Living

There's a power in the song and dance

Tammy Owens , founder of You Better Sing Music and Arts Center, talks to youth at the Emmett Scott Center in Rock Hill Wednesday.
Tammy Owens , founder of You Better Sing Music and Arts Center, talks to youth at the Emmett Scott Center in Rock Hill Wednesday.

Members of the dance group Dramatic Obsession refer to Tammy Owens as their second mother. One member, Victor Jackman, 17, needs Owens now more than ever -- his real mom passed away two weeks ago from kidney failure.

Owens opened a recent practice with prayers for Victor and for another member, Jonathan Allen-Thompson, who lost his grandfather. Victor missed practice that day. "We are so worried about him," she said.

Owens is the founder of You Better Sing Music and Arts Center, created to get arts-minded youth off the street. She organized Dramatic Obsession to give kids a focus and keep them out of trouble.

The organization, which has applied for registered non-profit status, has already turned some lives around, said member Justin Matthews, 16.

"Some in the group, it took off the streets, where we don't need to be. Their life took a U-turn," said the Northwestern High School 10th-grader, who has been imitating Michael Jackson's dance moves since kindergarten.

So far the group consists of eight teen boys and Owens' daughter, 13-year-old Amber Seward, nicknamed Princess Poplock. Michael Hutchinson, 18, dances with the group and also sings.

Hutchinson said he looks to Owens for guidance and said her influence has made him more spiritual. "I call Tammy for advice when I'm going through stuff," said Hutchinson, a South Pointe High School senior. "She has even taken us to church."

Mark McCullough, 18, a South Pointe senior, said he can express himself through dance. "If you're angry you can krump, if you're in love you can slow dance," he said.

Owens said kids were hanging out on street corners singing, dancing and rapping. "There was no place for them to go, because the after-school centers in town only had basketball or some other kind of sport," said Owens, a Loris native.

She said the organization's name came from memories of her grandma taking Owens and her brother to church. "She would always say to us, 'Ya'll better sing.'"

Owens, 36, started the arts organization in New Jersey, where she used to live. In 2005, she moved to Rock Hill to raise her children away from the problems of the city.

Her son, Eric, and his friends were auditioning to dance in a February talent show at South Pointe High. Eric asked her to come with them for constructive criticism.

"They were a mess at the audition," Owens said. "I told my son, don't bring me if you're not organized." That's when Owens' daughter Amber said, "Mommy, we need a You Better Sing here."

So Owens got right to it. Under her guidance, the dance group took second place at the talent show.

Owens said the teens chose the name Dramatic Obsession because "they do dramatic dancing, and they are obsessed with what they do."

Member Patrick Tillman, 17, said dancing is a release for him and Dramatic Obsession is "a life saver."

"I could be going out and doing other things, but we are doing things we love for a good cause," he said.

Tina Feaster, who helps Owens with the organization, said Owens has opened her heart and home to the boys. Feaster, mother of McCullough, said they practice in Owens' driveway three or four nights a week.

The other members of Dramatic Obsession are An'Quavious Duncan, Justin Matthews and Owens' son, Eric Owens-Seward. Owens said others want to join, but limited funds and space at her home have kept her from adding new members.

Loretta Robinson, director of the Emmett Scott Center on Crawford Road in Rock Hill, heard about Owens' group and offered them a place to practice on Wednesday evenings.

"We want to initiate the program into ours," Robinson said. "It gives our teens something positive they enjoy doing, especially the boys."

Robinson said a lot of teens who don't have jobs are on the street.

"This eases the minds of mothers," Robinson said. "They won't have to leave them sitting at home all day while they are at work. That's where the trouble starts."

Detective Tim Ayers of the Rock Hill Police Department said some kids don't have a direction. Their parents are working, and they roam the streets day and night.

Programs like Owens' won't save all kids from gang and criminal activities, but Ayers, who deals with gang activity, said it can draw some away from it.

"If it just saves one mother from going to her kid's funeral, it's worth it," Ayers said.

York County Sheriff Bruce Bryant said kids who hang out on the street and get into trouble are usually looking for somewhere to fit in.

"They want to belong to a family," Bryant said. "When they don't get that nurturing from a family at home or at church or school, the kids will look for that companionship from someone or an organization or group that they can be a part of. Sometimes gang members end up being that. They invite the kids in."

Bryant said it takes someone like Owens reaching out to change their fate.

"If we had more people like Tammy Owens our community would be better off," he said. "The sad part is we have too many kids and not enough Tammy Owenses."

Between classes at York Technical College, volunteering at a nursing home, raising her own children and heading a committee of the local Weed and Seed project, Owens is busy at the Emmett Scott Center rehearsing Dramatic Obsession and holding auditions for a fundraising dance competition in April. The money raised will help with the group's expenses, which Owens and her fiancé, Alfred Stephens of Jacksonville, Fla., have been footing.

Owens watches closely as Dramatic Obsession takes the floor, wearing white T-shirts outlined by suspendered jet black pants. With high energy, they flex, twist, stomp, pop, lock and krump.

An audience of curious kids stares in awe, then breaks into claps and cheers.

When Dramatic Obsession leaves the floor, another dance group prepares to audition. The petite Owens warns: "No sexually explicit moves or gang signs allowed."

As the group begins their routine, Owens fiddles with the volume on the CD player.

"It really does take a village to raise a child," she said.

What: Dance show competition

Who: Featuring performances by Dramatic Obsession and Princess Poplock

When: 7 to 10 p.m. April 26

Where: Emmett Scott Center, McGuirt Auditorium, 801 Crawford Road, Rock Hill

Tickets: $7.00 in advance and $10 at the door. For tickets, call (803) 371-8151.

What: Dance show competition

Who: Featuring performances by Dramatic Obsession and Princess Poplock

When: 7 to 10 p.m. April 26

Where: Emmett Scott Center, McGuirt Auditorium, 801 Crawford Road, Rock Hill

Tickets: $7 in advance and $10 at the door. For tickets, call (803) 371-8151.

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