Damita Jo Freeman (Courtesy photo)

It was 1971. Damita Jo Freeman and her dance partner, Don “Campbellock” Campbell, were having fun at clubs like Maverick Flats on Crenshaw Blvd., which doubled as a teen spot that served soda to youth. They also danced at other clubs throughout the Los Angeles area.

Damita had just graduated from high school. Little did she and Campbell know an audition for “Soul Train,” a new television show created by Don Cornelius would change their lives in a dramatic way.

The show’s dance coordinator, Pam Brown, had gathered young dancers for the first auditions. Filming started at 7:30 a.m., ended at 2 a.m., and all the dancers were given to eat was a two-piece box of chicken and a Shasta soda. There was no monetary compensation, only a chance to gain exposure.

Related Links:



Damita would become a regular on Soul Train as she became popular for her acrobatic stuyleg, and her flexible movements. Explaining her style of dancing, Damita, who was formally trained in ballet, said, “Dances created by me came from my past being a ballerina, and all I did was bring the funk!”

In an interview with the Los Angeles Sentinel, Damita discussed her book entitled, “Are You that Girl on Soul Train?!” She remained a staple on the show from 1971 to 1974 and everywhere she went, people would ask, “Are you that girl on Soul Train.”   Since the show aired continuously from 1971 to 2006, many more people witnessed Damita’s dancing through reruns.

Freeman, right, dances on “Soul Train” as Bunny Siegler sings. (Courtesy photo)

Describing the influence of “Soul Train,” Damita said, “The dancing seen on ‘Soul Train’ really impacted the culture. Kids wanted to dance and dress like the young kids they saw on ‘Soul Train.’ This was the first time we saw Blacks doing something in a positive light. We saw people that looked like we looked.”

In her book, Damita details the different dances she and her dance partner or other Soul Train dancers such as Jimmy Scoo-B-Doo Foster and Perry “Get Down” and “Rerun” Berry created.  Those dances included the Campbellock, the Stop and Go, the bump, the robot, and the Scooby Doo, which introduced a unique locking style that thousands of youths duplicated.

“People would beg me to show them to do the moon walk after Micheal Jackson became famous for doing it,” recalled Damita. “But he was not the original creator of the moon walk. It was derived from mime dancing.”

Jeffery Daniel of Shalamar was often seen doing the backslide dance and Damita details in the book how she created the steps used in that street dance.  “Little did I know that this was the beginning of my career as a choreographer,” she said.

According to Damita, many of her dancer friends would go on to dance on other television shows. Damita was able to work on Dick Clark’s “American Music Awards” as an assistant choreographer.  She also worked on the Emmys and “American Bandstand.” “Also, I had the opportunity to travel with Shirley McClain and I also worked with Cher,” Damita said.

A memorable experience on “Soul Train” occurred for Damita when singer Joe Tex appeared on the show.  Tex, who combined the genres of country, soul, funk, and rhythm and blues in his music, brought Damita onstage to dance with him.

She was also featured dancing on the show with the legendary James Brown. As a choreographer, she created routines for “The Diana Ross Show,” as well as for the Jacksons, the Temptations, the Miracles, Thelma Houston and Sister Sledge.

Selected to develop dance scenes for the closing ceremony of 1984 Summer Olympics, Damita said, “I choregraphed 500 street dancers, 100 regular dancers and 25 children. It was an honor!”

A native of Texas, Damita relocated to Los Angeles with her mother when she was six-years-old and she credits her mom with inspiring her career.

“My mom played a crucial role in my success as she loved. She was a schoolteacher and she mom believed in me following my dreams,” said Damita, who also landed acting roles in “Elvira Mistress of the Dark” and “Private Benjamin.”

To others desiring a similar career, Damita advised, “I encourage anyone who has a dream to be strong and don’t give up as you reach for your dreams. Be fearless.”

Look for Damita’s book “Are You That Girl on Soul Train?” on www.dancerjo.com.