Becoming Heroes

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We Are Heroes, consisting of Riquel Olander, Ali Iannucci, Hiroka Mcrae, Nichelle Thrower and Mami Kanemitsu practice their Beyonce challenge to a mash up of “Single Ladies” at MTV’s America’s Best Dance Crew stage in Burbank. (Photos by JORDAN IKEDA/Rafu Shimpo)

We Are Heroes, consisting of Riquel Olander, Ali Iannucci, Hiroka Mcrae, Nichelle Thrower and Mami Kanemitsu practice their Beyonce challenge to a mash up of “Single Ladies” at MTV’s America’s Best Dance Crew stage in Burbank. (Photos by JORDAN IKEDA/Rafu Shimpo)

By JORDAN IKEDA

RAFU SPORTS EDITOR

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The story is about a ragtag assortment of individuals who through a stroke of luck or the hand of fate band together to embrace their destiny as champions of the people.

The plot is instantly recognizable, considered time-honored and classic, if not somewhat now clichéd, and is the sort most often found on the pages of pulp fiction, comic books and science fiction novels and relegated to chivalrous knights, “chosen ones” and super powered beings.

Only, this story is taking place here in our own backyard in Los Angeles, in the immediacy and reality of now, and it involves five very unique women.

It’s a new season of MTV’s America’s Best Dance Crew and after only two weeks, the group We Are Heroes has proven their mettle and made this season about their journey.

The players involved in the story, at first glance, are an odd collection.

There’s Nichelle Thrower from Oakland, the daughter of a pastor who sheltered her from so much when she was younger. She found dance and has been free to express herself ever since.

Ali Iannucci from New York has been dancing since she was two years old and knew that this was what she wanted for as long as memory has served her.

Riquel Olander of Twin Falls, Idaho who uses dance as her outlet for everything. It’s who she is. It’s her emotions. Her solitude. What keeps her going and motivated.

Mami Kanemitsu of Okayama, Japan, who grew up in the countryside where she decided to dance when she was 12, but didn’t realize that reality until she moved to the United States nearly a decade later.

Nichelle and Ali bring the tricks of their trade, while Riquel and Mami are trained in the arts of womanly dance.

Collectively, the group is led by the irrepressible energy of hip-hop maven Hiroka “Hero” Mcrae of Hokkaido, Japan, who was the inspiration for the group’s name and who is dancing not only for herself, but for her grandmother and the two members of her crew who couldn’t make it out to the show due to visa issues.

“All of these girls are really talented and really sexy,” Hero told the Rafu Shimpo. “So I thought, damn, these girls are the bomb. That’s why I got this group started.”

While most groups come to ABDC having at least some knowledge of who each other are, just like in the stories of old, We Are Heroes came together as if by fate, having never met each other before rehearsals.

From left, Ali, Hiroka and Mami practice their dance for the Beyonce Challenge during week two of ABDC.

From left, Ali, Hiroka and Mami practice their dance for the Beyonce Challenge during week two of ABDC.

“We just got together for this show, but I feel like we’ve been together for a long time,” Mami said. “We are more really like family.”

“I’m learning new things being in the group,” Nichelle added. “I’ve taught others new things. So we’re all learning from each other. I’m dope at this. You’re dope at that. Let’s all be dope at it, so we can be the best crew here.”

So far so good. We Are Heroes was one of two groups who were voted safe for week two at the onset of the second show. What they are trying to accomplish has never been done before. Last year, Beat Freaks lost out to Quest Crew and missed out on becoming the first all-girl crew to win.

“What Beat Freaks started,” Ali said, “we’re going to try and finish out. I think Hero has kind of created this new style. And this season is about all different styles of dance. We have, you know, salsa, we have some street stuff from DC. There’s contemporary. We’ve got some country folks. That’s what this season is about. Different styles.”

“Our style in the dance world is known as something only guys do and it’s popping and tugging and waving and isolating,” Riquel said. “But at the same time we want to bring a sexy female flair to it.”

“We have a little Japanese flavor, a little intricate, unique style that is unexpected,” said Hero who along with Mami has taught the rest of the crew some Japanese words, some of which she admits with a laugh are “nasty” and “not proper.”

“We have a lot of practice, a lot of rehearsal,” she continued. “We just sweat it out, but also having fun. You know, sexy style, tomboy style will never mix it in the industry. But we will bring it to the stage, nobody has done it before. We are trying to represent women power.”

Their focus is extreme. They have given up doing anything else but dance, practicing their moves over and over and over until they get it perfect.

“I feel like this is a crazy hell/heaven,” Hero said, her voice rising with excitement. “Because 24/7, each single second, I’m thinking about the choreograph, the routine.”

“Hero’s eyes don’t go anywhere,” Nichelle said of her enigmatic leader. “They stay in one spot and then you can tell she’s just thinking. And she’s like that the whole day until we get to practice and make her thoughts come to life. She really does marinate on her thoughts.”

And the crowds have marinated on the crew’s performances. While their style might not be as acrobatically insane as what Quest Crew was doing last year, to the observant eye, We Are Heroes are technically on point and are mixing styles and basically inventing a hybrid form of dance on the fly.

“I feel really crazy and amazing moment,” Hero concluded, “Because now we cannot run away. We cannot escape. This is real fight. It’s competition but at the same time it’s really fun. We spend all this time together and we’re sharing this amazing moment together.”

And when it comes to the greatest, most treasured stories ever told, the heroes always come out on top.

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ABDC can be seen every Sunday night on MTV. Check local listings for exact times. You can communicate with the members of We Are Heroes by visiting them at www.facebook.com/WeAreHeroes or check www.mtv.com for more info about the show.

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