INDEPENDENCE, Ohio — Freedom is dance.
Freedom is Hip Hop.
Freedom is what Howard Washington II set out to provide for youth and adults at his studio, Elevated Dance Headquarters.
“The space encourages dancers and artists to have a vision, but also to have a true perspective and perception of who they are and learn to love that,” Washington said. “I teach them to really face who you are in the mirror metaphorically and physically.”
Though Washington admits, that level of freedom introduced to his dancers is something he struggled to experience through art early on.
“This all stemmed from me hearing the phrase dancers are starving artists,” he said. “I was in college feeling that.”
Though, after graduation and years spent in education, the Cleveland native started to feed his artistry and decided to open his studio five years ago.
“I remember just taking a leap of faith, finding this space [and] saying okay I’m going to sign this lease, you know [and] obviously putting your name on the line.”
Washington says once he found a home, his crew of artists and dancers were given the space and freedom to dream big. Their goals landed them championships and the opportunity to compete on the World of Dance stage. The reality TV dance competition series, airing on NBC, was executive produced by Jennifer Lopez. Elevated would place in the top five in 2016 before taking home the championship trophy in 2018. As Washington recalls, the team “took first place. Perfect sore, perfect score. 100 out of 100.”
But Elevated wouldn’t be free from grief over one of their own shortly after their victory.
“Michael was able to see and he passed a week later,” he said. “He was my right hand, you know? My guy.”
Michael, who Washington says was a major part of the team’s success and creativity died of diabetes at the age of 24. Washington says the loss has tough on top of navigating more adversity.
“I’m losing a lot because a lot of dancers are growing. They’re growing older,” he said.
Yet, through it all came the strength to persevere on the 2022 World of Dance stage. The team rallied together in honor of Michael with a second-place finish.
“The excitement is in the journey for us. That trophy when we look at it we think all we went through,” he said. “We’re always humbled by the experience.”
As a dancer once told Washington, “freedom is the reward of discipline.” Washington believes true freedom is attained first with self-reflection.
“That’s what I created this for…we’re still in the stage of building our foundation,” he said. “Regardless of how high we go, we have to stay grounded.”
To learn more about Elevated and to join the team, click here.