(Photo credit: the Dance Complex)
Welcome back to another Fort Point Q&A! A hotspot for artists, innovators and performers, the Fort Point community is chock-full of creativity. For this edition we sat down with Billy and Bobby McClain, also known as the “Wondertwins.” The two identical twins have made a successful career for themselves in the dance world with their unique and dynamic approach to hip-hop and have lived in the Midway Artist Studios in Fort Point for about ten years.
How did you get into street dance and what was that scene like in Boston when you were growing up?
We grew up in Dorchester, around the Phil’s Corner area. We started when we were around 8 years old, but we didn’t join a company until we were about 10 years old, so we were just doing local barbecue and picnic performances. Most of [our performances] were for our friends and families, it wasn’t even for anyone other than our moms and aunts. And then we got into a street dance crew. It was actually the first professional street dance group that started in 1974 and we got in it in 1980 and that was around the Joseph Lee School in Roxbury. We were with them for around 8 to 9 years. All the way through a little bit of elementary school and throughout middle school and high school.
We would do a big, two hour show every month in Roxbury. So the whole neighborhood would come. All the little kids, anyone between 10 and 15 would come to our show. And back then our opening act was New Kids on the Block, so it was really really weird and crazy back then. We were all just little, little kids. The first big show we did was at the Strand and we were around 11 years old. But we were doing monthly shows for years. Our dance teacher was David Barn and he would go to Broadway and do auditions and all these different things and come back with all these ideas in New York. The first time we did the Apollo it had nothing to do with our dance company. That was just me (Billy) and my brother. We were 18 years old.
What type of dance do you perform?
We use a lot of different elements in our show because of all the different stuff we studied when we were younger. We study a lot of mime, a lot of vaudeville and a little ballet.
Where we want to be is not common for hip-hop dancers. It’s usually common for tap or modern. That’s the area that we want to be in because they don’t get a chance to kind of see our style of dancing. Usually when they see hip hop dancing it’s very short, can be inappropriate, especially the music, and it’s just not what we do. We’re too grown to be in that area. And then we started to do more work with tap dancers and I realized that this was probably the audience that we need to grow.
Could you talk a little bit about the creative process that goes into your routines and choreography?
We do everything together. We kind of go back and forth. Part of our rehearsal is watching footage. We can watch footage for hours and know what we’re gonna do. Sometimes we don’t actually make choreography. So if someone saw our show two nights in a row, they’ll see that it looks different from yesterday.
For our music we bring in as many elements of our memory from when were were younger, we try to put it into our show and all the sounds. I study a lot of scores for movies, and I watch the documentaries to try and see how they piece these things together that make it sound like it’s coming through the screen. Like a 3D effect in dance. That what we want it to look like and feel like. And we don’t put anything in it that we don’t love. So if we put George Michael in, we’re not making fun of the 80s. That’s another thing they do at the hip hop shows, they make fun of the 80s music and I’m like, you can’t make fun of the 80s! Especially with today’s music you just can not make fun.
Your career has taken you all over the globe. What drew you to the Fort Point area?
I think it’s family that keeps us here. We found out about this building [Midway Studios] from our brother, who’s a painter, because he lived here. He saw this place, and he came and showed us and were like ‘Woah!’ It’s a little different now than when we first got here, because then it was basically just an open parking lot. So anything that was around here, I felt like was only artists. It felt like we were in a whole different world when we walked down the street. I was like ‘everyone’s an artist? This is really strange.’ We would have all these conversations late at night when we would have parties, and little art get-togethers. It’s a little different now. It’s a little bit more laid back now, but it was just great being around artists and being able to practice with no one knocking on the door telling you to turn your music down, but instead ‘can we come and watch?’ The whole community of being in a building with artists is just really relaxing.
We were the first couple people that were here. We moved in in 2005 when the building was established. We stayed here for 4 or 5 years and we moved out and stressed out in a new apartment in Southie up the street and said we can’t do that and we came right back.
A collection of the twins’ awards for bodybuilding.
What aspects of the neighborhood inspire you and your work/performances?
For me it’s about being around other artists, it’s just comfortable being around being that’re doing not the same style you’re doing but are just in the art world, it’s just relaxing. I actually don’t know that there are any other dancers that I know of in this building. So something that’s really good is that we get a chance to, if we can, try to collaborate with different artists and see what they do and see their ideas. We did one collaboration last year with Nick who does things with multimedia, so we did something with that so that was the first time we ever experienced collaborating with another artist in that media so that works really really well. We get more ideas being around other artists. And it’s also great to listen to other artists. Before we moved here we were in conversation with other artists we were in conversation with street dancers but not other forms of art. People build things in here so we’ve approached people about building props and other things, it’s really cool.
Any plans/hopes for the future either personally or for the area?
I know we do Open Studios but I would like to see us do something together a little bit more. And one other thing, when we first moved in here we didn’t have the George Foreman gym downstairs so a lot of the tenants talked about getting together and doing something in the auditorium. That was a big talk for the first couple of years we were here so there was a lot excitement of what we could do. I would love to see if we could just combine and do something together. Honestly, we could do a great performing arts center together, it would be amazing. That’s what I’m hoping we could try to do this year. We have to communicate better though. We also have a lot of shows coming up. We were talking a bit to the Fort Point Theatre Channel about doing something together. Maybe a collaboration with an artist in this building.
We were also thinking about doing our performance here, our dance show that we perform in the dance complex. We were thinking about doing it here in our apartment right before or during the summertime, just do the whole show here. Move everything out and just do the whole show here. I don’t know that they’ve ever done anything like that. But that’s something that’s great about this space. We can just try anything. And it’d be good for the other artists. Because we don’t get a chance to see what other artists do unless we have Open Studio. We don’t get a chance to see it much, everyone’s in their own building just building things. You walk in and see all this stuff and wonder who did it.
Want to learn more about Billy and Bobby McClain? Check out more information on the Wondertwins here.
And that’s it for this edition of Fort Point Q&A. Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below. Want to suggest someone in the Fort Point community for us to interview? E-mail us at email@example.com. Interested in learning more about what goes on in Fort Point? Sign up for the newsletter right here.
Christine Rowley is the Marketing and Social Media Intern for Friends of Fort Point Channel and a current junior at Northeastern University.