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Sat 20 Dec 2014
Celebrity Choreographer Andrea Kelly Chats With ChiStepper

Andrea is more than just the ex-wife of R&B superstar R. Kelly; she’s an incredible dancer and choreographer who helped shape a number of his performances and videos – including those that sparked the national Steppers movement.  Most of her work however, received very little credit and she languished in the shadow of one of the world’s greatest entertainers.  The good news is that she’s back dancing and YOU have an opportunity to take a sensual dance fitness class with her in Country Club Hills (right outside of Chicago) on May 13.  Find out how she met R. Kelly, how she maintains her incredible physique, why she’ll never again let anybody stunt her growth, and how she can improve YOUR life through dance!

T. Pratt (TP):  How are you young lady?

Andrea Kelly:  I'm fine. And you?

TP:  I'm good. It's been a while.

Andrea:  I know, it has been a minute. We've got to stop doing this, being in Chicago together.

TP:  I know, I know.  So Andrea a lot of people credit R. Kelly's "Step In The Name Of Love" and “Happy People” records for taking Chicago Steppin’ national. And I don't know if you know, I danced in both of those videos, on HBO, as part of the Light It Up Tour, and at your house with Rob. That's when I first met you. Do you remember the Steppers coming to your house to perform?

Andrea:  I vaguely do remember it. You've got to remind me, was I pregnant or not, seeing we've got three of them?

TP:  No, I don't think you were pregnant at the time, at least you didn't look like it.

Andrea:  Okay. I vaguely remember. Refresh my memory, was that from the pink party? The pink and black party?

TP:  It was the pink and black party.

Andrea:  There you go. Yes, I do remember. Yes I do.

TP:  Did you have anything to do with Rob (R. Kelly) taking on the Steppers movement or did you kind of stay out of those types of creative decisions?

Andrea:  I would say that's a yes and no question. I had influence in his decisions. Yes, in the choreography that I added to it. My element in that was, how do we take Steppin’ which, we are going to go way way back if you all had moms and dads that grew up in Chicago, they used to call it the Bop back in the day.

TP:  Right.

Andrea:  I mean they used to Bop and then it kind of evolved into Steppin’, and when it came to the forefront, I think it was kind of … not really underground but if were in Chicago, deep into like our nightlife, you knew about it. It wasn't anything new. I think what he did, I wouldn't say created it, but I do believe bringing it to the secular world - to the forefront and to video.  You know how ghostwriters are. They are there, they have these hits but nobody knew that you did it.

TP:  Right.

Andrea:  He kind of did that for Steppin’ in Chicago. Like we've done this forever, but nobody ever took it and this light wasn't being shown on this Chicago style of dance that we've been doing forever. Now it's in the videos and the world is kind of like, “Oh it's this new thing that R. Kelly did.” I wouldn't so much say new as much as I would say he just took it and he presented it on the platform that became nationwide, worldwide that otherwise if you were from Chicago [or] Detroit you wouldn't know about it.

TP:  Exactly. Good, good.

Andrea:  Yeah, it's a wonderful art form that I just thought okay, how do you take that and mix in what I do which is the choreography and the dancing and the modern and the jazz. So that's where I took the concept of, let's take the two worlds and put them together. So as a choreographer, I took what I knew and the Steppin’ that I do and then the dance and the modern and the jazz, the hip-hop and I've kind of melted the two together so that's how you get the choreography that we did for Happy People. It had more of this like Steppin’/Broadway feel to it by marrying the two.

TP:  Right. You are a trained professional dancer right?

Andrea:  Yes I am in a sense. I think that I had a natural ability to dance. I really do say that dance chose me. I say that because growing up in an urban area, many people can relate to this, many times my mom had to choose between the light bill and dance class, and guess who won, every time? I thank God for the gift and the ability of it being natural for me. A lot of times my rehearsing and practicing, I credit Debbie Allen. I always joke and say she is like my first dance teacher because my mom would move the couch in the living room, I would watch Fame and I would get in there and mimic what that woman did for hours. So I feel like to say that you got your "training" just by going to take a class at a formal school, can't always be the only training. I think that like with Steppers, to say that there are not dancers, what they do is just as beautiful and technically challenging as ballroom, but to say because you don't go to an Arthur Murray or a Fred Astaire school of ballroom dance, does that mean they are any less trained? No, it doesn't. The art form is just as beautiful, so I feel like that in myself. Yes, I've taken ballet, jazz, modern, African, but I believe that my true training was from God. It's just a gift and a natural ability.

