Detroit native Ann Goggins Hunter, 37, has a Crest commercial smile and an undeniably optimistic persona.
The same effervescence passed on to her, by her gospel-singing mother, Deborah Orr, can be heard in her 6-year-old daughter, Karyn’s sweet voice who lets this reporter in on a secret: “My mother is crazy about Tasmanian Devil.”
Hunter admits that she is indeed a “fanatic” of the Looney Tunes figure. She earned the name in high school because of her “Taz”-like smile and her ability to leave opponents in the dust during track competitions. And speaking of dust — there’s no room for it to settle when Ms. Hunter’s on the dance floor.
She is the ultimate sassy, spinning, steppin’ Swiffer who makes Procter & Gamble’s version look like a Dollar Tree has-been. No wonder folks from all over the United States are flocking to her New Skool Turns & Spins Workshop at Rodney Mack’s White Party this upcoming weekend. The workshop will impart technical tips, individual and partnering execution, says Hunter, admitting to a bit of anxiety.
“I am both excited and afraid,” she shares. “I always want to give my best but I know that I cannot please everyone.”
Her dance contest placements are as follows: 2003, 1st place (beginners) with Steve Whitefield, Dance Police in Detroit; 2008, 1st place, with Kirk Peterson a.k.a. KP [as seen in the Kitrel Williams video]; 2009, 2nd place (ballroom), with Bobby Green, MGM/Mr. Smooth; 2010, 1st place (walking) with Drew Alexander, World’s Largest Steppers Contest; 2012, 1st place (out of town) with Richard Cochran and 1st place (trio) with James Pacely and Kammal Smith, World’s Largest Steppers Contest; 2013, 1st place (trio) with James Pacely and Kammal Smith, World’s Largest Steppers Contest; 2014, 2nd place, Maurice Thomas, Champions of the Dance Floor. Hunter’s most significant wins, she says, are her People’s Choice Awards for Best Female Stepper, from Club Yesterday’s.
Although Hunter works on her feet for 10-hour-days on a Chrysler Corporation assembly line the nimble dancer possesses a looseness about her form that mirrors someone jammin’ at the club. But she’s no clubhead.
“It’s the mature crowd that I like,” she says. “I normally go to Club Yesterday’s, Fire Water II, The Café, and The Show Place.”
Having begun steppin’ 12 years ago, Hunter’s list of inspiration from other dancers — steppers and non-steppers, is extensive (see her list at the end of this article). Before steppin’, Ballroom Jack taught her ballroom, bop, and the Latin Hustle at Diamond Shaft (now known as the NJS-Nu Jazz Swingers) and she credits Bobby Maddox for helping her to be light on her feet and “to follow almost any direction given without words.”
And then there’s steppin. Out of all of her acquired dance forms, it’s her favorite. “It gives me more freedom on the dance floor,” she says.
Hunter, undeniably humble, is proof that it takes a village to raise a stepper. Her “sensei” Damion Mitchell, took her “under his wing” and taught her steppin’, which wasn’t always a smooth ride. “We fought for one year straight!”, she recalls.
Hunter credits James Pacely for making her “part of his dance family — SL&G” and also teaching her how to lead. The show-stopping trios performed in 2012 and 2013 at the WLSC? The concepts are Pacely’s. (If you are on Facebook you can view an excellent video of the trio’s 2013 performance via Hadiyah Al-Sudan’s, StepChi II Pre-eminent page)
“He is a mastermind when it comes to dance performance concepts. What makes him even more brilliant is that he allows for his partners to have input. He has a vision, chooses those he believes will best compliment his vision, and he goes to work,” Hunter explains. The trio’s “beautiful outcome” she says, came from “dedication and hard work.”
An inspiration is Chi-town’s Andre Blackwell, a lauded heavy hitter, who stressed the importance of Hunter maintaining her signature approach.
“At a time when a lot of people were trying to change my style, he told me, ‘Be yourself, no matter what anyone says.’ I will always have great respect for him for that. His style inspired me to keep and embrace my speed regardless of anyone’s opinion.”
People’s opinions, Hunter explains, will always be secondary to her enjoyment of the dance and execution of its moves. These days she doesn’t even need to dance in a dress to feel gorgeous and is unapologetic about her affinity for pants. “I’m more comfortable in them. And tee-shirts,” she shares, giggling. “I used to keep dresses on. This is when I was single and didn’t have any children. It was easy for me to do what I wanted! Now, I don’t have time to find something to wear! I try to look at how much time I have to dance, get there, have fun, and get back home!”
