Photo: Nelly Kaufmann/EyeEm/Getty Images
For 40 excruciating minutes, Melanie Wilking, a trained dancer-slash-influencer with more than 3 million TikTok followers, sat in front of a camera, flanked by her weeping parents. It was a dramatic departure from her usual smiling choreographed videos, which for years she’d performed with her older sister, Miranda. Now Melanie claimed that Miranda had been pulled into what she described as a “cult.” “Miranda is a part of a religious group and she’s not allowed to speak to us,” she said, wiping tears from her eyes. Her sister and the other group members are “not in control of their lives,” she continued. “Someone else is controlling their lives, and they’re all victims of this.”
Both Miranda and Melanie had moved to Los Angeles to dance a few years ago, and soon their TikTok videos had made them internet famous. But their paths began to diverge last year when Miranda was signed to 7M Films, a talent-management agency founded by a doctor-turned-preacher with a roster of a dozen young dancers whose stylish, high-production choreographed dance videos you might have seen on TikTok or Instagram.
Melanie’s video on Instagram Live came on Miranda’s 25th birthday in February, the second that had passed since the family said they had been cut off from her, and they were desperate to reconnect. The hope for any professional dancer signing with a talent agency is to book the right sorts of jobs and receive the right sort of coaching that could lead to fame. For Miranda, it seemed to work: She now has 1.3 million Instagram followers and she’s posted hundreds of slick videos produced by 7M creators, danced with Mario Lopez on Access Hollywood, and walked the red carpet at the American Music Awards.
Before all that, Miranda and Melanie had been a package deal. The Wilking Sisters, as they billed themselves, had been dancing together since they were little kids, even starting a dance camp in their own backyard in their Macomb, Michigan, suburb, when they were still in elementary school.
Both attended a performing-arts high school. After graduation, Miranda moved to L.A., landing background-dancer gigs and teaching at the International Dance Academy in Hollywood. Melanie followed a year later, finishing up her senior year remotely. For years, they filmed videos together for Musical.ly and later TikTok; performed together in dance competitions; taught courses in hip-hop, funk, and jazz together at studios across L.A.; and danced at in-person events for the very online like VidCon and TikTok Gala. Though the sisters are two years apart in age — Melanie is 23 and Miranda is 25 — with their long brown hair, matching aquiline noses and toothy smiles, and coordinated outfits, they looked in those days like twins.
By late 2019, Miranda had become involved with a few creators who would go on to be part of 7M, but it wasn’t until January 18, 2021, that she withdrew from her family, Melanie said to the followers watching her Instagram Live. She and Miranda had been scheduled to fly home to Michigan for their grandfather’s funeral, but 30 minutes before their flight, Miranda called their parents and canceled. At first, Melanie said, Miranda claimed she had COVID — Melanie was suspicious since they’d both come down with it just the month prior. “She even admitted that it wasn’t because of COVID, she was just making that up,” Melanie told the Live viewers. Kelly Wilking, the sisters’ mom, added, “And that she was sorry, and that we won’t understand.”
Just before the funeral, Wilking’s parents, Kelly and Dean, flew to California and spoke face-to-face with Miranda. According to the Wilkings, Miranda was withdrawn and defensive, a different daughter than the one they knew. She eventually “stormed out” of the meeting. It would be the last time they saw or talked to Miranda for over a year, they said.
Soon after, the Wilkings said in the livestream, Miranda cut off almost all contact with her former friends and family, even blocking her grandmother from her social-media pages. She cut her hair into a blunt, chin-length bob and dyed it blonde. She began dancing differently in her Instagram videos, trading in the poppy dances made for the TikTok algorithm for choreography more associated with music videos and Dancing With the Stars. At some point, she changed her Instagram handle to @itsmirandaderrick, publicly taking the last name of her now-husband, 33-year-old fellow 7M dancer James “BDash” Derrick. Followers watched the engagement happen in a video posted to Instagram on BDash’s account in August 2021, in which BDash interrupts a choreographed couples dance to ask Miranda to marry him.
“She got married and we don’t even know when she got engaged,” her mother, Kelly, said in the video.
“She never told us where she moved to. She ended up blocking us and changed her phone number,” Kelly continued. “Whatever she’s involved in, [it’s] got some kind of control over her that’s making her afraid of something.”