TP:  Now you actually met R. Kelly auditioning for him, is that right?

Andrea:  Yes, I did actually. A good friend, my girl LisaRaye and my great great friend, Larry Sims who is out in LA now, called me on my way to ballet class. He's like, you have to come down here. At the time it was called the Inn of Chicago. Come down here, I want you to addition. I'm like, no you know I like that kind of dancing but you know me, I'm a ballerina. I want to do jazz and modern and theater. He was like, no I'm telling you, and they call me baby girl - baby girl come down here. I actually went on the last day, and that was the day of eliminations. I went down, auditioned. LisaRaye was like, girl come here. Turnaround, let me see how you look, let me see your body. Let me see your booty. Okay, you've got a cute little booty. Yep, he's going to like you. She was like, here take this number and go in there. I was like, these girls are going to kill me. They have been auditioning for two days and I'm just going to pop up in here. I went in there, auditioned, got it. And the rest is history. Actually, LisaRaye was going to be his choreographer and that's my girl. I'm like, I’m about to be fired today. My baby did some moves. I was like Rob, I'm not doing that. And he was like, really? I'm like uh uh. He was like, okay what you got? I'm like, well you know I'm actually a choreographer. So he was like, okay. [He] It was like, “Oh you put your foot in your mouth.” He was like, “Alright tell you what. I'm going to go play basketball” because everybody knows that man plays basketball anytime, anywhere every day. I was like, okay cool.

TP:  Right, right.

Andrea:  They left and went to play basketball and he came back. Honey, I was in there with the band like okay, now when the pyros go off, this is the breakdown. The lights - honey I'm in there directing. I turned it into a whole production. He came back and he was like, let me see what you got. He came back, I had three songs done. So he's like, “Everybody be quiet I got to make an announcement.” I'm like, oh he is going to fire you in front of everybody. This is the end. He was like, “I want to introduce my new choreographer, baby girl.” And the rest is history.

TP:  Nice. Now I know a lot of famous men, like even when you watch these shows, basketball or football wives, they don't like their significant others to work or really to do much of anything. And you also built a family with three children (Joann 12, Jaya10 and Robert 8). Did your love of dance, or your ability to choreograph and do all the dance stuff that you love, get pushed to the background while you were raising your family?

Andrea:  You know, I wouldn't say so much pushed to the background. What people don't understand is that every time [R. Kelly] put out an album, I was pregnant by the time the album came out, and it was time for us to go on tour, which the process is roughly about two years, and our children are two years apart. I had already had a child, so we would take the kids on tour. I'm still working on choreography. I'm still being a mom. So once I leave off that stage, I would probably say the world did not know his wife is up there dancing with him. That's his choreographer. I'm backstage with kids breast-feeding, toys, jumpy carts and strollers. So I was doing both which was very challenging but so much fun, but I feel that as an individual choreographer, that I did not get the credit I deserved. I feel as a dancer and being the principal dancer, you know that light was not shown. So if it wasn't shown as me being your wife, it definitely wasn't being shown as me being the choreographer and the principal dancer, so that's why I'm out here doing double duty now, you know?

TP:  Right.

Andrea:  I want to get my name out there because people … I read an article once and I guess they were like, I'm trying to be a dancer. Honey, I've been a dancer and a choreographer before you could walk, boo boo [to] whoever wrote it. So it's like now, you know I'm doing my thing now and I'm coming to the forefront. I'm coming out of the shadows at this point and I don't look at it as a negative thing either because I got to travel the world. I got to perform in front of millions of people. I mean it is an experience that I would not take away. Are there are some things I would change about it? Not a thing. You know why?  It makes me work that much harder to make sure that never again, and I want women to get this, I don't care what he does, if he's not a celebrity, athlete, doctor, lawyer - never stunt your growth, your dreams for anybody. And that's what that has taught me, but you know what? How can I teach and preach about that if I've never been through it? So what I'm saying is authentic. Bet on yourself every time. Follow your dreams no matter what. And it's not that you know, I feel it's a bad thing when you do that. Some people may say it's selfish, especially when you have children. It's important for them to see their mothers stand on their own two feet, especially daughters, especially sons, to be with a strong woman and she followed her dreams, and she went after her goals, and at the same time, I'm still a mom first, and I don't sacrifice that for anything.

