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"Swoop: One of Hip-Hop Dance's Biggest Names"
By: Cozi Orlen
One cannot talk about modern hip-hop dance without bringing up Richard "Swoop" Whitebear. Swoop has shaped the dance routines of many of the hottest acts in the music industry. Artists like The Backstreet Boys, Madonna, and Mary J. Blige have all relied on Swoop to choreograph cutting-edge hip-hop dance numbers for their live shows. His unique style has appeared in numerous commercials, award shows, and popular music videos. Through his body of work, Swoop has greatly influenced the state and popularity of hip-hop dance, helping to make the vibrant form what it is today.
Swoop was born Richard Whitebear in 1969 in Kansas City, MO. When Richard was five, he and his two brothers, Leo and Michael, were separated, sent to live with different foster families. The three were later reunited, and spent their youth together. It was not an easy childhood, due to the rough nature of the community in which they grew up. Instead of being sucked into the world of drugs and crime, Richard focused on the art of dance.
In high school, Richard joined up with Kansas City's own marching band and drill team powerhouse, the Marching Cobras. For several decades, the group, formed by Willie A. Smith, has served as an artistic outlet for inner-city youths. Richard toured on an international level with the Cobras, and his love of dance grew stronger with each performance. Along with this positive experience, Richard's young life was also struck by a terrible tragedy: the death of his brother, Leo. The loss of his brother was a crushing event, but he used it to spur himself further towards achieving his dreams of success as a dancer.
Richard became a member of MC Hammer's dance crew, and it was there that he found his stage name. As a Hammer dancer, he sported a distinctive swoop hairstyle, and from then on, he was called Swoop. He has since gotten rid of the swoop hairstyle in favor of the shaved head look, but the moniker remains.
There can be no doubt that Swoop has achieved great success in the field of dance. He has choreographed numerous videos from some of the biggest stars of yesterday and today. He was responsible for videos like Brandy's "Top Of The World", Whitney Houston's "Fine", Blackstreet's "Girlfriend", Snoop Dogg's "Step Your Game Up" and "Fresh Pair", and Busta Rhymes's "Fire It Up". He also co-choreographed such major hits as Will Smith's "Wild Wild West", The Backstreet Boys' "Larger Than Life" and "All I Have To Give", Aaliyah's "Are You That Somebody", and Brandy's "Sitting In My Room". His work on Aaliyah's "Try Again" and Dr. Dre's "Been There Done That" won him three MTV Awards. Along with his MTV Awards, Swoop also won the title of Hip-Hop Choreographer of the Year (Male) at the 2000 Hip-Hop Choreography Awards. He helped choreograph tours for several major R&B and Pop acts, including Madonna, Mary J. Blige, Backstreet Boys, Aaliyah, Will Smith, and Boys II Men.
When it came time for some of these acts to hit the small screen during award shows, Swoop was there to make sure they had the moves to make their performances hot. He also choreographed numbers for television shows like King of Queens, Moesha, The Steve Harvey Show, and All of Us. Most recently, Swoop has choreographed dance numbers for major motion pictures, including Save The Last Dance, You Got Served, Stomp The Yard, 13 Going On 30, and Austin Powers in Goldmember. His choreography has also appeared in commercials for huge brands like Burger King, Coca-Cola, Visa, and Ruffles chips.
Along with his work as a choreographer, Swoop regularly offers dance workshops in the U.S. and abroad. He is also using his talents to make people healthier. He created a hip-hop/fitness dance form called BOOGALOO! This form is described on his bio as "an interactive, aerobic, Hip-Fitness activity which incorporates today's coolest Hip-Hop dances into fun, easy-to-learn physical activities created for young people to maintain good health and physical activity."
In 2004, Swoop promoted BOOGALOO! at several U.S. schools on Swoop's Git' Fit Hip-Hop Tour. Swoop has cited theatrical mime and drill team routines as influences to his dance style. With the feats Swoop has accomplished as a hip-hop dance choreographer in the world of pop culture, future generations of hip-hop dancers will be citing him as their main influence.