Yes, there was a change, Miranda admits. But her version of events is different than her sister’s. While none of the dancers of 7M, nor the agency’s leadership, agreed to be interviewed for this story, statements were provided to the Cut in mid-April by 7M’s lawyers. “During the pandemic, a lot of people including myself had time to reflect since normal life was disrupted and on pause for everyone,” the statement reads. It was near the end of 2020, she says, that she started her “walk with God in a serious way.” “I felt a spiritual shift happen inside of me,” Miranda continues. “I started going to Bible studies and learning about God.”
“I know that my family and friends saw changes in me along the way because it was true,” her statement reads. “I was changing for the better and in love like I’d never been before.”
Miranda describes having asked her family for space and patience while she figured out what all this meant. “I told Melanie I would love to continue doing videos with her as Wilking Sisters but I just didn’t want to continue doing it as we did,” the statement reads. “I wanted more control over my schedule and I wanted it to be an equal partnership rather than her controlling our business as it had been. I wanted to make time for other things including my relationship with James, Bible studies, making music, and just having some time off to myself.”
A video of the Instagram Live went viral, prompting irresistible headlines about a TikToker being “held hostage” by “a cult.” A wave of friends and family of people affiliated with 7M came forward to confess that they too had noticed a change in their loved ones’ demeanors. A handful of people I spoke with who described themselves as former friends of Miranda and other 7M dancers all told me a version of the same story: The “bubbly,” “so sweet,” “goofball energies” who “know what’s right, what’s wrong” were now “shells of themselves.” These weren’t the only allegations that spilled out of the Instagram Live. The wilder claims, from supposed friends, friends of friends, and colleagues, included the sort of life-shattering religious indoctrination you’d expect from an HBO docuseries. (A vlogger named Katie Joy has been tracking 7M and reporting on such claims for months, posting YouTube videos on her channel, Without a Crystal Ball, and in Instagram posts. On April 5, 7M and its founder Robert Shinn jointly filed a lawsuit against Joy alleging defamation, tortious interference of contract, commercial defamation, intentional infliction of emotional distress, negligence, deceptive trade practices, and intentional interference with prospective advantage, and demanded an injunction that would require Joy to make private all of her social-media posts about 7M. Miranda and BDash have since joined the suit. Joy filed a motion to dismiss on April 26 and tells the Cut that the suit is a “frivolous intimidation tactic.”)
“I am not held against my will and I’ve never been a hostage,” Miranda’s statement to the Cut reads. “I go to church and I have faith in God. If one day I wish to pursue my faith elsewhere, I will and feel completely free to do that. As far as my career, my time at 7M Films has been one of the most exciting years ever and if one day I wish to partner with a different management company or start my own company, I will. No one is forcing me to do anything. I am excited to move forward in this incredible walk with God, an amazing marriage and exciting career. I’m also looking forward to moving past all of this and mend my relationship with my family privately.”
That each side of the story differs so dramatically only fuels the intrigue and speculation from the online audiences that have been following the saga. Inside the professional dance community in L.A., though, the response isn’t exactly one of shock — to some, it seemed like déjà vu.
It started with krump. Characterized by its energetic, sharp freestyle movements and dance battles, krump was unofficially founded by a group of Los Angeles–based dancers including Marquisa “Miss Prissy” Gardner, Ceasare “Tight Eyez” Willis, Christopher “Lil’ C” Toler, and Jo’Artis “Big Mijo” Ratti in the early aughts.
The expressive dance style soon exploded, fueled by the 2005 David LaChapelle documentary Rize and cemented in pop culture by films like Bring It On: All or Nothing and televised dance-competition shows like America’s Best Dance Crew. Suddenly, krump was everywhere, featured in music videos and tours with artists like Missy Elliott, Madonna, and Chris Brown, as well as in ads for major brands like Sony.
Gardner, the classically ballet-trained, energetic dancer often referred to as “the queen of krump,” found a lucrative career in Hollywood, performing in movies like Stomp the Yard and Alvin and the Chipmunks; Toler became a choreographer on So You Think You Can Dance. And then there was Willis, who continues to go by Tight Eyez and told a Washington Post reporter in 2005 that “krump led us to Jesus and got us saved.”
