Jeff Mawer

It should come as no surprise that Portland is bubbling over with juicy talent. And if you were in attendance at the Mercury's 2005 Pizzazz! Talent Show on August 27, then you saw the best of the best! Singers, comedians, poets, martial artists, a giant saltshaker and bunny boxing match (don't ask), and a mini-bike dance team were just a few of the amazing acts. Though all deserve accolades for their talents, only three could come out on top. In third place was the hilarious Oliver Easy and Gigi Bang Bang (from the local drag king group DK PDX) whose half-man, half-woman rendition of the B-52's "Love Shack" brought down the house. Coming in second was one of the most original acts of the night: Zac and Jamie, the sexy acrobatic balancing team known as "The Trained Professionals" who got the crowd to their feet. However, there could only be one winner of Pizzazz! and the $1,000 grand prize, and it was the hottiest hiphop dance troupe around, the sexy ladies known as "Sauce"!

Who are these girls? Where did they get such talent? And why does my tongue roll out of my head every time I get near them? Determined to find out the answer (and hopefully reclaim my tongue) I visited the girls on their home turf, at the Vega Dance+Lab.

Owned and founded in 2002 by Sauce team leader, Evie, the Vega Dance+Lab is a compact, welcoming dance studio in the industrial district that specializes in teaching adults the art of hiphop—and where each member of Sauce is an instructor.

"We all come from different dance backgrounds," says Evie of the troupe. "But in those organizations, there were always boundaries involved where we had to worry about what others thought. As a choreographer, I wanted a studio where those boundaries weren't such a concern, where our style could be more risqué if we wanted. I was a teacher here in town, so I started pulling people out of my classes who I loved to watch dance. Now here they are, and we're all best friends."

And like hiphop Super Friends, each member of Sauce brings a unique talent to the team. Evie is the leader and main choreographer, Megan is the co-founder specializing in hiphop as well as classical dance, Jill engaged in dance team competitions throughout high school and college, Jessica was an NFL cheerleading coach (who does most of the troupe's stunts and flips), and Kimberly was "a natural"—a sports enthusiast with no formal training, but picked up dancing as quickly as water sliding off the back of a goose.

Together, they worked tirelessly for a two-month period preparing for the Pizzazz! competition, choreographing a kinetic blast of energy on stage—an act that combined hard-edged hiphop, over-the-top sexuality, multiple costume changes, gymnastic stunts, and razor-sharp precision... plus some self-effacing humor to top it all off.

"I'm a fan of big, masculine hiphop," says Evie, "fusing it with more feminine sexy moves—and then throwing in some flips just for fun. These ladies also have really strong classical technique as well, which you don't normally see in hiphop. It's a style that's unique, because it all comes from our distinct backgrounds."

"But the most important thing is not to take ourselves too seriously," she adds. "Dancing is fun, so we like to dress up in weird outfits like sexy corsets with sweat pants and Converse high tops to throw everything off. We're entertainers after all—nobody's curing cancer here."

And while these girls put good times at the top of their priorities, they take their fun seriously, practicing ruthlessly until each move is nailed solid. For them, their hard work serves one purpose: communicating with and entertaining their audience.

"I want people who don't dance to have fun watching us," Evie says.

Megan concurs. "We don't dance just for other dancers," she says. "We use hiphop because audiences relate to it, and it helps them understand what we're doing."

Evie laughs, adding, "Yes. As an audience member, I can understand these girls sticking their butts in the air."

It's this kind of sassy-pants attitude that inspired the group's name.

"The idea for 'Sauce' came about when I was drinking," Evie confesses. "We all like to drink, and we're all sassy—so 'Sauce' works for us on a bunch of different levels."

As for the future of these saucy gals, the sky is the limit. Not beholden to dancing in snooty theaters, Sauce is ready to perform anytime, anyplace—whether it's at a children's benefit, or on the street at First Thursday.

"We want to keep exploring this 'Pussycat Dolls' style of cabaret, and maybe expand it into a regular club night," Evie says.

And after taking home the trophy at Pizzazz!, the girls of Sauce already have a built-in audience—ready to roll out their tongues in appreciation. n

The Vega Dance+Lab is great for working adults, with a wide variety of early evening (and cheap!) classes in hiphop, jazz, breakdance, yoga, and basic dance. Check it out at www.vegadancelab.com or drop by the studio at 1322 SE Water, four blocks north of OMSI. 753-9976.