And what she wears on her feet – sometimes seen clad in dance sneakers — is her prerogative, too.
“For years I danced in only heels and my feet would start hurting by the middle of the night…killing me to the point where I could hardly walk by the end of the night. Charles Boone turned me on to my first pair of dance sneakers a few years before my daughter was born. I danced in them sometimes, practiced and taught in them but still favored my heels, trying to be cute,” she recalls.
But then Hunter gave birth and it changed her body and mastery of balance.
“To heck with being cute! I would get dizzy in my turns and spins and I had a hard time following. These were things I never had a problem with before.”
Over the next two years she cozied up to flat shoes and dance sneakers, especially the Capezio brand, known for its lightness. The bottom line, she says, is that she’s comfortable.
“My feet do not hurt. I am the only one who has to feel what I have to feel at the end of the night. I do body-destroying labor for a living during the day. I do not have a desk job. When I’m able to go have some fun [steppin’]…I [may] stay on the floor all night dancing with someone or by myself.” Hunter’s selection of footwear, then, allows her to – as steppers say — “Get it in!”
She does wear open-toe heels, sandals, or boots and her heel height preference is 2.5 inches. Wedges and shoes that “have no given in them” are off the list. “I pretty much stay on the balls of my feet and for me to do that in comfort, my shoes must bend.”
And bend they do when she’s wowing spectators with her spins. She explains that a stepper must control her or his center when aiming for smooth and continuous turns.
“For me, two good half-turns [or] spins make a good, full one as well as doing them on the balls of [the] feet,” she says. But is there a difference between spinning and turning? “I’ve been asking myself that question for a long time and proven myself wrong a lot. I try to look at things in different perspectives, especially because I teach. One of the…things…I can say…is the speed in which it is executed. I’m sure there are other differences, depending on who you ask.”
While some women don’t mind orbiting their dance partner, there are some who would rather listen to The Spinners in lieu of becoming one. But how can a lead tell?
Hunter advises, “Some indications she’s not into turning or spinning are if she pushes up or pulls down or stops the turn or spin by tightening up her arm. Or, if she takes her time going around no matter the speed of the lead.”
Now unless a stepper is actually named Dizzy, (this reporter only knows of one Dizzy, or alternatively, Mr. Gillespie) he or she will want to avoid emerging from a spin looking like they visited the poppy fields of Oz. Hunter has her own devices.
“Every person is different. One may spot turn, one may close their eyes — which I do not recommend — but I have some students that I am now trying to break from the habit, so I know it happens,” she laughs. “I personally, and this may sound crazy, focus on nothing while focusing on everything.”
Hunter confesses that although she practices steppin’ for hours in order to maintain her core control, also helpful for following, leading, and footwork – fitness is a supportive avenue she knows would help. In high school she played volleyball, basketball, ran track and cross country plus dabbled in street basketball and football with the guys but knows that with age, exercise is important. Her fiancé, James, a personal trainer and visual artist (those designs on her shoes and dance sneakers are his work!), tries to remind her of that.
“He is constantly telling me about stretching and giving me workout tips that benefit dancers and help against injuries. I never really thought about fitness too much, I sometimes work out at home but I need to redevelop the discipline I had in high school. My fiancé is working on me!” she insists.
Hunter discloses that injures do happen. Shoulders get pulled. Elbows meet foreheads. This reporter can attest to the latter.
“I’ve been stepped on by heels, kicked by long boots and shoes, and my toenail has been partially lifted,” she begins. “And I had a shoulder pulled.”
Not as in, self-diagnostic-via-Google pulled. As in, the-doctor-told-her-so pulled.
“In general, [some] leaders have to pull some women [who] are heavy when they dance.” About her shoulder, she notes, “It wasn’t all the way dislocated, but there was a muscle strain.”
No worries, though, says Hunter, she was never hurt enough to stop honing her craft.
“Because of the love, need, and want that I have for dancing – not to mention my high tolerance for pain – I never stopped. Not even at the time of the injury.” And she doesn’t claim to be completely innocent, humorously adding, “Don’t get me wrong, I have popped off a few people myself. Sorry!”
The winner of several steppin’ contests believes that although a dance may entail awkwardness, there’s always hope. “I enjoy all dances. Whoever my partner is, our dance is a my-partner-and-Ann Hunter dance.” In other words, she dances her dance while dancing at her partner’s level.
