Even after she broke her silence in a major 2007 interview with Essence interview, it still surprises many people to learn that R. Kelly ever had a wife for 11 years. But Andrea Kelly — his ex-wife and mother of their two girls and one boy, ages 12, 10 and 8, respectively — remains unfazed. A trained dancer, Andrea was a key ingredient behind her ex-husband’s many performances. Returning to her very first love, dance, Kelly is determined to spread that joy to others through the Andrea Kelly Dance Theater, now located in Chicago.
With plans to open another location in Atlanta, the Chicago native, who travels to Atlanta frequently, is giving Atlantans a taste of what they can expect by teaching master dance classes that are both sensual and fitness-oriented. Known officially as “Le Pink Kitty Cabaret,” Kelly is holding classes for $40 at Devyne Stephens’ Complex Artist Development Center, located at 1021 Northside Drive, from October 8 to 10.
Before classes start, however, Kelly was kind enough to check in with Creative Loafing from Chicago to discuss her background and provide a little insight into her life then and now.
How old were you when you started dancing?
Well the story in my family is I danced before I walked. My dad said that he just remembers that I was still in diapers and "Soul Train" was on TV and he said, "You crawled over to the TV and you pulled yourself up." He was figuring I was gonna walk, and he’s like, "Girl you started dancing and the funny thing was you did not dance like the regular kid, kind of off-beat. You were on beat and everything. It went to commercial and you held your hands up like Poltergeist and was like 'Ma, Ma' and we knew from that point on that you would be dancing."
What kind of dance did you like?
I was a theater kid. Loved modern, ballet, jazz but my specialty was more the Fosse-based jazz. I love Broadway. I just love Chicago and All That Jazz and A Chorus Line. That is actually my favorite type of dance to do.
How old were you when you first started dancing professionally?
How did you become a dancer for R. Kelly?
I was actually doing theater and a good friend of mine, Larry Sims, who is now Ms. Posh Beckham’s [hair]stylist ... he called me one day and he was like "I need you to come down to this audition." I’m say "No. I’m getting ready to go to class." He’s like, "No, no, R. Kelly is looking for dancers." I’m like "Larry, come on. You know I don’t really do that type of dance. It’s cool and I did that but I’m really just trying to just stay focused on my training." He says "Please. I’m telling you come down here. You gon' love it." And I was like "alright," went down and this is how I actually met LisaRaye and she’s just been so cool [and is] my girl to this day.
It was actually the last day of auditions because they did the first round the day before and I didn’t know. So the day that I was going was the day of cuts. I get down there and Lisa was like "Turn around. Come here. Let me see you." And I’m like ‘okay who is this lady?’ And you know Lisa doesn’t cut corners. She don’t sugarcoat. She’s like, "Turn around. Let me see yo' shape. Look at yo’ booty. Okay you got a cute face. Rob gon' like you. Go in there and grab a number." Long story short. Went in, auditioned, killed it, made it, and that’s how I got hired for his first tour and the rest is history.
So did you tour mostly with him or did you ever tour with other people?
Actually all my touring, as far as secular and concert-wise, was with him. That was the first major tour that I had done that was here and international. For me, just being the dancer and becoming his choreographer, which was so funny how that happened. LisaRaye was actually working on some dance moves. I love my girl but I was like "Unh unh, Rob, I’m sorry. You can fire me right now but I’m not doing that. Unh unh." He was like "Really, what, what, you can do better?" And I said "Yeah, actually, I’m a choreographer." He was like "Alright, cool, I’m gonna go play ball and when I come back, show me what you got." He left. Hours went by. Girl, by the time he came back, I had three songs done. I had the breakdown — "this is the bridge, we can have lights right here and the girls come out on this part" — so he quieted rehearsal.... Girl, I’m so nervous. I’m thinking I’m about to be fired. See you put your foot in your mouth. That is not what he wanted. He was like "I want to introduce" — and at this time everybody called me “Baby Girl” — "Baby Girl, my new choreographer" — and then we were just touring. He was working on albums and the next thing I know this man was asking me to marry him and we got married and, three kids later, [we] were still touring and it just went on from there. So I kind of transitioned from being his choreographer and principal dancer to fiancée to wife to mother of his children.
So what album did it all start with?
12 Play ... his first album when he left Public Announcement. [circa 1993]
Would you choreograph the videos too?
