Philly Steppin’ Fam: Good Times, Indeed

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Me and Tri-State Stepper organizer Leslie Nichols. CREDIT: DANI DUNN

It has taken me a week to write about my Tri-State Steppers’ experience with my Philly steppin’ family (as you can see in the featured photo above — thanks Ms. Dani Dunn!). I’ve been so busy this week doing a myriad of things – work-, mother-, and socially-related, that I had to pause to gauge which way was up.

I mean, after a decent steppin’ weekend I now understand that it involves resetting my circadian rhythms and drinking quite a bit of coffee throughout the week that follows. You have to reacclimate yourself back to “real life” but are still basking in the glow of good dancing and the interminable Facebook photos and videos just draw you back into to affair. It does take about one-two weeks for me to get back into the groove of things.

Last year, I wrote about their first annual steppin’ weekend last weekend, which was really a pleasure to attend. This weekend’s primary venue was at the Stardust Ballroom in Bellmawr, New Jersey, and the camaraderie was great – just like last year. I enjoyed steppin’ on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Saturday was the best of nights for me and I’ll share why in a moment.

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Maria Cephas of MAC Steppers is a gracious lady — on and OFF the dance floor.

It was my first time at the Stardust Ballroom and the floor was vast and convenient. Parking was a cinch. I wasn’t crazy about the arrangements of the tables. I felt like I was kinda crawling in between folks who were either sitting down or getting up or attempting to approach the dance floor, so there were a lot of “Excuse me, sorry” exchanges. But hey, what can you do? I was still able to make it to the bathroom, the dance floor, and the food without a hitch.

My fellow steppers hailed from mostly the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic areas but several folks from many other regions of the country were in attendance, too. The atmosphere was definitely a jovial, friendly, and warm one — however, I’m not surprised because the interactions I always have with the organizers of this event are easy and natural.

I’ve heard (and kinda observed from a distance) that some steppin’ organizers may not have the best persona to engage attraction. Not so with the Tri-State Steppers — it really is like family and that’s primarily why I attended. The tone set by the organizers permeates the experience.

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There was a bit of line dancing on Friday and Saturday. However, I think one of those nights, there was this guy going in! I realized it was Tri-State Steppers’ Andre Bellamy. He is a line dancing dude! And he was serious.

Keith Hubbard, the man dancing in this video, has a wonderful voice that should be used for audio books and voice overs. Please, can Allstate get rid of the sleazy dude from “Waiting to Exhale” to replace him with Keith Hubbard? Anyway, he was a great MC and yes, I did get a dance with him – my first time, but not before a wacky conversation between he, Amina (from Delaware) and myself.

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Me, Barbara (Chocolate Girl Productions), and Amina.

Keith: What song do you want to dance to?

Me (frantic and panicked): Um, “Guilty” by Barbara Streisand and Barry Gibb.

Amina: What?! That ain’t no steppin’ song – you can’t step to no Barbara Streisand song!

Me: Keith, you know what song I’m talking about, right? They do play it at steppin’ sets. They played it at Stepaganza! [I attempt to sing it.] And we got nothin’ to be guilty of…

[Amina is still going off, playing me out.]

Me: Well, what about Hall and Oates’ “One on One”?

Amina: Why you asking to dance to all these white people?

Me: It’s blue-eyed soul! We can dance to it!

Amina: Dance with her to “Halfway Love”!

Amina knows I abhor that shady song, so I know and truly hope she was kidding but I do appreciate her for calling Keith over because I was too afraid to ask him to dance. Yup, just like with Drewry Alexander at the Friday set in New York City the weekend prior. My dance with Keith was pleasant but I was more nervous than usual – I don’t know why.

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Me and DJ Myron. Excellent dancing!

The ladies choice experience was wonderful on Friday. I walked up to a calm, handsome gentleman who began going on and on about how nervous he was and that he’d never danced before. Of course, I became this over-nurturing and concerned auntie of sorts, cooing and reassuring him that all would be fine and not to worry.

And then I asked him where he was from: Chicago, he said, with a twinkle in his eye.

I knew something was amiss.

Shame on you DJ Myron for tricking me and then charming me with several amazing dances not only on Friday but Saturday as well. You really made my steppin’ weekend – what a pleasure it was to have danced with you.

On Friday, I saw Cheryl “Sugarfoot” Powe and her husband Devan walk for the first time. Honestly, I had only known of her affiliation with the Heritage Ball as the CEO of Good Deeds International and didn’t know that walking was a gift that she and her husband, Devan, the musical and entertainment director of Good Deeds International, shared (there’s always something new to learn in this culture!).

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Devan and Cheryl “Sugarfoot” Powe walking…watching them was mesmerizing.

