high school teachers put her in charge of the dance performances. Wanting Abraham to focus on academics, her mother wouldn’t let her to take dance classes outside of school or attend a performing arts school. “I wasn’t trained in anything. I just learned hip hop and stuck with it,” she said, “because I could express myself, and be myself.”

Along with leading the after-school team, assisted by fellow after-school dance teacher Amanda Rosa, Abraham is in her second year as the school’s full-time dance instructor. (She also works with children with reading difficulties.) It’s a position that once seemed remote for this single mother of a daughter, now eight.

The path to that job began four years ago, when McGuire, recognizing the after-school teacher’s talents, brought her in as a consultant, assisting in the schools dance classes.

“I started checking homework and having more interaction with the parents. I was doing more than just consulting and teaching dance in the daytime and I said, ‘I like this. The money was good. The people around were good. And I love these kids.”

“Caprice has a really good way of pushing the kids but making them feel very safe and welcome in this space,” said Rachel Oakes, who served as the after-school program director at LMC for the past three years. “It was always the highlight for me to see the team and they just keep on amazing us.”

Every day, McGuire recalled, Abraham would bring “great energy” into the dance room. “She’s innovative, she’s that teacher that kids who have the most trouble are drawn to, of all races, and they just love her.”

McGuire encouraged her to go for her teaching certification, which would include enrolling in a Master’s Degree program.

But it took more than a year to convince her to return to school. With her daughter, Cayari Shiine-Paris Abraham, it didn’t seem possible.

“I thought, how can I handle going back to school. I have my daughter,” she said. As an undergraduate, Abraham had taken her baby to class, at times also working three jobs. She made the Dean’s List despite it all, but wasn’t ready to go through it again. “I kept pushing it to the side.”

One day, she recalled, the assistant principal asked her if she could see herself going anywhere else.

“And I was like, no, not really. Why would I leave this school? I love coming here. And he said, you might as well get paid as a teacher. You might as well get things started.”

These days, taking a cab and two trains, Abraham commutes from her home in the North Bronx to her daughter’s school in Chinatown, then to LMC near the bottom of Broadway. On the two weekdays after school when she’s not rehearsing her team, she’s in class at Long Island University in Brooklyn while Cayari is occupied in a library children’s program. It’s a day that begins at 5:30 a.m. and ends around midnight.

“The train is my friend,” she said. “Because I get most of my stuff done on the train, or I get my sanity for a little bit.”

In May, at a ceremony at the Barclay Center, she will graduate with a Masters in special education, the two grueling years behind her.

Does she plan to dance there?

The teacher laughed. “If they let me,” she said.