Oh yeah. I did the videos, I did the tours, award shows ... in between having babies and touring I was still dancing, still right on the same stage, right along with him. Me, him and the kids, just as married as he wanna be. I’m right there and people never knew.
Did that bother you? I remember reading Montell Jordan’s wife talk about not being bothered by people not knowing they were married because she was willing to do whatever was needed to make him as big a star as possible.
I think that’s kind of a catch-22 though. That’s that double-edged sword because you do feel like it’s not what makes him bigger, it’s what makes us bigger, because we’re in this together. I never looked at it as I worked for him; I worked with him. So it was bittersweet in that, yes, we’re doing this together, but at the end of the day, there’s the praise and the accolades of "what a great video" and "what a great concept" and "what a great awards show," "what a great tour" [to him]. But every hour that he’s up, I’m up. We’re creating this together. I’m doing wardrobe. We’re going through lighting. We’re going through music and how we’re going to set up the show. So you kind of feel how ghostwriters feel. Yeah, I’m happy about it, but at the same time, in order for me to grow and for my career to go further, at what point do you get your recognition?... It’s that double-edged sword. You’re happy about it but, at the same time, you still want your due respect in your part in that.
When you look back, how do you feel about the work you guys did together?
We have done some wonderful work together. I will definitely say that because he has that musical side. He has that on lock. I will give that to him definitely. Musical genius. No questions asked about that. And then, when it comes to the dance, I think that’s just a raw talent that I have and it’s a passion and a love that I have. And when you join the two, it’s an unstoppable force, so it’s bound to be successful. It was a labor of love. It really, really was.
How old is the Andrea Kelly Dance Theater?
Three years from concept, but we’ve been performing as a company for two years.
Now you could very easily stay at home and take a break and retire. Why are you doing this?
Dance chose me. It’s something that’s not like work for me. I love doing it. I was born to do it and I cannot imagine not doing it.
You are planning to open the Andrea Kelly Dance Theater in Atlanta too. Why?
My mom actually lives in Alpharetta and she’s been down there for years now and whenever I would come down to visit I'd ask "Where’s a good place to take class?" There were different places where you could take hip-hop [dance] and I’m like "No, no, where do the black ballerinas and modern dancers, jazz dancers go?" It was pretty much nonexistent, so I just got the idea like, you know what, I need to go there.
What can Atlantans expect?
It’s not just the typical ballet, jazz, modern. You’re getting a little African, hip-hop, acting. That’s why my company is a theater company because we sing, dance, act, everything.
What are you doing with the classes you’re offering in Atlanta?
I’m just taking my expertise in dance and fitness and I put the two together and it’s a little mix of burlesque and jazz and hip-hop together. And then Pink Kitty will also be a performance company, so it’s kind of Moulin Rouge meets "Soul Train."
With all of this on your plate and coming back and forth between Chicago and Atlanta, how does this work with the kids?
It’s such a blessing that I have been financially put in that position that I do have two nannies that travel. My kids are older now, so we just set up the schedule. On the weekends when they’re not with their dad, they can travel with me. We travel down to Atlanta together. It’s just an hour-and-a-half on the plane.
Are you using dance to deliver a bigger message?
The dancing that I’m doing I’m letting my girls, especially, know to have control of your sexuality now, and that it’s not something that you use to get what you want and it’s not something that should be exploited. In a positive way, we’re all sexual beings, so they need to learn now and not when they are 15 when some guy has gotten control of them and he’s already tainted her idea of her body, her self-image and her sexuality. It’s when they’re younger; they have to see positive images of black women.... This isn’t a T&A show at all.
With him having new music out, will you ever work with R. Kelly again?
You know, I probably would never work with him again and it’s not a negative thing. I think because that’s a part of who I was; that’s not a part of who I am now. I am always going to be supportive because that’s the father of my children. Let’s not get it twisted; I keep it very real. As long as he’s successful, we’re fine.
The class schedule is as follows: 7 p.m.-8 p.m., Fri., Oct. 8. 11 a.m.-12 p.m. and 12:30 p.m.-1:30 p.m. , Sat., Oct. 9. 4 p.m.-5 p.m. Sun., Oct. 10. To attend, call 312-532-4670, email AKDanceTheater@gmail.com or show up before classes with $40 cash.
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