ARMS twist and twirl around bodies, slender fingers curl around young, bright faces as they Vogue in imitation of Madonna, the pop queen whose song blares in the background of this rehearsal.
It's the week of the Afram festival, and the half-dozen or so girls who'll be performing are stepping over each other's toes, forgetting places and movements, crunched up together and looking around for guidance. It's the small rehearsal space in Johnston Square Youth Development Center at Ensor and Chase streets that cramps their style.
"Pose, pose, let me see a circle, walk, pose, pose," yells Alice Ebb, the director of Inner City Network, the group that will be performing for an expected 50,000 people at Afram Expo '91 this weekend at Festival Hall.
Nothing to worry about. It's just rehearsal and it'll be a piece of cake for them, says Jhona Ireland, 10, one of 69 city youths who'll be performing as part of the Inner City Network.
The Inner City Network is scheduled to do three fashion and dancing routines starting at 4 p.m. Saturday. Plus, the youths -- ranging in age from 2 to 15 years old -- will be modeling their favorite swimwear, sportswear and dress wear as they do their dance routine.
The highlight of their show is their performance of new dance steps -- like the Tap and the Doo Doo Brown -- that will be combined with the old -- like the Electric Slide, the M.C. Hammer and the Snake. The Tap is a jazzed-up version of traditional tap dancing, a la Sammy Davis Jr. and Gregory Hines. The only way to describe the Doo Doo Brown is: lots of shimmying, shaking and gyrating. Everywhere.
When they're on stage and performing, they appear to be a typical performing kids group, in sync and decked out in uniforms. But the Inner City Network is composed of youths who have turned away from street violence and teen pregnancy. They joined the network and the performing group to shelter themselves from the streets.
The youths in the Inner City Network live in high-crime, high-drug trafficking areas of East Baltimore, according to Ebb, who founded the network three years ago. The program uses modeling, dance and rap to attract youths to join. Through these activities, they learn to increase their self-esteem and confidence, traits that inspire them to say no to drugs and do well in school, Ebb says.
"The one thing I'd like people to realize, to get from this is that in spite of where they live, they don't lack the ability," she says. "They lack the capability. But there are children in the inner city who aspire."
As for Afram, it's a chance to show the African-American community there is hope in the inner city. "Basically, dancing and modeling and rap can be used for the enhancement of self-esteem and self-expression," Ebb says.
The three-day Afram festival features ethnic food, arts and crafts and traditional garbs for sale. Entertainment includes everything from rap to jazz to reggae music. Gospel music also headlines the festival.
"We're asking people to wear their African dress throughout the festival," says Dorothy Jordan, an Afram spokeswoman. "It really adds to the colors."
The festival kicks off at 6:30 p.m. tomorrow with a parade at Eutaw and Dolphin streets. It continues with musical entertainment throughout the night with Omar Chandler at 7 and ending with Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes at 9:15.
Saturday is for kids with special activities, arts and crafts and entertainment at Festival Hall. A Michael Jackson impersonator as well as the Metro Delta Steppers will be on hand to provide entertainment.