Featured photo: Pamela Benton, co-instructor of the H.Y.P.E. dance group, laughs during a routine at the William Roscoe Anderson Jr. Community Center in Winston-Salem. (photo by Juliet Coen)

An iPhone lays on the floor at the half-court line of the William R. Anderson Jr. Community Center basketball court. It’s connected via bluetooth to a speaker, its sounds competing with the echoes of the balls that are being bounced out to clear space for the group that’s coming in. The Isley Brothers’, “Move Your Body” sets the tone. The group trickling in, filling the bleachers with bodies and the room with laughter, is the HYPE Soul Line Dance Crew.

Founded by Carla “BeautifulSoul” Matthews and her son Tyke Matthews in 2012, the crew is an “urban line-dancing” group based out of southeast Winston-Salem. Its devout members, predominantly Black women ranging in age and socioeconomic background, meet twice a week for a fellowship they characterize as “an addiction.” 

“It’s a good relief from work,” explains HYPE member Jennifer Fisher “It’s camaraderie. I use it mostly just to forget. It’s my whoosah.” 

Participants dance to the music at the HYPE dance class. (photo by Juliet Coen)

Twenty-two dancers move in unison to songs like Yolanda Adams,’ “Already Alright” and Color Me Badd’s “Sex You Up.” When a new member falls behind or trips on their steps, a veteran dancer joins them until they’re back on track.

“Fake it till you make it!” someone yells over Toni Braxton. Instructors shout out steps like “The Temptations” — a rendition of David Ruffin’s step-to-turn, or “Creep” after TLC’s side-step with arms going the opposite direction of bodies. The dances are all repetitive motions, cycled continuously through varying songs.

“Put some sprinkle on it!” shouts Matthews, directing the group to add individual flair. 

That presents an opportunity to move in celebration.

Michelle Jordan sings along to the music at the William Roscoe Anderson Jr. Community Center in Winston-Salem. (photo by Juliet Coen)

Florence Pridgen says, “I retired from the USDA Forest Service. I was walking with a cane at that point.”

She began line dancing as a way to exercise, a hobby in retirement. Today, the cane she once used is gone. She rides a motorcycle to class, dances in the front of the room and adds an extra turn when the music moves her. 

HYPE’s stories of community and empowerment were met with devastation during the global pandemic. Matthews explains, “COVID actually hit at the peak of [line dancing] convention season. We had conventions down South, up North. People were dancing together not knowing they had COVID. We lost hundreds of line dancers. It did a number on the line-dancing community.”

A move to virtual classes across the country was the only way for these groups to stay connected. 

“We missed it so much; We went so long without dancing,” she says. “When things started opening back up, when everyone started coming back, we started doing the classics again. It was like a big family reunion.”

Alexandria Gregory flicks her fan open during a H.Y.P.E. dance routine at the William Roscoe Anderson Jr Community Center in Winston-Salem. (photo by Juliet Coen)

Classic dances are now met with new choreography, and younger choreographers. Kaihja “Ja Ja” Matthews, Carla Matthews’ daughter, has been dancing and creating since she was 10. Tyke Matthews, co-founder and lead choreographer of HYPE created the HYPE Loop which crossed international borders when line-dancers in Germany began dancing it. 

“You can be at an airport, or at the club, and a song comes on, a regular song,” Matthews explains. “To us, it’s a line-dancing song. You know who the line-dancers are.” 

HYPE line-dancers attend classes together, travel to conventions together, celebrate anniversaries and birthdays together. After no specified amount of time, each is christened with a nickname. Shawna is “Rowdy,” both in her surname and the way she dances. Florence Pridgen is referred to as “Flow Rider.” Pamela Lewis Holland is lovingly called “Side Eye,” for the way she checks her steps. 

Members of the H.Y.P.E. dance group wave their fans during a routine at the William Roscoe Anderson Jr Community Center in Winston-Salem. (photo by Juliet Coen)

Wearing a teal shirt that reads “I Make Sweat Look Good,” co-instructor Pamela Benton reaches her arms to either side of the room, fills the court with her voice as she yells, “What’s my name?!” 

“Smooth!” the group responds. 

“That’s how we gonna dance it.”

HYPE classes are free to attend, Tuesdays and Thursdays, from 6:30 to 9:00pm at the William R. Anderson Jr. Community Center.

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