Dance instructor's star rises as she passes on the right moves

March 10, 2006|by TIFFANY ARNOLD


The break dancer in the baggy Army fatigues and the tight-fitting tank top that showed off her belly-button ring was Haleema Ford.

Ford and her 13-person crew of breakers convened weekly to practice their moves in the gym of her high school, where the boom box most likely blared something by Usher, Outkast or the Black Eyed Peas.

Inevitably, crowds would gather, and Ford would break out some of her signature moves, popping her collar - or pretending to do so when she wasn't wearing one - and brushing the "dirt" off her shoulders.


Unlike the others, she rarely wore a hat.

"I like to swing my hair when I dance," said Ford, 24, of Martinsburg.

The California native, who moved to the area last year to be with family, teaches hip-hop dance for Martinsburg-Berkeley County Parks and Recreation.

Ford is trained in the techniques of ballet and jazz, though hip-hop is her specialty.

She appeared on the reality show "So You Think You Can Dance" last year and was a contestant on Debbie Allen's "Fame," a reality TV show that aired on NBC in 2003.

She said she has not given up on her dreams of becoming a music video choreographer, but she said the path to obtaining that dream has been long and difficult.

"I miss a lot of chances with having to work," Ford said. "I usually hold four to five jobs at a time. I'm trying to blossom again."

Ford has brought lots of energy to the parks and recreation center's dance programming, said the gymnastics coordinator, Catherine Reeves.

"She's a fantastic girl," Reeves said.

Reeves said Ford helps her with gymnastics at the Berkeley 2000 Recreation Center in Lambert Park on Wednesdays. Ford teaches hip-hop on Mondays, although those classes are held at Eagle School Intermediate, Reeves said.

"I haven't made it to be a celebrity dancer, but I am touching people's lives," Ford said.

Ford said she enjoys teaching, particularly watching students build their confidence.

"Hip-hop is everywhere. Everybody does it," she said. "You go to a club and everybody does it. ... Dance is my natural high."

Ford said she hopes some day to choreograph for R&B pop stars like Janet Jackson, Ciara and Omarion.

"I've come a long way," she said. "If you believe in yourself, you can accomplish your dreams."

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