TP:  Wow. Right, right. Now speaking of coming out of the shadows, I don't know if you know it but I planned Sister 2 Sister's 22nd anniversary party.

Andrea:  No I didn't.

TP:  Yeah, we had an amazing team with Jamahl King and April Love doing the event planning side of it, and I know you were there. You put on a really cool performance. Was that your coming-out party, kind of letting people know that you are back to doing what you love?

Andrea:  Actually no. I have Andrea Kelly Dance Theater (AKDT) which is a performance company and we do modern, jazz, ballet, acting, singing. We've been performing for two years. Pink Kitty Cabaret is just another part of my dance company which is a burlesque show. It's kind of Pussy Cat Dolls meets Soul Train, meets Broadway. So for that aspect of the company, we do a segment in my show for AKDT, but as far as bringing it to the general public, that was the debut for people to kind of see black women, sexy dance that doesn't have to be a T & A show. About you know, the art of seduction and sensuality that we presented in a very very classy way. Bob Fosse is one of my favorite choreographers of all-time, and just being able to bridge that gap between secular hip-hop, street dance and Broadway, so that was the first time for that.

TP:  Okay. Say that name for me again, because it kind of faded out. The guy. Bob Fosse?

Andrea:  Yeah, he did Chicago, All That Jazz, my goodness, Pippin, Sweet Charity. He is just a wonderful choreographer and I think I gravitated.  You know they tell you you might not be a ballerina, and being told at a young age, because of my physique, I am of black dissent. I am of Puerto Rican descent. So I have thighs and booty, that's not going anywhere. They basically told me I would never be a professional dancer, because you know that's too much.

TP:  I'm glad that you brought up the thighs and booty because one thing the ladies, and especially the guys would notice right away is that you perform in tights and heels.

Andrea:  Oh yes.

TP:  Are the tights a way of kind of paying homage to your favorite TV show theme or is it showing people that you still have an incredible figure?

Andrea:  Oh my goodness, thank you. Well it wasn't to show that I have an incredible figure, but thank you. But you know what, I think like I said (Laughing) … you got me with that one.

TP: (Laughing)

Andrea:  You know it really is about celebrating women of color. We are so misrepresented, especially in the arts, but in entertainment and media, in general. It's like I want to show that you can celebrate a woman's body and the curves, and it's a beautiful thing if it's done in a classy, artsy way. I could have done that same dance, same choreography and the context behind it could have been totally different if I had on a thong and a swimming suit and stilettos and somebody pouring champagne on me.

TP:  Right.

Andrea:  We really have to get back to what is the context and the purpose behind what you're doing. I could've come out there, no tights on, no nothing, but I'm like, you really want to keep the art in the art. You want to keep the performing part in performing. And nobody is really doing that anymore. Either you go to the theater or it's T & A.

TP:  Right.

Andrea:  And I'm like, there is that middle ground and there are companies and movies, and shows in Vegas like Pussycats, [but] what happened to the black glamour girl? What happened to the black Vegas show girl? They exist. Hopping at the Savoy, The Cotton Club. Let's review our history people, we've done it, but we've just let that go. It's gotten so far away from it that right now, black women in entertainment, we are objects. You're T & A in pretty shoes and purses, that's it.

TP:  Right. Now, how do you maintain your figure? What do you eat on a typical day?

Andrea:  I don't eat red meat. I'm allergic to seafood, which I wish I could eat. So basically, chicken and turkey - lean meats. I shop at a store called Whole Foods, so I shop organically. Very rarely do I eat fried foods. I like lots of vegetables. I love fruits, smoothies. I own a juicer. I juice every day and just dancing. I don't lift any weights. I don't go to the gym. And also my other little secret is, genetics. Everybody on my dad's side of the family, they are just physically fit and lean very muscular people. So I had the genetics on my side along with the dancing and just eating right. I do not go to the gym, so that's why I started the Pink Kitty Cabaret classes [where] I'm teaching women physical fitness, but from a dancer's point of view. So you’re using every muscle from the top of your head to the bottom of your feet, so you get long lean muscle, unlike if you're going to the gym and lifting heavy weights, you're going to get short bulky muscles. So I'm just training them and giving them the muscle that I have from the dancer's body.

