DJ, dancer, and percussionist Perry Donta’e was fresh off of a spell at Southern Illinois University when his manager at the nonprofit he was working for asked him to develop an after-school program to appeal to at-risk youth. 

“The program I came up with was called Street Beat, and I was finding kids who weren’t into sports, the kids who were outcasts, the kids who were introverts, and started teaching them the basics of drumming,” 31-year-old Donta’e said. “As the years went past, we just got better and better until we were able to turn this into a company.”

In 2015, following budget cuts at his employer, which he didn’t feel comfortable naming, Donta’e gathered his youth Street Beat team and founded his own touring entertainment group, turning Street Beat into a new traveling troupe called The Pack.  

After a few years of touring schools, parties and private events around Chicagoland, The Pack got a look in 2017 that would take them to the next level: an opportunity to showcase their talent on local television show Windy City Live.

“That was amazing. Then we got an email from the [WNBA basketball team] Chicago Sky staff,” Donta’e said. “They were like ‘Hey, we’re looking for a drumline. Would you guys be down to be our new official drumline?’ We were super pumped, so of course we said yes.”

Since 2017, The Pack has been the official drumline of the Chicago Sky, delivering a spirited performance that answers the question “What if you taught an HBCU drum major how to actually play the drums?” at every home game at the Wintrust Arena. It’s a marvel of physical endurance as much as it is a display of immense talent.

This Friday, The Pack will take the stage as special guests at Thalia Hall in Pilsen at the Red Bull Dance Your Style Chicago, a street dance competition that holds qualifiers worldwide. The winner of the Chicago stop will compete in the national finals in Washington, D.C. on Oct. 22-23. And the winners of the national finals will compete to represent the U.S. at Red Bull Dance Your Style World Finals in Johannesburg, South African on Dec. 4-5.

This is the first time that the competition will make a stop in Chicago, where the Midwest’s best dancers — such as Chicago’s own Nero the Professor — will compete for the crowd’s vote in 1 on 1 freestyle dance battles. Local footwork crew The Era will also give a special guest performance.

Ahead of the competition, The Pack’s founder and director Donta’e and manager D’Andre Moore spoke with The TRiiBE about building The Pack, the values that make The Pack stand out and how they ended up at the intersection of music and dance performance.

[This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity].

How did you come up with The Pack’s signature combination of dance and drumming?

Perry Donta’e: I’ve always been a professional dancer. My younger brother is a lead dancer. When he started with Street Beat, he was helping us play bucket drums and he was finally like, ‘we got to start dancing with this, we got to really elevate this.’ So we started asking for more kids who were interested in dance. We didn’t even care if you were good or not. We let anybody join the team. We would just teach them the basics over and over and it just turned into like a full dance crew. And then we started making it mandatory that all the drummers, in order to be on the drumline, also knew how to dance as well, because we dance while we drum now.

What was it like building the team? How did you come across all these people who are talented drummers and dancers?

D’Andre Moore: We started off just reaching out to students through the nonprofit [Perry worked at]. We got into some middle schools, and we would perform for the kids, show them a good time. That got the kids excited, and wanting to be involved with us. 

From there, we had weekly rehearsals, after school rehearsals and we started with tons of students who were interested in learning different percussion or had different artistic ventures that they wanted to go on. We had some artists in the group. We had flag girls in the group at one time. We had a lot of creative diversity. 

As the years went on, the kids kind of grew up a little bit. Some members left and some members stuck around. The members that stuck around are who you see today. We’re a group of about 15 to 20 strong and we’re still a family, just as we were in the beginning.

Photo courtesy of The Pack
It seems like practice and physical training are super important to your success. What does practice and training look like?

Perry Donta’e: I [initially] went to school at Southern University and A&M College. Our drumline was very militant in terms of training. That’s how The Pack came up with our basics. We do a lot of training, meaning working out, push-ups, and a lot of mental drills as far as teaching people how to be brothers and sisters. It’s all about developing your mental; if you develop that mental first, it’ll help you on stage. 

A normal day will be like on a Tuesday, you come in at 3:00 p.m. and you’re probably not leaving until like 12:00 a.m. We’ll start off with the warm ups. We’re doing workouts. You’re running. We’ll have a break and then we’ll come in and we’ll constantly just go into drills and routines over and over and over and over again until it’s stuck in your brain. It’s tough training, actually 98% of people who join us usually don’t last the first two weeks simply because it’s way too much. 

I understand it’s not for everybody, but the ones that stay are probably some of the most in shape people that you can ever meet in your life. I promise you that.

Since The Pack is as much a creative incubator as it is a performing company, how has the group's performance evolved since the early days?

Perry Donta’e: In February 2020, around the time of the NBA All Star Game coming here, I was working with an artist by the name of DJ Illest, a phenomenal DJ drummer from Chicago. Once we started getting together, we started just developing this new sound and creativity. When we started bringing the drumline back and started fusing everything together, me and him kept working together doing these live shows on Twitch and people were tuning in to watch our performances. 

Once things started opening back up [as COVID-19 restrictions loosened], we were able to get so many opportunities thrown on our way because a lot of people were watching the lives that we were doing [on social media]. It wasn’t hard to throw the drumline on with us because it just gave it like this bigger show vibe. Like, we got these two DJ drummers going crazy and then out of nowhere here comes this drumline and dance crew. So we’re trying to create a full-on Vegas type show when you come watch us.

What emotions are you feeling going into this performance at Dance Your Style?

Perry Donta’e: I think I just want people to have that respect for us and to show them something new. Drumming is a culture in Chicago that’s fairly respected. For us to come up there as drummers that are able to move just the same way [the dancers] can and display that in front of them, it’s honestly an honor. Even the fact that they reached out to our drumline to perform at a dance competition, it means a lot because it shows us somebody is paying attention, somebody sees what we’re doing and what we’re trying to accomplish out here.

is a staff writer with The TRiiBE. Email him with news tips.