Lovers of Hip Hop
What if she had pursued a career in communications? If he had become a biologist? Worse yet, what if they had never met? Unless producers Nigel Lythgoe and Randy Jackson can whip up match-making reality shows featuring hip-hopping public relation specialists and scientists, the world may never know the brilliance of lyrical hip hop. Fortunately, Tabitha and Napoleon D’Umo did cross paths. These two choreographing phenoms tied the knot ten years ago, and they have since fulfilled what it means to live to work, and not work to live.
“I went to school for biology, and Tabitha was in communications.” says Napoleon. “I think back to what I was going to do, and compare it to what I’m doing now, everyday I say to myself, man this is the easiest job ever.” Tabitha, who had a background in jazz, tap, and ballet prior to hip-hop, met Napoleon at the University of Las Vegas. “In college, we both danced for relief, for exercise, and for enjoyment. We never realized we could move onto the next level with it, so it was like a hobby that morphed into a career.”
With the unique ability to infuse emotion into their hip hop routines, Tabitha and Napoleon gained international recognition as featured choreographers on So You Think You Can Dance, America’s Best Dance Crew, and Rock the Reception. Though all are dance shows, each brings something different to the table for choreographers as well as viewers at home. “On SYTYCD, Napoleon and I work with two people in a short amount of time. There is a bit more freedom to play with their styles and emotions. At ABDC, we thrive off the energy of a group of six or seven people, and we can do more staging, formations and visuals.”
After the adrenaline-fueled SYTYCD and ABDC, Rock the Reception hits a totally different note. “What I love is, after a long day working on SYTYCD and ABDC, we go to rehearsal the next day for Rock the Reception, and we get someone like…my aunt. A nurse, works a nine to five, has three kids. They go through this process without being a professional, but have the same excitement and fulfillment when they get off the dance floor, as if they conquered the world. It’s amazing.”
While arrogance comes naturally for some when fame arrives, this married couple stays grounded by getting involved at the grassroots level. Off screen, not only are they teachers at The Edge in Los Angeles, but also faculty members of Monster of Hip Hop and Coastal Dance Rage – both of which are distinguished dance conventions in the U.S and Canada. These conventions bring out the heavy hitters of the industry and participants of all ages. “It’s great when we work on industry shows, but being a part of these conventions is a breath of fresh air,” explains Tabitha. “We get to travel to smaller regions and meet kids who don’t get that kind of exposure. Seeing their drive, passion, and hunger is a really cool experience for us. They are the next generation of dancers, and we want to try and complete that circle.”
In addition to dancing, Tabitha and Napoleon are also tapping into the fashion industry. They created Nappytabs, a funky clothing line designed for dancers. Though their focus will remain on directing and choreographing, the brand has slowly but surely crept into the hearts of the urban and dance community. “At the time there wasn’t much catering to the hip hop community in terms of fashion and footwear,” says Tabitha. “As dancers we’re always gross and sweaty, but at least we can look good while we’re gross and sweaty. So we rolled out Nappytabs.” Napoleon sees the success of this project, but is cautious with the progression. “At the moment the products are sold online and at conventions. We get nervous because fashion is such a hard industry, and we don’t want to make too many mistakes. We’ll eventually branch out even more, but for now we want to make sure our focus does not deter from dancing.”
With so many choreographers and dancers trying to climb to the top, Tabitha and Napoleon are stand-outs among the rest. Perhaps having a dedicated and loving marriage gives them an edge over others when creating lyrical hip hop numbers. However, the main component to their success seems to lie within the fact that they make their craft relatable to the general audience. This extra effort and consideration is the key to their popularity. “Being a choreographer, you have to take a look at everything you do overall and not as a dancer, and look at it as a normal average person.” says Napoleon. “You have to make sure it is relatable to the person who doesn’t understand dancing as detailed as others do.” The next time a hip hop performance moves you emotionally and unexpectedly, bet that Tabitha and Napoleon had something to do with it.
Visit http://www.nappytabs.com or http://www.myspace.com/nappytabs for more info.
1. Inspiration for their choreography
2. Secret to a successful relationship/marriage
3. Napoleon & Tabitha's "first dance"