TP:  Right. I'm actually glad you said that because one thing I'm really trying o focus on with black women in particular, and black men as well, is paying more attention to what you eat, you know? Because if you don't maintain that type of physique by accident, you know?

Andrea:  You really do. You have to take care of yourself. And the thing is I don't deprive myself of anything either. I eat cake. I eat ice cream, and pie, but I have a philosophy. You eat until the hunger pain is gone away. Most of the time people are like, if it's on my plate, let me eat it all. No. If I want a piece of cake, I may eat half of the cake, and if I do decide I'm going to eat the whole piece, then I'm not going to turn around and have something fried the next day. It's just really about having balance in your life and you can eat whatever you want, it's the portions that you eat and how much of it, and how often you're eating it that really becomes a problem. And you're right, our community you know, we do not focus on physical fitness and foods that we eat. You can have soul food. It's not going to kill you to have it for Christmas, Thanksgiving and maybe Easter. The problem is, you can't have it every Sunday.

TP:  Right.

Andrea:  So you really need to focus on the balance. And the class does teach that. I talk a lot about that in my classes.

TP:  Awesome. Now let's talk about the Andrea Kelly Dance Theater for a second here.

Andrea:  Okay.

TP:  Would this be a place where people will watch dance shows? Will they learn to dance, or is the primary focus on fitness?

Andrea:  It's a theater company again, and it's - you will go see a dance company perform. It's a lot like one of my other favorite choreographers/dancers Alvin Ailey meets Fame, meets Soul Train.

TP:  Okay.

Andrea:  So it is, we did our performance January 21, 2011 was our launch in Atlanta at the 14th St. Playhouse, which was absolutely lovely. My nerves were like oh here we go, but it's a show where you will see ballet, you will see jazz, modern, but the twist is, I'm dancing off of Aretha Franklin. We're dancing off of Al Green. I did a piece called Simply Beautiful. It's very Fosse based. It's - if you would turn the music off, you would really think that he came from all that jazz, but we did it to Al Green. And I did it that way for our community to come in and have something to relate to. When you go in, I want you to clap your hands. People were screaming, “You go girl.” Clapping hands and singing, because this music is familiar to you. It takes you back to your youth, and if you are older, it reminds you of your grandkids and the barbecue and the family reunions or when a baby is born. So I wanted it to bring those happy feelings, but just in a theater setting. And it wasn't sterile. You're not going to go in and just see all classical ballet for two hours. You're getting a little bit of everything. We did acting. We do skits. So that's what AKDT is. Then Pink Kitty Cabaret is the same show but it's just a cabaret feeling. It's more towards Broadway and theater. Then Le Pink Kitty Cabaret is actually where I teach physical fitness through dance. I'm not teaching dance per se at this point. That is a goal of mine which is near and dear to my heart because I want to plant that seed in the children and get them back into the arts. So that is the next step with being involved with CPS here in Chicago, which I will go into the schools and teach. And then Atlanta has a program called KIPS that I want to get involved in. And it's just near and dear to my heart and it's something that I truly truly love.

TP:  Now on May 13, that's the actual launch of the dance/fitness class, right? I just want to make sure I get this clear for the readers.

Andrea:  Yes, Le Pink Kitty Cabaret here in Chicago in Country Club Hills, that's the class. I'm sorry, Le Pink Kitty that's the class. Le Pink Kitty Cabaret is the performing company so you can differentiate between if it has Cabaret on the end, it's a performance. If it's just Le Pink Kitty, those are the classes that I teach. And we do launch the 13 of May, here in Chicago. We're having hors d'oeuvres, cocktails, a meet and greet, so I can just kind of you know, introduce myself to the ladies, to the community, and it's like a girls night out. It's that alternative to, girl do we want to go eat, movies and the club, or do I want to go somewhere where I can dance and you're going to get it in just like you in a club. That's why on my flyers that it says, get it girl. You'll get it in and you're doing something great for your body.

TP:  noticed that the pictures kind of have, I don't know, a sensual feel to them. Is it like dance, fitness, exercise, but also kind of expressing your sensuality, for lack of a better word?

