TJ Dean drives more than two hours twice a week to Racine to pursue one of his passions – hip-hop dancing. It’s quite a commitment for a young person, but it has become one of his life’s passions and his team has won two major competitions and performed at two Milwaukee Bucks halftime shows.
“It’s a long drive, especially if there is traffic in Milwaukee – two hours can become two and a half hours quick,” T.J. says. “But I really love it.”
T.J., 14, a freshman at Marshall High School, has been dancing for almost 9 years, since the end of his kindergarten year.
“It started out with the game ‘Just Dance,’” says T.J.’s dad, Troy Dean, a former Madison east standout athlete and founder of Daze Entertainment Basketball. “He would play that for hours. There’s a little disclaimer on there that you’re only supposed to play for so many songs and take a break. He would play for hours and my wife and I would watch him and say, ‘We think he likes to dance.’”
Dean did some research and reached out to T.J.’s now-teacher, Erika Bozinovski, and she welcomed him aboard her dance organization. Bozinovski is the founding director of the Sweatshop Movement, a nonprofit Racine dance, pom-pom and hip-hop academy.
“I like how it’s different from everything else than what my parents signed me up for,” he adds, smiling, looking at dad, who is big into sports like football and basketball. “It’s so much fun for me and I definitely love my team, my teachers, and the opportunity I get.”
Sweatshop Movement Dance Company is a charitable dance production and instruction organization that aims to further and foster legitimate hip-hop and dance training for youths in an accessible and affordable way. Sweatshop Movement started in Madison and recently expanded to Racine where it has really blossomed.
“TJ Dean has been a pillar of our program and our dance family since he was in second grade. He regularly demonstrates concepts of commitment, teamwork, leadership, and passion, and is a fantastic example of these to both his teammates and the younger dancers in our program,” Bovinovski tells Madison365. “He was adamant that he wanted to become a part of our Racine program, and advocated on behalf of himself for over a year to do so.”
Bozinovski started the award-winning dance academy in Madison where T.J. was a part of the team for seven years. The organization raises funds by producing dance events & showcases to benefit its scholarship program, as well as other charitable organizations in Wisconsin. Currently offering classes in Racine, Sweatshop will be back offering classes in Madison post-COVID.
“Now, not only does T.J. commute twice a week just to dance with us, but even when the situation is such that he cannot attend, he has not yet missed a single virtual practice,” Bozinovski says. “TJ is friendly and kind, funny & well-liked, and most definitely talented – he was even one of our first-ever scholarship winners at Monsters A-List!”
T.J.’s hard work has earned him two scholarships so far.
“Last year, right before COVID broke out, I got a scholarship in the intermediate room. I was the first person of Sweat [team] to win two scholarships,” he says. “The scholarship helps pay off some of the money you’d normally have to pay as part of the fee to come to Monsters [Dance Competition]. You also get a certificate.”’
Monsters Dance Convention is the big Hip-Hop Dance Convention that brings hip hop dancers together with the industry’s top dance professionals in a fun and challenging environment with workshops and competitions and featuring choreographers that travel the world who have worked with major acts.
“Normally, I would go to two or three workshops and perform later in the day. For Monsters 2020 we performed and we took five or six classes a day and we got first place,” T.J. Dean says. “Since we won, our team was supposed to go to L.A. to compete but because of COVID we didn’t get to go.”
They had to film their stuff virtually for the contest, which they ended up winning for their age bracket and overall performance. Everything has been a little different, he says, in the COVID era.
“It’s been hard. They canceled Monsters so now we do it online. They don’t give out scholarships now; they just teach online classes,” T.J. Dean says.
Along with winning some major competitions, his team has performed twice at the Milwaukee Bucks halftime show, a Bucks pre-game show and a Badgers women’s basketball halftime show.
“The first time performing at the Bucks halftime show I was nervous; it was scary because there were a lot of people and I was feeling sick. But it still went well,” T.J. remembers. “The second time I was much calmer because we already did it.”
Middle School Special Education Teacher Andrea Gomez tells Madison365 that she has watched TJ grow and develop as “a wonderful young man” the past three years at Marshall Middle School and gives credit to his love of and dedication to Hip-Hop dancing.
“TJ loves to dance and loves music and is so talented yet modest with his skills. He is a cooperative learner and a people pleaser which makes him such a great student,” she says. “I miss having TJ every day but look forward to continuing to watch him grow as a dancer and a young man.”
Bozinovski agrees that TJ has come a long way from the “sweet, quiet little boy who first walked into my dance space.”
“He has blossomed into a teen who is confident in himself, his interests and his abilities. It is truly a privilege to include him in my family, and he makes me very proud,” Bozinovski says.
T.J., for his part, says that his goals are to continue to get better as a dancer and to one day be able to teach a dance or two to the teams. In the meantime, he says, he is really enjoying the relationships and the personal strides he has made beyond the dances he learns.
“It has really helped me with my confidence. You can be nervous, but I always believe that you have to dance confident and that relates to the real world a lot. Whatever you do, you need to be confident to succeed. So far, that has been really valuable for me,” he says.