Tight Eyez saw krump as a religious expression and criticized dancers who used it for commercial gain, say former friends. Tight Eyez’s standing in the community — Gardner describes him as the “Michael Jordan of krump” — gave him influence over aspiring dancers, many of them young, broke, and searching for the big break that was going to change their circumstances. Dancing was all they had, and Tight Eyez was ready to mentor them as part of his dance “family,” a crew called Street Kingdom — if they joined him at services at a church in South Central named Hospitality, according to former collaborators. The church was led by a preacher named David Girley, a former college-basketball player who had served time for sexual assault before “finding God.” Girley sometimes described himself as a prophet. As Tight Eyez tells it, in a statement to the Cut, “Members of Street Kingdom were not required to attend services at Hospitality led by David Girley. I invited all my friends and crew members to practice and dance all the time regardless of the crew Street Kingdom. That’s what we did: We got together and danced. If you were a member of the crew, then you would need to participate in rehearsals or performances like any other dance crew.”
Former friends of Tight Eyez, who was barely out of his teens during this time, describe the handsome, soft-faced muscular dancer as having been “raised in the church” and a true believer of the scripture he quoted to his fellow dancers.
Tight Eyez subscribed to the theory that krump was an acronym for “Kingdom Radically Uplifted Mighty Praise” and encouraged his dancer disciples to dedicate their talents to the church. “The idea was, if you are a believer of Christ and you believe that all works that are in the entertainment business are the devil, then you followed Kingdom Radically Uplifted Mighty Praise,” Gardner says. Tight Eyez recalls things somewhat differently, telling the Cut, “Krump is Kingdom Radically Uplifted Mighty Praise to me personally. I can’t speak for other people; a belief is not something you can force on anybody.”
In practice, friends say, Tight Eyez, in coordination with Girley (though however intentional or not on Tight Eyez’s part remains unclear), helped create an environment that some felt was rigid, prohibitive, and financially exploitative.
Joey “Knucklehead” Turman was in his early 20s when Tight Eyez invited him to join Street Kingdom in the late aughts. “Street Kingdom stood for God’s kingdom outside the four walls,” Turman says. Membership came with costs, Turman soon learned.
“They would do tithes and offerings — the pastor’s right-hand man would go into his office, count the money. And he would come back out and tell him the amount, and the pastor would say, ‘Okay, this is how much we are missing,’” says Turman. “They would be like, ‘God said somebody is wanting to give $20, but you’re trying to hold onto it. You’re going to be cursed.’ And church literally would not go forward until we got that amount.”
The church’s most life-upending requirement for membership, at least according to Turman, might sound familiar: renouncing your non-believing friends and family. It was a metaphorical process called “dying,” Turman says. “The pastor has taken a scripture that talks about how you have to die to the flesh, saying you have to ignore and push away anything that could be a distraction.” That particularly meant families and friends who didn’t follow the church’s teachings and who saw red flags in the dancers’ new religious fervor.
Tyree, a dancer who trained with Tight Eyez during his Hospitality days and periodically visited the church as a welcomed outsider, recalls being threatened with being cut off from the dance crew if he didn’t cease communication with his own brother. (Tyree requested the Cut use only his first name because of the harassment he’s faced on Instagram after speaking out publicly about 7M.) “We were told that hanging out with people who were not of the church, not of the same beliefs as you, was against the religion,” Tyree says. “It was because of those words that I stopped hanging around my blood brother.”
This extended professionally, too. The Hospitality church dance crew often booked work through Girley, Turman says, who discouraged industry jobs and instead arranged for the Street Kingdom dancers to put on “Krump Christ shows” at other churches throughout the West Coast.
As Turman describes it, the dancers were also encouraged to marry fellow members of the church. Several members, including Tight Eyez and BDash, got married and had children during their time in the church. (Both men tell the Cut they are still in touch with their kids. The Cut attempted to reach out to some of these former partners for comment but as of publishing haven’t heard back.) These marriages were framed as a benefit for Turman, BDash, and the other dancers.
These new partners, non-dancing members of the church, were their “back fall,” Turman says. “They took care of some of the bills between bookings.” The dancers gained some clout but not much money for their work at the “Krump Christ shows,” and neither was enough to strike out on their own. So it’s understandable that the dancers could be persuaded to play along. “It’s like, if you’re married, well then, you got somebody that’s taking care of you,” Turman says. “Most of them have never worked a regular job in their life. For some of them, it’s like, Dancing is my life. This is the way I’m going to survive. This is all I have. This is all I’m good at.”
