Camden Sophisticated Sisters: Dance Group Inspires Youth in Tough Camden, N.J., Community

By ABC News

May 6, 2013 8:35am

ABC News’ Sharde Miller reports:

It’s been a whirlwind two weeks for the Camden Sophisticated Sisters drill team, who made their national TV debut on “Dancing With the Stars,” wowing audiences with their energetic dance to Beyonce’s hit, “Give Me Bodied.”

The Camden, N.J., nonprofit program empowers hundreds of teen boys and girls, younger children, and even adults, all through the art of dance.

“I actually wanted the entire world to know that these young ladies are sophisticated and they are from Camden, New Jersey. They do exist, they are here,” said Tawanda Jones, who founded the program 27 years ago after her high school dance team lost funding.

People are taking notice of the Sophisticated Sisters, including pop star Beyonce, who surprised the drill team with a special message this morning on “Good Morning America,” calling their story inspiring.

“To see these young girls have this place and this unity, because we all need each other, it really inspired me,” Beyonce said in the video message.  “And I was so happy because I love the story. And then the icing on the cake, they did ‘Give Me Bodied.’  And I’m like,’Wow, that’s beautiful.’ I was very impressed. I was very inspired by their story.”

The young CSS members, ecstatic to have Beyonce acknowledge their hard work, jumped up and down in Times Square, screaming as their music idol’s message played.

“That means so much,” Jones said of the surprise. “That just topped it off. We thought this was just fantastic, but Beyonce to leave a message? That’s insane.”

The award-winning singer and actress said she planned to send them “some love and goodies” and hoped to meet them.

The drill team members also learned they would be receiving donations of 100 custom-made uniform sweaters, provided by Academyuniforms.com and A+ School Apparel, as well as 350 backpacks, provided by Bed, Bath and Beyond, as part of “You’re Not Dreaming” week on “GMA,” where people doing extraordinary things in their community are recognized on the show.

When asked what she hoped the members would get out of this surprise, Jones easily replied, “More self-esteem, motivation, dedication, self-discipline. I’m so proud of my babies.”

The drill team is as much about education as it is about dance. Camden is one of the most violent and poverty stricken cities in the country. Jones said she created the drill team because there was “a major need for structure and discipline in our community, especially for young ladies.”

In a city where fewer than 50 percent of high school students actually graduate, the CSS drill team has had a 100 percent graduation rate.

“These kids … they are survivors,” she said. “You know, and they’re like the light in Camden.”

Jones wants to empower its youngest residents. When Jones drills the team, she urges them to be confident. It’s a powerful chant, and one that the girls recite with pride.

Daisanay Green, 9, says her involvement with the team has taught her a great deal.

“I learned to be strong, I learned to have courage, I learned to never give up, and I learned to believe in myself,” she said.

CLICK HERE to learn more about the Camden Sophisticated Sisters

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