But give Hunter “a flawless, free-style dance” and you’ll make her a happy woman. She loves it when “the leader and follower find the music, know themselves, and connect with each other.” And even if a lead partner is more mellow than the follower, footwork can still be employed. “If I do decide to put extra in, when they give you free time and let you go, I’ll take advantage of that. I can do footwork whether they have my hands or not.”
A woman who is well-versed in leading, Hunter jokingly credits her skills to her “alter-leader ego,” Andrew.
“I am, without a doubt, feminine, but because I do both sides of the dance putting Ann and Andrew together allows me to be more creative. If you know both sides of the dance, you know where the other person is supposed to be.”
Leading men is challenging, she says. “Sometimes, you have to fight with them. They do critique me. And there are certain things that I’m not familiar with but everything I do helps me.”
But there is no protocol for balancing a masculine or feminine demeanor when one is dancing, says Hunter. “[Dancers] should just be themselves, do what they feel, and not worry about onlookers. That would make for a dance that they would enjoy.”
However, one of the most important dances, is the one that the stepper has with him or herself, imparts Hunter. (Perhaps Billy Idol could record a steppers’ remix? Or not.)
“I practice alone. If you have a strong individual dance you’ll have an even stronger couple dance.” For many steppers who find themselves dancing from the fridge to the stove in the kitchen or in the middle of Wal-Mart with shopping carts, Hunter has yet another tip.
Practicing on carpet.
Sure, some steppers loathe it, especially when forced to dance on it at a set where the main floor is too crowded. But there truly is nothing like a good old back-to-basics session on a carpet in one’s living room, which gives “cutting a rug” a whole new meaning.
Before Hunter and her fiancé purchased the three-bedroom, two-bath bungalow they now inhabit, she recalls how her previous residences were carpet-laden. “I’m always practicing at home. And that was one of my main things — the carpet forces you to pick up your feet. Then when you get on hardwood, [you’re] so much smoother [after having practiced on carpet]. It helped me.”
Contest preparation, though, can’t be sustained alone. Besides devoting herself to prayer, Hunter connects with her partner on a regular basis, starting about two to three months before the competition “especially if we are free-styling. If there is a routine involved, maybe once or twice a week [we’ll practice] for about 1.5 to 3 hours depending on our availability.”
With contests, steppin’ instruction (privates and classes), a full-time job, a fiancé, a fixer-upper home, family life, and motherhood, Hunter even was able to earn an associates degree in business from American InterContinental University. So then one might wonder — how does Hunter seem to be so cool…in everything she does? No, literally, cool — her hair doesn’t seem to sweat out when she dances.
Her hair, she explains, was usually in a ponytail, and now, in natural twists. Beyond that, French rolls and short cuts, also have made for a good look. “I don’t sweat much in the head,” Hunter confesses. “But my shirt will be soaked!”
Steppin’ doesn’t drown out her motherly responsibilities, though. Hunter tries her best to take her theater-and-martial arts-loving daughter, Karyn, along when traveling for steppin’ workshops and other functions. In addition, her daughter actually accompanies her to steppin’ classes and practices.
“I have a very strong support system. My family is amazing,” Hunter expresses, her tone intensifying. “They help me with my baby. I could not function, I would not be able to function without their help. Dancing keeps me sane and so when I’m dancing I’m able to leave my daughter with people I can trust.”
When she travels for steppin’ James keeps Karyn engaged in activities, such as sightseeing in the hosting city. Hunter’s mom, Deborah and her husband, Ernest (“Daddy E”), her sister, Kristian Dee Orr, along with her father, Gawain Goggins, (“Daddy G”), additionally help out in Detroit. Their support is instrumental in Hunter maintaining a life that allows for a spectrum of wants and needs.
Sometimes, she admits, going out dancing leaves her with a tinge of maternal guilt.
“Almost anytime I go out,” she says. “But because dancing is the only nondestructive thing I have come across to help deal with my life’s stresses, and I am not one that is good with stress, it helps me to be a better and stronger person. And so that makes me a better and stronger mother. I have to take care of myself before I can try to take care of anyone else, but it’s still a struggle.”
As the only stepper in her family, Hunter discloses that she is also a shy homebody “with an old soul”. Not too shy, as she puts an immense amount of dedication toward her students and instructional practices.
“I try to make sure I’m giving the best that I can. I teach from what I do, feel, and how I follow. It’s more than just about teaching a pattern. I love my students,” she notes. “My students help me get better.”
The politics of steppin’, Hunter says, are the less tasteful aspect of the dance.