Andrea:  Oh, yes. Yes, it does explain it. It's sensual fitness. It's a mix of burlesque, jazz, Soul Train. It's a little, you're learning how to do, one of my classes is called Hooker Heels where you are dancing in four to five inch stilettos and you’re learning choreography. You learn a "chair" dance. We also do pole dancing, which is very popular right now. Again, I'm doing pole dancing, there's a lot of places where you go and you just learn a bunch of tricks, but you do not learn the choreography itself to transition you from trick to trick, from spin to spin. So that's what I'm doing because I am a dancer. It's about, okay honey if you're going to do this pole dance and you want to do something sexy for your man, you've got to point your toe. You have to be graceful. You can just flop down in the chair honey, that became a comedy show. No boo, we have to be right on every aspect. Sometimes it's just about the way you look. It's about your eyes. And by me being a dancer, I don't talk very much on stage, so every part of my body has to express what I'm feeling. So I'm teaching women that. It's from the way that you move your leg. Are you going to do it slowly, with your toes pointed, or are you going to scrape that foot across the ground like you are picking cotton? No, no we are not playing in the dirt. Come on now. We have to have the total package.

TP:  Right.

Andrea:  And that's what brings it home. That's what brings the sexiness to it. And just making women comfortable with their body no matter what size, what shape, what color you are. Whether you have long hair, short hair, big boobs, no boobs, it's about you. The inner Goddess that makes all of that work. That doesn't make you a woman. The essence of a woman is the sexiness that comes forward that she evokes, not her body. And I want women to get that. The class will teach all of that.

TP:  Great, I'm glad you brought that last piece up because that was actually my next question. You know, there are a number of big women in Chicago and Atlanta, because I know you're headed there next. You know I wanted them to understand that they are invited to participate. A few of the pictures that I have [are of you] and a couple of other modelesque looking woman. I want the big girls to know, hey they can come and get their sensual fitness as well.

Andrea:  Yes, yes. We taught a class with my girl Ricole in Atlanta. It was a girls night out. One of the customers, it was her birthday and she was a big girl. She was no joke, but let me tell you something, she told me she felt so sexy after taking that class, again because I'm not focused on size because you can be itty-bitty teeny tiny and have no idea how to move your body. You don't have a sexy bone in you. You have no idea how to bat your eyes. You have no idea how to run your hands through your hair slowly. It's something that I'm teaching that women have in them, but it's not being tapped into. We automatically think sexy is bend over, poke it out, smack it. No, that's not sexy. It's not sensual at all. You want that man to be like hurry up, get to the part where you take the clothes off. You shouldn't just come out with them off already. Where's the sexy part in that? So again, you know my class is teaching the art of seduction through dance while getting physically fit, and that's any woman. Because I've seen big girls like, honey I want to be you when I grow up, and she's confident, and she's killing them. Like yes, everybody can take my class.

TP:  How often will the class be held?

Andrea:  We will have classes three days a week, in County Club Hills. And then we would love to move forward. It's just at this time with me being one week in Chicago and one week in Atlanta, I have to split up my time equally between both cities, but three times a week here in Chicago. And as we progress, you know I will look for teachers and instructors, but again I will not allow just anyone to teach my class. There is a Boot Camp, a regimen, a training that you have to go through before you become a certified AKDT teacher. So you know before you become that mistress in my class, you've got to be a Kitty. You've got to start and take the class and I will train you. Yes, three times a week for the ladies here in Chicago.

TP:  Okay, now I hung out with you and Tony after the Soul Train Awards, so we've got to get together a little more often than that Andrea.

Andrea:  I know.

TP:  Do you have any closing thoughts of anything that I forgot?

Andrea: You know, you really covered everything. You are a wonderful TP. You've covered everything I think. Just ladies, take care of yourselves. That's why I created the Pink Kitty, the Pink Kitty Cabaret.  Ladies if you are running on empty, everyone in your life is running off fumes … I want you to get that. Fill yourself up first and you'll have something to give, but the major major part of that, especially in our community is physically being fit. It gives you so much energy. It's so good for your body. It's stress relief. We hold onto a lot as women. We are the mother, the lover, the friend, the housekeeper, the vet, the doctor. We are so many things except us. You have to be true to you first … read take care of yourself and it will be so much better for everybody else around you. Loving you and following your dreams, and what I'm doing now is a true testament to, I followed my dream and I bet on myself no matter what. Ladies, once we can get that, you can do anything. And that's all I want them to get in closing.

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