CHAMPAIGN — Standing in formation, the girls swat bugs off their faces as they wait for their coach, Nuri Karim, to start the music and practice. On this day, their studio is Karim's backyard.
Like muscle memory, the girls move as easily to the rhythm of the music as they do across fields of grass, concrete floors or squeaky gymnasiums, maybe with the buzz of an air conditioner in the background or the heat of the sun on their faces.
Legaci Dance team doesn't have a studio.
The girls practice in an empty downtown space, the YMCA, the Campus Recreation Center or the Karims' own house — anywhere they can find a spot in town.
But for Karim, it's not about the space as much as it is about giving young black girls the opportunity to dance with people who look like them.
"A lot of them are in the troop because they do like dance, but some of them are here just to keep them off the street," Karim said. "Keeping them focused on something else helps. They all like to dance on their free time, so why not get together and have a group?
"We needed to have something positive going on, because we really didn't have that."
Karim started Legaci during high school, while she was on Centennial's dance team. She cycled through a few names — Blue Label, Queenz, No Limit — before landing on Legaci. She has coached between 18 and 20 girls at a time for almost a decade, for performances like this month's CU Days and to compete in places like Danville and Chicago, where they were earlier this year.
Karim focuses on choreography for the team's performances, but stresses the importance of academics, too.
"One of the big things is, if you don't have your grades together, you can't go nowhere," she said. "Your grades have to come first, and then dance.
"Discipline. That's how it's always been."
Christina Walker, whose 10-year-old, Kayla, is in Legaci, said that ever since her daughter's first practice, she has been as devoted to dancing as Karim is.
"When my daughter saw Nuri's dance group perform at Centennial High School a couple of times, she wanted to get on," Walker said. "And a few weeks ago, we had this conversation. My daughter comes up to me and says 'Mommy, I like dancing with girls that look like me,' and that just solidified it for us that we're going to stay with Legaci."
It was important for Walker to see her daughter be so active in a mostly black group.
"And because Nuri is a young black woman who I've watched grow up in this community, I want to see her business thrive and be bigger than just Champaign," she said. "I appreciate Nuri for even having this business, so whenever she asks for me, I'm there, always making suggestions — whether she likes them or not."
In order to grow, though, Legaci needs a building to call its own.
Trying to get a small side business off the ground isn't easy, Karim has found. Because it doesn't have the space, Legaci can't accept many new members, which means less revenue and a longer wait list.
Money that comes in from various fundraisers — mostly garage sales and car washes — goes primarily to costumes and props the girls use during performances, as a way to bring down costs for parents.
But that means no money for a new building.
"Right now, we're practicing downtown, but we have about two weeks left to be in that building," Karim said. "And it's not hard to be able to get the girls to join or be interested, it's just having a place for them to be able to dance."
Since high school, Karim has always coached dance on the side. Right now, she makes a living as a cleaner. But ultimately, she wants to have her own business and make it on her own.
"I don't want to have to fall back on another job," she said. "I want it to be so that I'm not having to work for nobody — that this is my business, and this is what I want to do with it."