After King Charles and Tee-Jay booked the commercial we shot a music video for this group from Chicago called Dude N Nem. They put out a song called “Watch My Feet” which was a hip-hop song, but the hook was a juke hook. They were trying commercialize, I guess, the juke sound. But it’s such an underground sound and I would say you would have to do it in a really unique way to actually commodify it, ‘cause it’s such a local sound and so repetitive and so fast. So they released this record, and MTV played the music video, and they did some appearances on BET, and a lot of our members and different battle cliques from Chicago participated in the music video. Then Rolling Stone caught the music video but they were more interested in the dance elements that surrounded the music than the music [laughs]. Then there was a feature done on King Charles in Rolling Stone, and then Ellen’s people got a hold of that article, and they got in contact with me and said, We’re looking for some really unique variety acts for Ellen’s Really Big Show on TBS. Submit a video.
We submitted a video, they loved it, and then before 2007 closed out, we appeared on Ellen’s Really Big Show in Vegas, which was huge for us [laughs]. Then in spring of 2008, the same agency that called us for the commercial calls us out of the blue on an evening before the morning of a major audition for Madonna. I’m sitting here like, Well, thanks for giving us a head up, we’re in Chicago and this audition is tomorrow morning in LA. Charles was in the bed sick with a flu-like fever, throwing up, bad. J-Ron had been absent from the FootworKINGz for months. Tee-Jay was around, but somebody had pink eye and somebody got hit by a car. So we were trying to figure out who to send. Then of course money was a factor as well.
But two out of three booked it. So 2008, they spent that rest of the entire year with Madonna, then she kept them on a retainer and there was a second leg in 2009, and that finished at the end of the summer of 2009. And here we are [laughs], two world tours later.
For them, of course, that was transforming. Life changing. They choreographed Madonna’s “Give It To Me.” To see Madonna doing the most basic footwork—you look it up on YouTube and some kids from Chicago will put comments on there [laughs] about Madonna like, I can’t believe she’s footworking. I can’t believe she’s doing the basic erk and jerk. [Laughs.] She gave them their own segment on the tour. They’re the only dancers on the tour that got their own number, “Die Another Day.” You know, two years before you’re working at Popeye’s on 100th . . .
I could I could only imagine what they saw, what they felt. As a dancer, I never had that experience at that level. I mean I’ve done 10,000-seaters here and there, but 50,000—100,000 people? They see the world differently now. They experienced so much culture and foods and languages. Charles is now learning French and Spanish, he’s got friends across the world.
It’s an alternative lifestyle for a lot of these young black males to footwork. Now they’re not on the streets. It just gives them space to really get whatever frustrations out or to let go. It’s a great workout. There is this view that if King Charles and JRon, who come from the same neighborhoods that we come from, can gain a level of success through something they love to do, maybe it’s something I can aspire to do. We do get a lot of e-mails from kids, like, Hey, I’m 16 and man, joe, I can footwork. How do I get down with King Charles and how do I get down with the FootworKINGz? I think they have made a huge impression on a lot of kids.
Kids are still rehearsing at park districts. Crews will just show up like, Oh, y’all got rehearsal today? Let’s get it crackin’. There’re still groups that are getting together and practicing in their grandmothers’ basements, so there’s definitely still a pretty good underground movement happening.