Tight Eyez’s prodigious talent and stature in the krump community and the eventual professional opportunities they thought they’d gain compelled Turman and Tyree to keep going along with the increasing demands of the church. Over time, they began to believe they had been ordained with their dancing abilities to do great things. “I was like, Well, they’re way older than me,” Tyree, who was a teenager at the time, says. “They know more than me, maybe they know something that I don’t know.”
Though Turman was initially skeptical of the services, he says he started to believe that maybe something greater than himself was at play after Girley showed an ability to discuss details of the dancers’ lives that they had never shared publicly.
“When that would happen, we’re like, ‘Okay, he has to be legit,’” Turman says, “‘because how the hell did he know that about me?’” He theorizes now that Tight Eyez had perhaps been feeding Girley information about them. “But we didn’t think about it that way,” Turman continues. Or, he says, maybe Girley was just playing into stereotypes associated with South Central L.A. “Everything he’s saying is just what most people went through,” Turman says. “So you’re in church and this guy is telling you you’re hurt because your mom wasn’t there. And you’re like, How does he know this? If he knows about my life or things like that, then it must be real.”
It was in 2011, a few years after joining up with Tight Eyez, that Turman began to feel like he’d been duped. “While we were a part of the cult, we were never allowed to do industry jobs,” Turman says. “But for some reason, God okayed us to go do America’s Best Dance Crew.” The MTV reality-competition series pitted dance groups against one another for weekly battles, each one resulting in a team being eliminated. The winning crew left standing at the end of the season would take home $100,000.
Girley told the group, Turman recalls, that God had given them a pass to pursue the competition, but warned that they would have to make certain sacrifices in order to win. As part of that bargain with God, Turman says he and the other dancers in Street Kingdom were prohibited from spending time with their family and friends who had come out to the show to support them. Instead, they spent their time between episodes praying.
Street Kingdom’s elimination from the competition was the beginning of the end for Turman. “We did the Bible studies every episode,” he says. “We did the prayer and we lost.”
After that, Turman says he and other Street Kingdom members “stopped going to the church. And that was a big thing. Missing church would always come with some type of consequence like, ‘God said you’re going to be cursed,’ or ‘You’re not going to be able to go travel,’ or something. So we started not going to church, because we were like, ‘This is bullshit. God said we were going to win and we didn’t.’”
Dancers stopped attending services, marriages fell apart, and the formerly tight-knit crew disbanded, dispersing across the country in search of new starts. After Turman left the church, Tight Eyez dropped Turman as a friend and collaborator, and Turman says they haven’t been in contact since. Tight Eyez later moved to Las Vegas for a time. Girley, who is now the head of a church called PHD Ministries in Long Beach, California, did not respond to a request for comment.
Everyone, it seems, tried to move on with their lives — until 7M brought all those memories flooding back.
When Gardner saw the Wilkings’ video about 7M, she immediately drew parallels between it and the Hospitality church. “It’s a pattern and a series of events that I’ve seen play out for the past 15 years in krump culture,” Gardner tells me.
Some of the dancers are the same. Both Miranda’s husband James “BDash” Derrick and Kevin “Konkrete” Davis Jr. are former members of Street Kingdom now signed to 7M. Also signed to 7M: Tight Eyez. “It’s new to you guys, but to us in the krump community, we’re all looking at Tight Eyez,” Gardner said.
The dancers of 7M — Konkrete, BDash, Miranda Wilking, Kylie Douglas, Aubrey Fisher, Kailea Gray, Vik White, Nicholas Raiano, Alexandra Watkins, Gordon Watkins, Tight Eyez, and Kendra Willis — are the sort of dancers you’d see on TV, grinning and swerving their hips on Ellen alongside DeGeneres’s sidekick tWitch; in viral TikToks; and in music videos and tours with artists like Janet Jackson and Cardi B. Their social-media followings range from the low hundred thousands to millions. The dance videos on their Instagram pages are glossy. They pose in both fast-fashion and designer labels with the hashtags to prove it — Miranda even has a series posing with a Chanel surfboard.
