A History of MWAH!
The MWAH! Performing Arts Troupe evolved from a uniquely choreographed, championship caliber break dance team created as a healthy alternative to street gangs. That group, the Explosonic Rockers Street Jazz Theatrical Troupe, was founded in December 1983 by Ray Moffitt, then a police social worker in Maywood, Illinois, a near west suburb of Chicago.
Through a special project supported by the Jane Addams School of Social Work of the University of Illinois, Ray was chosen by a U. of I. professor, Harvey Treger, to help develop and implement a police social work prototype which became a national model for urban youth crime intervention and prevention. After nine years of using a variety of innovative strategies, Ray discovered that the performing arts was an effective tool in changing the lives of hard-core street gang members in Maywood as well as the West Side neighborhoods of Chicago.
Breakers began battling rival breakers on makeshift cardboard and linoleum floors, and loud battery-powered boom boxes replaced guns and knives as the weapons of choice.
Ray started the Explosonic Rockers as an outgrowth of an earlier program he had created – Explorer Post #75 of the Boy Scouts of America. To become a Rocker, anyone who was an active Gangster Disciple, Vice-lord, or Latin King was required to disavow his gang affiliation. He had to throw down his crown and switch to more positive and redeeming behaviors.
One of the first Rockers to discard his Maywood and Chicago gangster ties was Steve Brewster, the troupe’s first choreographer and currently the youth sports director for the YMCA in Odessa, Texas. Utilizing both the performing arts and fine arts along with a variety of organized athletic programs, Steve has continued the tradition of the Explosonic Rockers in west Texas. Steve designed the logo for the MWAH! troupe. Among other alumni of the Explosonic Rockers and MWAH! are actors, song writers, professional dancers, and music producers in such cities as Los Angeles, New York, Las Vegas, Minneapolis-St. Paul, and Chicago.
Other former troupe artists have progressed to such diverse careers as a cornerback for NFL professional football teams in Indianapolis, Atlanta, and now Oakland; a counselor for a highly respected drug and alcohol treatment center in Chicago; the founder and owner of a mega landscaping business in Phoenix, Arizona; the founder and director of reputedly the best hip hop dance company in the Midwest and one of the best in the country; a well-traveled and highly successful security investigator for the Union Pacific Railroad; and many more alumni who have become outstanding citizens in countless other professions and locales.
The Explosonic Rockers morphed into the MWAH! Performing Arts Troupe in 1993. In January 2001 the MWAH! troupe became an affiliate of the Chicago Area Project, a grass-roots service and advocacy agency based in downtown Chicago and part of a statewide community services network targeting at-risk youth and their families. Over the years the troupe has collaborated with several other respected service and prevention-oriented organizations in the preparation of a portion of its repertoire.
Among the collaborators are the Alliance Against Intoxicated Motorists (AAIM); the Illinois Alcoholism and Drug Dependence Association (IADDA); Operation Snowball; Suicide Prevention Services; Family, Career, and Community Leaders of America (FCCLA); and the Boys and Girls Clubs of America (BGCA). The MWAH! troupe has been a keynote presenter for the BGCA’s national and regional Keystone (teen) conferences in Houston, Atlanta, and Phoenix. The troupe has accepted an invitation to be a keynoter for the organization’s 100 th anniversary national conference in Washington, D. C. in August 2006. Twenty two years…dozens of talented and committed artists…a wide range of relevant issues affecting youth and families…a variety of venues throughout Illinois as well as in other states.
From boom box with tape cassettes to a wireless microphone sound system with programmed CDs, the beat goes on. And some things never change with the MWAH! troupe. The exclamation mark always is the most important part of the name.