Big Lez Revisits Making the "Around The Way Girl" Video

"It was my first mainstream video and the first time I met LL COOL J."

Leslie "Big Lez" Segar is an icon of dance and choreography. She's appeared in seminal videos for rap and R&B superstars like Salt-N-Pepa, Mary J. Blige and Heavy D; it's her moves that grace the opening credits of popular FOX sitcom Living Single, and she famously hosted BETs Rap City for seven seasons. 

But she got her big break with an appearance in the classic music video for "Around The Way Girl," LL COOL J's hit 1990 ode to "cuties from the neighborhood." The Mary Jane Girls-sampling track was produced by Marley Marl and released as a single from LL's critically lauded fourth album, Mama Said Knock You Out

"I had been dancing in the New York City club scene," Lez says of those early days. "And in the 90s, that's when artists and all the radio executives hung out in the clubs. That's where my work generated; I was the chick battling all the guys in the clubs. You'd have the MCs doing their cipher; and you'd have the dance circle. I was one of very few girls in there, turning up and wilding out. I remember artists and video directors handed me their business cards and stuff."

She'd become known as a club dancer, but was about to take a major leap forward in her career. 

"There was a newspaper called Backstage that had all the casting and audition information," she recalls. "I believe that is how I found out, if not by word of mouth, that there were auditions for a new music video. So when I got there I was introduced to Paris Barclay the director. Sometimes it's very rare that a director is actually sitting in on an audition. It was myself and a few other dancers I'd worked with. I'd just graduated from college; had started dancing and my first major tour was with Keith Sweat, on the Triple Threat Tour with BBD and Johnny Gill."

She showed up at the audition and soon learned she'd be auditioning for video director Paris Barclay himself. Lez was surprised to learn they'd already heard of her. 

"When I walked into the room, I think Paris and somebody with him had been familiar with my work. But you still have to audition the minute you get there. You have 15 seconds to really turn up before people check out. I did a freestyle, and I think we maybe had to learn a bit of the routine. Some of the girls who I'd been dancing with at the club, like Jennifer Farris, who wound up choreographing this video, were like 'Of course, you are definitely down because we know how you get down.'" 

Working with LL COOL J was a dream come true for the young dancer. 

"You already have a crush, right?" she laughs. "Anybody who knows Hip-Hop, who's a girl from Queens, 'Ladies Love Cool J!' Absolutely!"

The experience was huge for Segar. And she noticed how easily the big-time rapper in her midst took to the choreography.  


"Being on that set was interesting because you don't expect LL to be someone who'd dance. Not to say he doesn't have rhythm, but he's too cool for school! This is 'Gimme my radio! I'm thugalicious, on the block, Hollis, Queens! I don't dance. I may bop side-to-side in my Timberlands.'"

"But he came in and picked up on the choreography. And that impressed me, no doubt. Because sometimes you have to pull teeth with artists to get them to dance. But he was open, and he was ready and very participatory in regards to whatever the choreography was. He wasn't argumentative. Everybody usually comes in like 'Don't make me look like this.' Whatever conversations he'd had with Jennifer, she knew what to give him. And he was happy with the moves and happy with the girls chosen."

Young Lez learned a lot from making that video. Alongside the other dancers, and being in the midst of such a huge star, Segar got to experience her first professional shoot. It would be the first of many. 

"We were just happy to be on set, running around Washington Square Park,  running around The Village – when it really was The Village – and Soho back then. When the stores were poppin' and the park was hot. Everybody was stopping us on the street while we were shooting in front of Canal Jeans. It was a really dope experience. For somebody so young, this was my first video. You just want to be professional."

"I eventually got to dance again with LL at Radio City Music Hall for that 'Mama Said Knock You Out' performance."

And she cherishes all that she learned working with Emmy award-winning director, Paris Barclay. 

"I came up with Lionel Martin and Hype Williams and Jeff Byrd and Benny Boom –  all of these guys were A.D.s at the time, some of them weren't even directing yet," she explains. "Paris was one of the forefathers working early in that 90s golden era. He always had communication with the dancers; whereas some directors will send somebody else to talk to the dancers because they don't deem us that important. He sat down and told each one of us what he wanted, what his vision was, what the concept was. He was respectful. and I think him and Todd had a good working relationship on set, too. He was a visionary then and he's a visionary by his body of work."

Leslie Segar attends Uptown Honors Hollywood at City Market Social House on February 20, 2019 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Earl Gibson III/Getty Images)

Leslie Segar attends Uptown Honors Hollywood at City Market Social House on February 20, 2019 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Earl Gibson III/Getty Images)

In addition to her award-winning legacy in dance/choreography, Segar has sustained decades in entertainment and media, from TV to film to radio and online media as host of Tha Spin Room. But she's still that "around the way girl" from the block.

"The song hits home," Lez shares. "Because I am that chick who grew up with jams in the park, rocking my Lee jeans, my bamboo earrings, my name chain; East Elmhurst, Jackson Heights, the Jamaica Mart off Jamaica Avenue – I am that girl. So hearing that song title, I was like 'Is he talking about me?' We're the girls sitting on the benches, watching the basketball. I would never think that people still recognize me as the girl from that video."

"Around the Way Girl" is a timeless dedication to all the girls who grew up on the block, in the cut or down the street. Everybody knows that girl and so many are that girl. 

"[That song] is nothing but love and positivity for all the girls from the hood," says Lez. "And it really is a love letter to girls who rock that look, who live where they live, who hang out in front of the check cashing place, trying to be cute. He celebrated us with that." 

 

* HEADER CREDIT: Big Lez poses for photos at the Soul Train Awards Sprite Night Party at the Sheraton Grand Hotel in Los Angeles, California in March 1995. (Photo by Raymond Boyd/Getty Images)

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