7M Films was first registered as a California business in 2021. It is owned and operated by a man named Robert Israel Shinn. Shinn, a former medical doctor who legally changed his last name from “Shin” to “Shinn,” according to court records, is also the pastor of Shekinah Church, a ministry that first popped up in Los Angeles in 1994 after Shinn moved there from Canada. (According to an archived version of Shekinah’s website, “Dr. Israel Shin is a former medical doctor who had practiced medicine for seven years before God spoke to him to go into ministry full time.”)
While Shekinah has kept a low profile, public records suggest the church has a turbulent history — and a lot of cash. According to a 2010 deposition given under oath by Shinn, the church had a peak of about 70 members between 2000 and 2008, who donated $4.7 million during that time. Shinn also testified that he had encouraged his congregation to donate not only to the church but to him personally as “the man of God.” Documents show in the month of October 2007 alone, the congregation gave Shinn nearly $300,000 in checks personally made out to him. The church was technically suspended by the state of California in 2007, though it appears operations continued: Shinn testified under oath he was unaware of the suspension, which he also reiterated to the Cut. “The suspension was due to a clerical error, specifically, a failure to file the Statement of Information with the state,” his statement reads. “That was the sole cause of the suspension, and implying otherwise would be false. As soon as the Church found out about the suspension, it rectified the problem.”
After a “rebellion” in 2008 split the church into two factions, Shinn testified, about 35 worshippers remained in his congregation, a number that seems to have remained steady to this day. It’s certainly not easy to find: The church maintains almost no online presence and though it is registered to a nondescript condo building in Santa Ana, records submitted to the Los Angeles Department of City Planning suggest it intends to eventually operate out of a gated former school in the Sunland neighborhood.
While Shinn doesn’t maintain an active online presence, the fit-looking 63-year-old has been photographed around L.A. — he lives in a $2.5 million home in Studio City where many of the 7M dance videos appear to have been shot — in Under Armor athleisure, getting in and out of his black Bentley SUV. Despite his low public profile, Shinn was characterized in one lawsuit by a former church member as having “strong persuasion skills and much charisma.” He’s also an avid supporter of Donald Trump; public records show he donated $11,200 to the Trump Victory fund and $2,100 to the Trump Make America Great Again Committee during the last election cycle.
Shinn is also, notably, the owner of at least 12 companies registered in the State of California in addition to 7M, including entertainment-industry-adjacent businesses with names like Glory Bag Records, IP Random Film, IHD Studio, Shinn Entertainment Corp, and Studio on the Mount, Inc., as well as Shekinah Church.
The 7M staff includes Shinn’s son, Isaiah Shinn, who is the credited videographer on many of the agency’s dance videos on Instagram; Shinn’s current wife, Hannah Shinn, the registered CFO of Shekinah Church, who manages most of the dancers; an attorney named Shirley Kim, who has registered a number of Shinn’s companies, including 7M, and is Shinn’s ex-wife; and Daniel Joseph, the registered secretary of Shekinah Church, who also directs and produces 7M dance videos. Joseph is married to Shinn’s daughter, Kloe, a singer/songwriter who selects some of the music for the 7M dance videos. The Shinns, along with Kim and Joseph, are also linked to a number of real-estate ventures, and since-deleted captions on several 7M dance videos referred viewers to residential real-estate listings for the luxury properties the dancers use as sets and backdrops.
It turns out the Wilkings are not the first people to accuse Shinn of cultlike practices. In 2009, a woman named Lydia Chung unsuccessfully sued Shinn and Shekinah, alleging in court documents that the church had “exerted undue influence, mind control, coercive persuasion, oppression and other intimidating tactics,” including taking over her email, passwords, and bank accounts, in an effort to get her to turn over millions of dollars that Chung says were used by Shinn and his family to pay for entertainment, living expenses, medical bills, and Hannah Shinn’s law-school tuition. The judge ultimately ruled against Chung, who was found to have acted on her own free will — though the judge did note, according to court records, that the “defendant’s behavior was outside the norm for clergy,” and that the church’s practices “bordered on coercion.”
In an interview with the British tabloid The Sun, Chung said that Shinn had always had an eye on the entertainment industry. “Early on he had tried to get the church into media and entertainment, it just wasn’t initially successful,” she told the paper. “He claimed God called him to California. God did not call him to California; power and money did.”
