It was ALL LOVE in Philly!

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From left: Tri-State Steppers’ organizers Leslie Nichols and Andre Bellamy take a photo with me at Bridgeman Ballroom in Philadelphia. What a night!

Have you ever been to a steppin’ set that was just perfect? Well thanks to the Tri-State Steppers of Philadelphia, I have!!! (And this was only their FIRST steppin’ weekend!)

Let me explain how I went to the Welcome Set on Friday because I simply wanted to dance. I didn’t expect anything mind-blowing but Philly was uncharted territory for me and the Tri-State Steppers always come through to New Jersey and New York – there was no way I wouldn’t support at least one of their events.

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On Friday night, flip-flops took their place eventually. So sad.

The Tri-State Steppers, whether consciously or not, infused that Philly “brotherly love” vibe completely into their steppin’ weekend. Although on Friday night I wore heels that weren’t the most supportive and I didn’t dance as much as I would have liked to I truly enjoyed simply being there!

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At Temptations Banquet Hall, Friday night .

What made Friday such a good start? It could have been because of the balance of knowing a few familiar faces contrasted with being happy to see several men (prospective dances) that were not from New Jersey or New York (even though I danced with mostly NJ & NY brothers, which was fine with me – thank you Oliver Franklin, Wayne Sellers, Marty Majeske, and John Lucas). It could have been, too, the wonderful conversations I had (Jeanie and I kicked it, English teacher style!) Perhaps it was my ability to watch dancers with ease or the music being played by DJ Cool Black or DJ Calvin. I don’t know – a bit of every component was pleasant.

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Westside Mike of Chicago dancing in a trio at Temptations Banquet Hall on Friday, day one of the Tri-State Steppers’ 1st Philly steppin’ weekend.

People smiled and greeted me when I arrived at the Temptations Banquet Hall. The steppers’ room was probably the most well-ventilated and coolest I have ever experienced. No fan needed!

And in a not-so-pleasant part of my evening’s end I had a scare. I momentarily couldn’t find my car keys, which were actually snuggled deep in my pocketbook, duh! I left heading back to Jersey thinking, “Perhaps, I may come back tomorrow.” Friday wasn’t bad at all – but I wasn’t sure if I wanted my Saturday night to be all steppin’.

Let me explain. I love steppin’. BUT I also miss a night here-and-there at a club, dancing.

As in Frankie Beverly-at-the-club-with-sweaty-Negroes dancing. You know what I’m talking about. Like when the DJ throws on Special Ed “I Got It Made” or “Six Million Ways to Die” by Cutty Ranks and I’m out of my mind – don’t care, sweaty hair, hands in the air! I was going to do that on Saturday.

But something told me: Go back to Philly’s Main Event.

So. Glad. I. Did. Do you hear me?

I don’t know what was in the air but I truly woke up Saturday excited and curious to go back to Philly. I cleaned up around the house and did all of the pre-steppers’ set things that a woman does. You know, getting the hair prepped, ensuring that the heels and elbows aren’t ashy, contemplating the right shoes (especially since Friday’s selection landed me in flip-flop territory).

The whole day, from my preparation to my arrival back home, was like a woman steppers’ version of “Today was a Good Day” by Ice Cube.

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At Bridgeman Hall in Philadelphia Saturday night. My New York steppin’ family top from left: Patricia, Helene. Bottom row, from left: Me, Arietta.

Since the main event was from 8 pm to 1 am, I knew I wanted to arrive earlier than usual. I wanted as many dances as possible. I am happy to say, by the end of that evening – I’m sure the calories I burned off dancing with the likes of several gentlemen – from Maryland to Jersey to New York to Connecticut – could rival a Zumba class! It was a really good balance of males-to-females (And they had manners and were nice gentlemen, I tell you – as most steppers are).

I even met Gary (Bmore Smooth) who I didn’t even know I had on video from my first steppin’ weekend in New York in 2012. Quick story: I recorded Gary dancing because as a new stepper, I was completely in awe of — and slightly hating on — what some steppers looked like when they danced. I never thought I could ever be like the girl in the purple dress that he was dancing with in the video I recorded in 2012. I literally said out loud as I filmed, “I hate them.” (no, really, you can hear me say it on the video, lol).

I didn’t hate the dancing couple, I just felt like getting to their level was impossible; I was intrigued but discouraged. I’m sure some beginner steppers can relate to that feeling (smile). So last night I saw Gary and as if my memory came to the rescue like a superhero – I put two and two together! He was the guy from my 2012 video upon which I hated! (In a good, admirable way, folks)

I walked up to him: Hey, I think I have you on video from 2012! What’s your name? I’m Ayesha Gallion.

Gary: Well, my name is Gary but they call me, Bmore Smooth.

Me (takes out phone and starts showing video): Is this you?

Gary (smiling): Yeah…that’s me!

And then…Quadron’s “Favorite Star” came on. Lord. You know how steppers get when that happens. Was I ever in the right place and right time because I got to dance with Mr. Bmore Smooth.

But why did the DJ MIX “Favorite Star” with “It Wasn’t Me” by Shaggy? Dancehall plus the heavy bass in Quadron’s song? Crayyyyzeeee! I. Was. Gone. Like a tumbleweed on Route 66 somewhere with the Joshua trees. GONE.

