^ Words + Photos by Antonio Hernandez.
Team Squad Up, known widely simply as TSU, is Baltimore-based dance crew that has been performing Baltimore’s club music and dances for close to a decade. Founded by TSU Terry, the ever-expanding crew focuses on high-energy, fast-paced dances, such as “crazy legs,” the “Cherry Hill,” and the “Spongebob,” at a relentless 130-140 beats-per-minute. Though the membership of TSU has varied over the years, the team has five active members, including Rum, their newest recruit, and JFries, a dancer-turned-DJ who became the musical backbone of the group.
TSU is highly-regarded and much celebrated in Baltimore’s dance scene. Two-time “We Run This City” (WRTC) champions, they’ve also captured King of Baltimore championship and have appeared at the famed Apollo Theatre in New York City. Besides dancing competitively, the squad runs youth classes and workshops, to motivate young people to use dance as a positive, creative outlet.
TSU members Terry, Rum and JFries discuss the formation of TSU, the resurgence of Club music and dancing, and their vision for the team’s growth.
Q: Rum, why did you join TSU?
RUM: In the group I was in, there were personal issues. One day, I went to a party, where all the dancers were at, and they basically scouted me and he (Terry) just came up to me and said “you’re going to be TSU, but don’t tell anybody,” and that’s just how it happened.
^ TSU Terry performing with TT the Artist at the Windup Space, Baltimore, MD.
Q: Terry, did you go out looking to scout somebody?
TERRY: We had just came off of winning a group competition, so we wanted to add more people. So we went out to scout for other dancers to join us, and that’s when I saw Rum. I said we have a group and we have more spots, and asked if he would like to join. Ever since then, he’s been rocking with us. We’ve done a lot of shows, been out-of-state, a lot of competitions, from California to Jersey.
Q: Why did you choose Rum? What do you look for?
TERRY: I look for energy, and he had a lot of energy. We’re an energy-based dance group. We like to turn up – we don’t just step-step-step. We want a step-and-hah! He had that.
^ TSU dance crew rehearsing for their performance for Kahlon at The Crown Lounge, Baltimore, MD.
Q: How long have you been dancing?
TERRY: I’ve been dancing since the tenth grade.
^ TSU dance crew featured in Mighty Mark’s video for the “Bird Flu” remix.
Q: When you started dancing, was it just at home? Did you have somebody showing you the ropes?
TERRY: I had one person show me how to Crazy Legs. Once they showed me how to Crazy Legs, I took it from there, I made it into something else, and I just made my own swag with it. I started dancing because it kept me out of trouble.
Q: Did all of you grow up in Baltimore?
J FRIES: I grew up in Glen Burnie, Annapolis and the Arundel County area. So I didn’t originally come into Baltimore club dancing until I moved into Baltimore County when I was 13. I originally started out as a dancer. I was living in Essex [Maryland], dancing since I was about 14 – I’m 21 now, so that’s about seven years.
I just recently started DJing about three-and-a-half, four months ago. It’s always been a talent of mine, but I never really knew how to do it properly, so I sought out some help, got some proper guidance, and now, some would say, I’m on the greatest come up as far as DJs go.
Q: Describe what you mean, as far as your come-up.
J FRIES: I started out in my basement, just playing around on the computer program, getting tutelage from a gentleman named Mike Mumbles. He really showed me the path, how to do everything right. I started off doing small sessions, free events, just helping my friends out, just trying to get my name out there. To be completely honest, I just followed the entrepreneurial American dream, you know? Somebody screwed up, I came in, capitalized on it, and now everybody knows who I am.
Q: Was this at a party?
J FRIES: This was at a “King of Baltimore” qualifier event. It’s a competition; it’s a way for all the local dancers to showcase their talent.
Q: Who discovered who? Did you find TSU or vice versa?
J FRIES: We had always been mutual friends; sessions down at the Paradox, and we’d go to the Chamber together. Then, once I did the qualifier [King of Baltimore], and I did a really, really excellent job. I had my own style, my own swag. I really started the bridge the gap between the old-school and new-school dancers. To my understanding, Terry really liked that and he came to me, and said “we want you to be part of the movement,” and here we are today.
Q: How long has TSU been around?
TERRY: TSU has been around since 2008.
“It takes energy, and it takes a certain level to do what we do. We’re athletes”
Q: What has changed since that time? Club music is having another resurgence and is bouncing back, especially in the time since K-Swift’s passing. What have you seen?
TERRY: I’ve been around since she was here and when she passed, and I always wanted to work with her. When I [finally] had the chance to work with her, she had passed. I felt like, for some reason, it was my goal to keep it alive, because no one else was doing it. If they were doing it, they wanted to keep it underground, when Baltimore Club can be mainstream, because it’s different from other dances out there. It takes energy, and it takes a certain level to do what we do. We’re athletes.
Most of the top choreographers in the U.S. can’t even do what we do. Where I’ve seen the change [is] that it dropped, got back up and dropped again. It’s like in the middle right now, and we’re holding onto it by a thread. I feel like as more time passes, we can make it bigger.
“Where I’ve seen the change [is] that it dropped, got back up and dropped again. It’s like in the middle right now, and we’re holding onto it by a thread”
JFRIES: I feel like TSU is moreso of a conglomerate, not necessarily just TSU Rum, TSU Terry, DJ JFries. I feel like we all have a purpose. They’re the dancers, they showcase the talent; I’m the DJ I play the music, and I just don’t play new-school Club music. I play K-Swift, Johnny Blaze, Rod Lee, even as far back as Booman and everything else. The older dancers who are now “retired,” can come back and say “man, this makes me want to dance again.”
“The older dancers who are now ‘retired,’ can come back and say “man, this makes me want to dance again”
I can’t even count on my hands anymore how many times an old dancer has inboxed me on Facebook or told me in-person and said “you make me want to come back out.” It’s very humbling because I’ve only been doing this for four months. It’s not like I’ve been doing this for years, in the lab practicing.
I just brought my turntables two, three months ago. From the time I’ve bought my turntables, I’ve been going zero-to-a-hundred. I have no idea when I’m going to stop, and when I plan on stopping.
Q: Where will you all be in five days, five months and five years?
RUM: Hopefully we’ll have a dance studio, somewhere out of here. Maybe in LA or even overseas. Still building up the movement, somewhere showcasing our talent – influencing everybody that’s around.
JFRIES: In five days, I’ll probably still be in my room, still practicing. Still trying to grind, hustle, scrap e and do everything I can possibly do to still grow my name. Five months from now, I would say, [I’ll be] more established, bouncing around different clubs, parties and venues in Baltimore, and potentially moved out-of-state to other venues, where other states can see Baltimore’s talents.
In five years, I plan to completely be out of Maryland and pay homage to where I’m from, and being a household name, and everybody’s pulling me every which way, and I can ultimately make a career out of something, I can do for fun.
TERRY: In five days, I’ll be at work. But when I get off work, I’m going to be teaching dance classes, to the kids. Five months from now, I’ll either in LA or in different cities, showcasing what we do. In five years from now, I plan on having studios in Baltimore, overseas and LA.