Daniel Joseph’s family, who were founding members of the Shekinah Church, have also been sounding the alarm. Joseph’s sister, Leah Parra, says her family left the church after a few years due to a disagreement with Shinn about Shekinah’s finances. Parra says Shinn had also given them an ultimatum to stop talking to his sister, Julie Shin, who was close with Parra’s family. When they refused to cut contact, Shinn told Parra’s father to “get your wife out of my church.” Though his family left, Joseph rejoined the church in college and has been under Shinn’s control for most of his adult life, working as Shinn’s right-hand man, Parra says. In response to these allegations, 7M’s lawyers tell the Cut, “Leah was only 10 years old when her family left the Church for spiritual reasons, six months after they joined. Regarding her claim that Dr. Shinn demanded her family cut contact with his sister, no such demand was made. Moreover, Mr. Joseph is a grown married man who is capable of making his own decision about his life and who he would and would not like to speak to. Dr. Shinn has no bearing on these personal decisions.” Parra tells the Cut she hasn’t seen or talked to her brother in years and fears Joseph could face repercussions for her speaking out.
One of Shinn’s businesses was the subject of another complaint, this time brought in 2011 by an employee of Alpha Plus Realty, a real-estate firm Shinn owned — the employees were all members of Shekinah. The plaintiff, Jung Hee Lee, alleged wage theft, claiming she was given access to just $30 a week in allowance despite working full-time, according to a claim filed with the California Labor Commissioner. Like Chung, Lee asserted that Shekinah had total control over its members’ bank accounts and that they were told their work was done in service of God. Lee was ultimately awarded $9,215 in unpaid wages and damages.
As Bill Becker, the California attorney who represented Lee, tells the Cut, Alpha Plus Realty was a “business cloaked as a spiritual organization,” adding, “a pretty bizarre entity, as I recall.”
After the collapse of Hospitality, BDash enjoyed some mild industry success, booking commercials and posting viralish dance videos on social media. In early 2019, he encountered Isaiah Shinn, who had apparently worked for a well-known cinematographer named Tim Milgram. (Milgram did not respond to a request for comment.) BDash says he was looking for a videographer and, as friends describe it, Isaiah had the means to produce slick, cinematic videos that had previously been outside of BDash’s performance budget. Where before, his videos had been filmed on iPhones in nondescript locations, the new videos, which started in May 2019, were filmed on expensive equipment in expensive-looking homes with dramatic views.
Around the time he met Isaiah, BDash had also begun dating Miranda Wilking, whom he had met through a mutual friend. Initially, the Wilkings welcomed the relationship — BDash even stayed with their family for several weeks during the early part of the pandemic. Videos the family filmed together during that time appear to show a friendly relationship.
As his involvement with the Shinns increased — 7M maintains that BDash’s only role in the company is dancer — friends say BDash became someone new. His wardrobe changed from street clothing to polished suits — as did his style of dancing (krump was out, tangos were in) and musical choices. His general demeanor was different. He was now withdrawn and disinterested in spending time with old friends, and when he did get in contact, interested only in bragging about his success. By 2020, BDash had become exclusively involved with the agency. One friend, Samantha Long, told Rolling Stone that her longtime friend became a conspiracy theorist seemingly overnight, telling her that COVID wasn’t real and questioning the legitimacy of Joe Biden’s presidency. (“Not true,” BDash, through 7M’s lawyers, maintains to the Cut. “We aren’t even close like that.”)
Several sources — all of which are outsiders of 7M but familiar with its members — say 7M requires its clients to participate in regular Bible studies as a prerequisite for representation.
The last time choreographer Jay Chris Moore interacted with any 7M dancers — specifically Tight Eyez, Konkrete, Aubrey Fisher, and Vik White — was in December at a dance-studio session. As he describes it, “They were giving off weird anointed godly energy.” Moore describes Tight Eyez saying things like, “We are the anointed ones, and we only move when we’re told to move.” Then, Moore says, Tight Eyez wouldn’t dance until “he felt like he was told to dance from whoever or whatever higher power he believed was telling him to dance, then he started dancing.” The other 7M dancers, he remembers, said nothing.