Things like this are what make being a stepper so wonderful. I didn’t know Gary from jack and only could connect with him from a video two-years-old. Nevertheless,  we danced a great dance and shared good energy and laughs. As Harvey Banner of Authentic Steppers of Connecticut and Brooklyn said, steppin’ life affords dancers a high that is truly unique.

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Westside Mike told me he’s a meat and potatoes kinda guy. The dude moves like a jellyfish in the ocean!

Anyway, I got a chance to speak to Westside Mike (see him dancing in a trio last night here on Gallion’s Stepper Chronicles TV) I had seen him for the first time in person Friday night and all I could think of was how fluid this man moved: feet, waist, hands, everything. I introduced myself to him.

Me: Hi, Mr. Westside Mike. I’ve never met you but saw you for the first time last night.

Westside Mike (shaking my hand): Nice to meet you.

Me: You move like a jellyfish – so fluid. I have to ask, what do you eat? Healthy food? What kind of diet allows one to move like that?

I thought he was going to say crispy salads or something like that.

Westside Mike: I eat regular food. Meat and potatoes!

Now let’s talk about the the hosts that made the puzzle pieces fit perfectly together: Andre Bellamy and Barbara Hawk.  It was an event that was all-around memorable in every way. 

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One of the Philly steppers weekend organizers, Barbara Hawk. She wanted to bring that Chicago-feel to the East Coast and with a little help from her friends, she did!

Barbara, later in the evening, thanked everyone for coming out. Even when I spoke with her via phone today she was still in disbelief at how her calls to Chicago to bring in Bruce, the DJs, and Westside Mike culminated in an event on the East Coast that had a flavor of its own. It’s no wonder she began shedding tears of joy on the mic during Saturday’s main event. I’d be pretty emotional, too, if my first attempt at a steppin’ weekend turned out like last night.

Leslie, Andre’s wife, was walking around asking people how they were doing while he was ensuring that all of the operational aspects were running smoothly. They were calm, gracious, and smiling at everyone throughout the whole evening. Totally consistent.

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From left: Leslie Nichols and Andre Bellamy of the Tri-State Steppers.

There are just some energies that feel inherently safe – that’s what I get from Andre, Barbara, and Leslie. I felt like I was with family and I was treated as such. From the food to the $20 entry fee at the door to the buffet – it was such a natural, comfortable atmosphere. And please don’t mistake “comfortable” for corny and homely because people were fly and showing out in that Philly ballroom, including me. A sister kept her glittery heels on ALL night (thanks Arietta for that tip on where to place that ball-of-toes insole).

Master stepper Keith Hubbard was there, not only as an instructor and MC for both nights (and he has a really cool voice), but when a lady stepper’s phone was found in the bathroom, Keith went from table to table trying to find its owner. This is after an announcement was made on the microphone. What fly stepper MC-Instructor dude does that when he could be networking and/or dancing? A classy one, that’s who. I didn’t dance with him or even get a pic but we spoke a couple of times and it was certainly a pleasure. I know that Bruce Dyer was there instructing also but I didn’t get a chance to speak or dance with him. He was quite busy as you can imagine – and was looking dapper in that red velvet blazer. The NJ CHI-Town Steppers’ own Oliver Franklin was there instructing, too — and after dancing with him, even in flip flops on Friday night — the man still makes you believe that steppin’ dreams DO come true! I did see another instructor, Carolyn Patterson from Maryland and she was doing her thing!

As the night progressed, like many lady steppers, I blotted my forehead with napkins, borrowed an electric fan (thank you, Helene), and used promo cards as fans, too (sorry promoters, but it’s a cooling down resource that’s pretty helpful). By the evening’s end, I was an extremely happy camper.

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Everybody’s steppin’!

Honestly, the meaning of “steppin’ family” was what I experienced last night and Friday. You’re welcomed with open arms by the hosting cousins. You see “family members” that you’ve not seen in some time and you meet new ones that are simply delightful. There’s food. There are  places to comfortably sit and watch your family get it in while you chat up the cousins with which that you haven’t had a chance to touch base.

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Trio, led by Westside Mike on Saturday night.

And let’s be real. You even see family members that act a little funny for whatever reasons but the set is so great that it’s all good (listen, I’m guilty of that nonsense, too – a couple of times I’ve engaged in slightly funky behavior, nothing too obvious or gritty). You dance and laugh with the cousins that make you smile the most and hope to see the others at another time and space where things might be better between you.

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Me and Dani (New York).

Sure, some steppers have their issues and egos and dance preferences and phony bullshit (sorry, I had to curse) BUT the best of them have humility, style, grace, excellent humor, no chips on their shoulders, and dances to share with you that will last a lifetime in your memories. The Tri-State Steppers were leaders in ensuring that this tone, if you will, was dominant throughout their first Steppin’ Weekend.

Congratulations, Tri-State Steppers, on a job well done! Yes, Bruce, you owe me a dance, and Barbara so great taking you, my Jersey sister! Andre and Leslie — that warm hospitality and your good intentions are priceless. Count in me in for next year’s event, God-willing.

However, right now, I need to go soak my feet!

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