When I saw them walking on Friday, I mean, the connection between the two of them was almost palpable as I watched. I imagine it’s not easy to attain that level of musical intimacy and presentation with someone. I was sitting in awe, eyes glued to the two. When I met her on Sunday at the steppin’ brunch, she was just as gracious as the reputation she’s garnered for herself. I had never seen walking, I don’t think, that affected me the way the Powe’s did. Maybe I need to get out more but I’m sure I wasn’t the only one sighing deeply and getting all mesmerized…

On Saturday I was a happy camper dancing with Henry, a dude whom I now have named Henry X (As in Henry the tenth). Hailing from Virginia, Henry is a big man and has an energy on the dance floor that is larger than life as well. I’m not crazy about overzealous dancers because sometimes they are just out of control, throwing you to and fro, trying to morph into Pete Frazier before everyone’s eyes. Not Henry, when I was signaled to do something it was clear and he made sure that I was secure, turn-wise and that he was where he needed to be rhythmically AND that we had fun!

I called him Henry the Tenth because Henry the VIII was always killing people and well, Henry was killing it on the dance floor. Sorry, I have a thing for Queen Elizabeth’s crazy family. Who compares a stepper to Henry Tudor? I do. Only me (shaking my head).

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This is how I felt when I was dancing with B’More Smooth (Gary) to Bette Midler’s “Do You Want to Dance?” BEFORE the Chante Moore’s Angry Black Woman anthem came on.

Okay, I think I almost melted into the wooden floor during the ladies choice on Saturday. ‘

Why was brother B’More Smooth (Gary) available because no one had walked up to him (yet!). Man, I got in there like folks were giving out free bean pies! I love dancing with him and truly enjoy watching him dance as well. I was NOT prepared for the song that some HEAVENLY DJ (Who was spinning at the time? Please thank them for me!) started playing. Ya’ll…why did Bette Midler’s “Do You Want to Dance?” come on?

First of all, I never even HEARD that song at a set. I only would hear it on the soft rock station that my parents would play in our ice cream parlor when I was a tween. But I’ve always liked the song and never knew what it would feel like to dance to it as a grown up with someone as smooth as Maryland’s best!

I was in another world.

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Chante: “What’s up, my ni**az?!” I wasn’t beat to hear “Bitter” on the dance floor.

And then, Chante Moore’s “Bitter” came on. Totally changed my vibe. I mean, she says “nigger” so many damn times and I really don’t use the word so singing along was out of the question. I tried to substitute it with the word “Negro” but that was wack. Then, among all these well-dressed classy black people with Chante Moore singing the word nigger over and over again, I started thinking about the Civil Rights Movement and sit-ins.

Yes, while dancing with Gary I’m imagining Rosa Parks in heaven, watching us dance to this song.

I’m telling you — my mind goes places sometimes, as anyone who has danced with me and caught me in one of my space out moments. I’m usually THERE, but this song made me start feeling embarrassed to be looking so nice and delicate while dancing to such a gutter song. (That is a ratchet song, y’all)

Luckily Gary kept me dancing but the lyrics in that song really annoyed the hell out of me at that moment. And listen, I get it. It’s a ballad about a bastard that a woman is so bitter about that she even hates dude’s dog and wrote a wack ass song about how much she can’t stand this former lover of hers. I feel for any woman who has ever been this angry but I can’t get high on the dance floor off of it.

Can we get some Keyshia Cole on the 1 & 2s if we’re going to play Angry Black Woman music? At least Keyshia has several without the N-word. (Now what is totally hypocritical about my rant here is that if a DJ were to play Jay-Z, Drake, or TI with several F- and B-bombs and a sprinkle of the N-word, I would be dancing. But that’s a whole different conversation. For real, if they played “You Fancy” — the unedited version — I would be front and center, acting a fool.)

My dance with Steppin’ Alliance President Bruce Dyer on Saturday and Sunday was great – with him talking all kinds of trash to make me laugh, of course. Dancing with Bruce is light, feathery, and fancy-free – thank you Brother Bruce!

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Someone put some serious LOVE into making the food for Saturday night’s main event.

The food – please don’t let the paper plate fool you – was DELICIOUS! Yo! Who cooked the yams, fish, and cabbage? Please Dre or Leslie – somebody from Tri-State Steppers, tell him/her/them I said THANK YOU! It was really good.

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At the Sunday brunch.

I arrived rather late to the brunch at the Atrium Dance Studio in Pennsauken on Sunday and got in about 40 minutes of dancing, including one with DJ Tony, I believe, from Florida. We were both singing along to Jefferey Osborne’s “I’m Only Human”. I truly appreciated that dance – very engaging.

All in all, I had the most fun (and dances) on Saturday when that BUSLOAD of folks from the DMV came through. I knew that my Mid-Atlantic family was coming and thus was very excited for them to attend. I think their presence really adds to this Philly steppin’ event.

Anyway, I’m just compiling a short piece on Ann Hunter’s new dance studio property. I’m so happy for her and her husband. She’s a very progressive person – so this truly shouldn’t come as a shock to anyone. You can read about her ideologies on everything from spinning to eyesores in Detroit neighborhoods in this article from last year.

In the meantime, wherever you are dancing, be safe and have fun!

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