“There is joy in steppin’. But it does change — sometimes, there’s stress with it.” Hunter recalls a misinterpreted Facebook post she penned during the aftermath of a contest experience earlier this year. Some spectators who read it assumed her post stemmed from a place of resentment regarding placement in the contest. However, Hunter notes that this was far from the case. She was frustrated with much of the questionable behaviors she encountered and used the social media platform to express her disdain.
“People were just saying these things about the dance and competitors. There were a lot of attacks. Before then, I would have kept [my opinion] to myself but after that I was struggling with whether I was going to ever compete again or not,” She laughs, as she adds, “I was never going to stop dancing! I couldn’t care less about competing but when asked I have an issue with saying, ‘no’. I do care about my partner and will do my best [in the competition] for them.”
In the end for Hunter, maintaining her individuality trumps trophies, accolades, or public perception. Her anecdote about a former student illustrates this very philosophy.
“When I first started teaching, I had a female student who would allow me to lead her in class. But once, I saw her at a set and asked her to dance. She said, ‘I don’t dance with females!’” Hunter laughs as she expounds. “I know who I am, you have to know you who you are!”
And this knowing is what propels Hunter forward — not only in steppin’, but in life. As CEO of Effortless Elegance, her dancing and business brand, she’s focused on parlaying steppin’ and community service into ventures that bolster quality of life issues for her community.
“I want to implement a project that will help clean up our neighborhoods in Detroit, such as landscaping, and if possible, boarding up abandoned houses. It is proving to be a much more difficult task than expected, but worth it.” Lillian Davis, who maintains Effortless Elegance’s Community Cleanup Project, is outstanding, says Hunter.
Some Detroit neighborhoods are overcome with eyesores and properties that are severely under maintained by absentee landlords and Hunter and James were very disturbed by what they saw, and continue to see.
“So many areas are in turmoil,” she shares. “There are children playing in front of abandoned houses where there’s broken glass. It’s hazardous.” Her project aims to clearly improve the quality of life in a city that tops the 2013 Forbes List as one of America’s most dangerous cities. In fact, on the city’s Web site, Building Detroit, two houses per day are being auctioned off at unbelievably low prices, although the site warns that repairs will often be higher than the price for which the bidder will secure the home.
For example the site featured a 1928, 1600-square-foot, Tudor styled brick home with a two-car garage had a current bid of $1,000 as of press time. As long as the owner replaces the four doors, 20 windows, HVAC system, drywall repair, painting, flooring, plus completes minor repair on the roof, bathroom, kitchen, and electrical system in six months — they’ll be able to avoid forfeiture on the property. A program such as Hunter’s Community Cleanup Project can serve as an intermediary guardian angel if such a property never is purchased, allowing some curb appeal to neighborhoods that otherwise lack it.
Much like the bungalow she and James bought in August of 2013, Hunter’s successes have been built upon a sturdy foundation. “We bought the house stripped and have to rebuild it. We’re living in it now and it’s coming along with some help from some individuals within our dance community. James, KK, and I thank you,” she says proudly. “Little by little. It’s coming along.”
Progress. Isn’t that what any stepper wants to see in the end?
Clearly, Hunter’s centripetal force is a lot stronger than the spins in those Capezios.
And you thought she was just a pretty stepper who could spin.
Hunter can be reached at 313-282-1234 or effortless firstname.lastname@example.org for information relative to her June 13th New Skool Turns & Spins Workshop at Rodney Mack’s 11th annual White Party. Also, those interested in private and class instruction or to assist with the Community Cleanup Project in her hometown of Detroit should use the above contact information as well.
During the course of this interview, Hunter acknowledged several people she deems important in her development of the dance and of her business/community service projects.
She shares that Kevin Collins was influential in her experience with bop, Demetrius Jones with the Latin Hustle and ballroom, and Bobby Green for Graystone, ballroom, and salsa. All of these other dances, partners, and teachers, she explains, enhanced her abilities. Other dancers Hunter admires include Renee, Lisa, Gwen, and Patrice from the Diamond Shaft along with Tanya Johnson, Sherry Gordon, Pamela Moore, and Cheryl White. Additionally, the SL&G members: Sir Charles, Kirk Peterson (KP), Steve Whitfield, Kim Burton-Smith, Elaine Ramsey, Shirley Vines and Zinne’ Kimbrough.
Regarding her steppin’ management team, Hunter expresses an immense amount of thanks and love. She credits Patrice Pye for helping to keep her focused, as well as to manage and organize her out-of-town events and Brenda Gold for arranging travel for Hunter and her family.