7M maintains that the company is completely separate from Shinn’s Shekinah Church and its dancers are not forced to be members — “7M does not discriminate on the basis of religion, sex, sexual orientation, or race.” Still, Tight Eyez proudly admits to being a congregant in a statement (also through 7M’s lawyers). “I was in a place in my life where I was going in a bad direction because of trauma and other things I was experiencing,” Tight Eyez’s statement reads. “I was looking for somewhere to just be at peace and Shekinah helped me find that and so much more. They picked me up, dusted me off, and encouraged me to keep going and help me go toward my destiny.” In addition to Tight Eyez, four of the 11 other dancers that provided statements to the Cut mentioned the church by name, nodding at their membership in the religious group.
In response to questions from the Cut, 7M’s lawyers deny allegations that the agency’s dancers are encouraged to cut off friends and family members who are not part of the church. The claim that 7M uses Bible study as a recruitment tactic or requirement, they say, is also false.
Something perhaps everyone can agree on seems to be one of the biggest differences between Girley’s church and Shinn’s 7M: 7M is getting its clients real paying jobs. Within months of joining up with 7M, the dancers started booking major gigs, including McDonald’s and Toyota ads, and dancing on daytime TV. “I don’t know how 7M has these industry relationships,” Tyree says, “but I can tell you that ever since they got with them, they’ve blown up in a matter of eight months.”
While some of those jobs pay more in exposure, commercial contracts — which can include residuals — can add up to tens of thousands of dollars. An agency negotiating that kind of contract on behalf of its talent typically takes 10 to 20 percent of that. Social-media endorsement deals for influencers with more than a million followers, like Miranda, also typically start at at least $5,000 a post.
It’s the success that most worries the friends and families of the 7M dancers — if they’re achieving all this through their affiliation with 7M, what motivation would they ever have to leave?
Though Dean and Kelly were initially mystified by Miranda’s new religious pursuit, Melanie had an inkling of what was going on. She too had been invited to attend Bible studies meetings. “They did try to get me involved, and I did go. I did like it at first,” Melanie said in the video. “And then I realized there were numerous red flags that I could not ignore, and knew that it was not something that I wanted to be involved in.”
Melanie said she was eventually forced out of the group after missing a service to pick up a friend at the airport. “I was like, ‘This is weird. It’s going to be okay, I just can’t go to one.’ And then I wasn’t invited to the next one,” she said in the Instagram Live. “So it’s this whole mind game where, Oh, I did something wrong so now I have to give all my time. And I was like, This is not healthy and this is not normal.”
According to a statement provided to the media by attorneys for 7M: “The false and sensational allegations about 7M stem directly from a dispute between 7M-represented dancer Miranda Derrick and her estranged family. Despite her family’s claims, Miranda is a successful businesswoman and a loving wife and daughter who cares very much about her family. It is pathetic and contemptible to try to turn her private family matters into a tawdry public scandal for clicks and clout.” In another statement, 7M pointed to the fact that its roster of dancers had collectively grown their Instagram following “from three million Instagram followers to 11 million followers” in seven months.
Gardner says her initial reaction to Melanie’s video was, “Holy shit, is this happening again?” Her second: “With people with money?”
The only reason it’s such a big deal this time, Gardner says, is “because it’s now happening to a white woman.” “I’m just being honest. That’s a white woman with numbers and she’s verified. You better give her back to her family before your whole business caves in.”
Since the Instagram Live, the Wilking family has not spoken out publicly; according to one source close to the family, they are worried how their public comments might affect their chances of reconnecting with Miranda.
In her statement to the Cut via 7M’s lawyers, Miranda expressed disappointment with the Instagram Live. “When they (my parents and sister) really did not respect my wishes and only did things on their terms,” the statement reads, “I saw a different side of them I’ve never seen before that was concerning to me. I was very hurt that my voice was not heard. The more they obsessed over my choices and totally going against a simple thing that I asked (wanting space), I felt the only thing I could do is distance myself from them in hopes they would see my heart in time.” Her relationship with her parents, Miranda writes, is “a very unique dynamic and though I love them with all my heart, in the long term it was not healthy especially for me being in an adult relationship.” She needed new boundaries was all, according to Miranda. “I couldn’t maintain talking 3 times a day and monthly visits as an adult and there needed to be a change.”
In a statement, BDash denied the allegations, posting on his Instagram Stories that began, “First of all … there’s two sides to every story. This is the other side of the Wilkings family drama. It started with a white beautiful woman moving in with a poor Black man from Compton that the parents did not approve of. I get it! I was renting a room and had no car. I was a divorced man with a son.”
