TerRio's Dance Blew Up the Internet, but What's It Doing to Him?

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Battle, a South Florida-based talent manager, is certainly banking on the press. Before this even started in June, he contacted Paul and soon set up a management deal through his company, Tha Lights Inc., which started selling a line of merch like $25 T-shirts and $46 hoodies. This year, TerRio started touring nightclubs and charging $8,000 for a three-hour appearance. Most recently, he hosted a party at Aria Entertainment Complex in Toronto on March 22.

There's no question Battle has turned the Vine fame into real cash for TerRio's family, but critics worry about the manager's personal history.

A Miramar native who attended Parkway Academy, Battle has been arrested twice on felony charges. On June 19, 2007, police say Battle hit his pregnant girlfriend on the back of the head with an open hand with enough force that she fell onto a bed. Then, according to an arrest report, he got on top of her and pinned her down by her arms and later jumped on her again. Prosecutors took no action, according to court records. On December 14, 2011, he was charged with armed robbery after police say he took an acquaintance's wallet at gunpoint. Prosecutors also took no action in that case.

It's also unclear how TerRio's education is coming along, with all of his obligations as a touring performer. Fans started asking questions last summer, using hashtags like #FreeTerRio and #JusticeForTerRio to push the family for information. By November, a Philadelphia resident who goes by Nova Giovanni had started the change.org petition.

"It started actually as kind of a joke, but then others started leaving me comments that brought up the real issues of child exploitation," says the 28-year-old, who declined to give his real name but says he became concerned because he teaches autistic kids.

TerRio's former teacher in Georgia did not return multiple requests for comment from New Times, and Michelle Caver, a guidance counselor at the school, said she was aware TerRio Harshaw had become famous but couldn't discuss whether he was currently enrolled at the school.

Battle also declined to speak with New Times about TerRio's education, though he said last month that he's in charge of the child star's tutoring.

Experts say there's nothing legally preventing TerRio's family from taking the kid on the road to show off his roly-poly dance for fans.

"On a national level, children in the entertainment business have been exempt from federal child labor laws since 1938," says Paul Petersen, a former Mouseketeer who now runs an advocacy group for young performers. "And Florida is a right-to-work state, which ­effectively has no child labor laws and no oversight." In 2012, California passed the only law requiring background checks for managers working with child stars.

How does TerRio himself feel about his new day job? He's done only one interview, with Complex magazine last August, and it doesn't provide much insight. Out of about 40 questions, TerRio answers 16 with "yes" or "yeah" and four with "Hanh?"

That's why New Times attended his music video shoot on March 1 to meet the child sensation in person. TerRio's mother was present, along with three older siblings. Seated in a director's chair was his manager Battle, who favors gold grills, hoodies, and flat-brimmed hats.

As cameras roll, TerRio perches on the hood of a limo that drives at molasses speeds up and down a Miami side street as his older brother Polo raps in front of the vehicle.

Battle had promised an interview with TerRio and hinted at a sympathetic, untold narrative. "When he was 2, he was a vegetable for 67 days," he said. "He had his tonsils removed, and it went bad. They were going to pull the plug in 48 hours, and then 24 hours into it, he came back."

And all the recent fame has just improved a struggling family's life, Battle says. "He's just a happy kid, man."

TerRio's 10-year-old sister, Mikayla, echoed that view. "Everyone used to make fun of TerRio for being big, but now people that never ran with us run with us," she says as she watches the video shoot. She says the family has also upgraded to a five-bedroom house thanks to profits from the tour.

Around 11:30 p.m., TerRio breaks away from the set to play tag with some other kids who happen to be hanging around. It doesn't last long, though — there are more sequences to shoot and more dancing to be done.

Ultimately, by the time the ten hours of shooting wraps at 5 a.m., TerRio is too tired to talk. Though Battle promised a follow-up interview the next morning, no one showed up; TerRio's mother soon stopped returning calls from New Times, as did Battle.

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Allie Conti was a fellow at Miami New Times and a staff writer for New Times Broward-Palm Beach, where her writing won awards from the Florida Press Club and the Society of Professional Journalists. She's now the senior staff writer at Vice and a contributor to the New York Times, New York Magazine, and the Atlantic.