Once upon a time, they were just Napoleon, a muscle-bound personal trainer, and Tabitha, a smart girl who danced for fun, edited video and wore a fruit-covered hat to help pay the bills.
Then they met, fell in love and danced. And thats when the real fairy tale began.
Together, they became Nappytabs, a dancing duo renowned for their hip-hop moves, choreography and directing abilities.
As UNLV students in the mid-1990s, Napoleon and Tabitha DUmo had big plans for their futures. A communications major, Tabitha wanted to work in public relations. Napoleon, a pre-med student, planned to become a doctor. Instead, they have become a highly sought-after hip-hop duo and are even credited with creating a new dance style called lyrical hip-hop.
Most known for their choreography on Fox televisions So You Think You Can Dance and MTVs Americas Best Dance Crew, the couple also has choreographed routines and shows for Jennifer Lopez, Ricky Martin, Missy Elliott and Cirque du Soleils Viva Elvis, among others. The couple is currently directing Jabbawockeez in their MUS.I.C. (Muse I see) show at the MGM Grand, through Wednesday.
The husband and wife of 12 years had a humble Las Vegas beginning. Tabitha worked during college as Rio Rita, the Rio hotels ambassador to the public. She donned a tropical print outfit and fruit on her head to attend special events and greet guests. Napoleon spent his days training people in local gyms. They danced for fun, both of them taking dance classes at college.
Even paying gigs were mostly for fun, because hip-hop dancing didnt pay well, at least in the beginning. We started a hip-hop dance class at the Las Vegas Athletic Club and (dozens) of people would show up, Napoleon recalls. But I only got $12 a class.
Tabitha, born and raised in New Jersey, moved to Las Vegas in 1991 to attend the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. She wanted to try something new and different from what the East Coast had to offer, and the desert appealed to her. The fact that she had a few family members in the valley helped, too.
Napoleon grew up in California and joined the military after high school. His family moved to Las Vegas, so once he became a civilian again, he decided to attend UNLV and prepare for medical school. He met Tabitha in 1993; they started dating a year later.
I was attracted to him but I was dating someone and he was dating like 10 girls. Honestly, I thought of him as a good-looking jock kind of guy, and I didnt think he was very artistic or very smart, Tabitha says of her first impression of Napoleon.
He laughs at her description.
She thought I only went to school to pick up girls. She was always saying, I dont see you at school, do you actually go to school? Napoleon remembers.
Eventually, they had a conversation and Tabitha realized he was actually a smart, sensitive guy.
She was the first one I dated who challenged me creatively and inspired me, because she was always doing these projects, (for school), Napoleon recalls. I was this guy who always memorized these numbers and formulas and she inspired me to think differently.
In the mid-1990s, the couple heard about tryouts for a Nike-sponsored hip-hop dance company called Culture Shock. They tried out, made the cut and before long, were running the company.
Thats how we met some of the Jabbawockeez before they became Jabbawockeez, Tabitha says.
Some of the groups members grew up in Las Vegas and also joined Culture Shock.
It was a stepping stone for a lot of us, Napoleon says. Whats funny is a lot of people who were part of Culture Shock came out to L.A. and are big choreographers and dancers now.
Jabbawockeez member Chris Gatdula, a Culture Shock San Diego alum, grew up in Las Vegas and credits Napoleon for helping him land his first dancing gig, a Nike commercial. As a member of the Jabbawockeez, Gatdula worked with the couple on Americas Best Dance Crew in 2008, with the Nappytabs duo serving as supervising choreographers. Jabbawockeez won the competition that year. When it came time to find a director for their Las Vegas show, Gatdula says the Jabbawockeez naturally turned to their old friends, the DUmos.
We knew we needed somebody to be our eyes onstage, Gatdula says. Theyre geniuses at what they do. They were our first choice.
Neither of them ever imagined being able to earn a living from dancing. Then the money started coming in.
We were just getting a high off of doing it. Then the jobs started coming our way, and we started scratching our heads, thinking, Should we do this? Tabitha says.
It didnt take long before the two were heading to California.
Their success has brought them back to Las Vegas. Jabbawockeez has struck a nerve with audiences, selling out performance dates and has had an extension of their current show. Theres even talk of a long-running show.
But dont expect the couple to move back to Vegas.
When we lived there, I was young and drove around in a tank top in my Jeep and the heat didnt bother me, Napoleon says. Now, I dont think I can take the summers.
Contact reporter Sonya Padgett at spadgett@review journal.com or 702-380-4564.