“As soon as I seen the first three lines,” Turman says, “I was like, Yeah, that’s not him. I know my friend and he didn’t say that crap at all.”
In BDash’s statement to the Cut, also through 7M’s lawyers, BDash describes first connecting with the Shinns at a time when he “needed help financially at the time and was in the middle of closing a really big deal that could help me with my finances. Closing this deal with something I needed help with. I got the help I needed and that’s partially how 7M was formed.” His finances improved as a result, he writes. “I was able to pay off my debt, fix my credit, own a car, and have my name on my house that I live in (evidence that the jobs I’ve booked through 7M have helped my career and my life).” And he maintains his “walk with God” began when he was 17, long before ever meeting the Shinns. “So when I found out that the Shinns were of the same mind in their pursuit of God, I was excited to work with them on a business level.”
The implied allegation of racism is ridiculous, says one friend of the Wilkings: Melanie’s boyfriend is also Black. As is the idea that Miranda and her family had a difficult relationship prior to, or outside of, her time with 7M. “I’ve been in the business long enough to know what a stage mom looks like or somebody that’s overbearing or that’s abusing their children in a way where their input is just not normal,” says Dana Alexa, a dancer who has known the family for more than a decade. “And knowing them and never seeing their parents behave in a way like that — that Miranda was in her early 20s and already living on her own in another city, and dating someone that they had opened their arms to, to think at that point, they would try to step in and be abusive to her and not let her live her own life, it doesn’t add up.”
The 7M dancers are, of course, aware of the cult perception. Through written statements to the Cut from each performer on the 7M roster, they all refute the allegations made by the Wilkings and others that they’re in a coercive, controlling situation. Some 7M dancers have also openly mocked the idea that they’re in a cult, posting reaction videos joking about “being safe.”
And certainly, these dancers at least look like they’re part of your typical Hype House, with most of their dance videos shot against the same backdrop: a generic L.A. home that looks like every other fancy-looking L.A. “collab house,” rented or purchased for the explicit purpose of making content. By all appearances, they’re your average influencers (and would-be influencers) who happen to dance really, really well.
“My career has found a new spark and I feel younger and better than I’ve ever felt,” reads Tight Eyez’s statement to the Cut. “My social media has increased and my abilities have increased and I’m finally making money and doing the things I’ve always dreamed of doing. To sum it up, Shekinah is my family (and I don’t use that word lightly). 7M revived my career and gave me my dreams back. I wouldn’t go back to the nothing I came from. Everyone wants to find out why they are here on this earth, in search of some kind of purpose. I found mine here with Shekinah and 7M.”
All of the dancers interviewed, whether they came from krump or the broader industry, say the working dance community in Los Angeles is a particularly vulnerable one. The industry is brutal to break into — most aspiring dancers are left to figure it all out on their own along the way — and “making it” doesn’t always mean making a livable wage.
“We’re far past what’s ethical practice,” Alexa tells me, recalling auditions she’s gone on alongside hundreds of other dancers, all of whom are vying for one or two open roles — these unpaid days of learning choreography on the spot and repeatedly performing it can stretch longer than ten hours. Alexa, who makes money now hosting dance workshops and teaching courses, describes the industry’s unfair pay practices as possible because often the dancers don’t know any better.
“We work for big artists, we do commercial campaigns, all kinds of projects where the pay is craft services,” Alexa says. “We get handed one-page contracts and we can’t read half the verbiage or we don’t know what it means, and we get taken for a ride that way.”
There are hopes that that might soon change. During the pandemic, a group of about 100 choreographers began meeting and, led by the Emmy-winning choreographer Kat Burns, are preparing to launch a choreographers union that would standardize things like payment rates, credit, and copyrights for their moves.
Despite assurances from 7M, a number of brands have pulled their partnerships since all this began. None of the 7M dancers have left the agency, per 7M’s lawyers. Instead, since that February 24 Instagram Live from the Wilkings, 7M dancers have doubled down on their production, posting dozens of videos a week and making sponsored posts for Fitbit and Forever 21.
Menina Fortunato, a dancer and actress who previously worked with the Wilking sisters, said that for these dancers, the lure of potential success is enough to keep them staying put for now. “These dancers came from nothing. So here is a group of people that believe in them, giving them opportunities. They’re making money together, living a good life,” she says. “Everybody wants fame and fortune, and they’re getting a taste of it.”