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DJ Tony James: A Remixing Master in the Midwest

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St. Louis’ DJ Tony James.

Let me introduce you to the likes of St. Louis native Tony James (Called often by both his first and last names – Tony James, not just Tony). I met him earlier this year at Stepaganza and upon delving into those mini-mixes of his, I realized that James was actually a deejay who made me want to actually write an article about, well…a deejay.

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DJ Khalid, known for his adlibs on the tracks of some of today’s hottest urban hits.

I know it sounds trite but unless a person is heavy into production, sound stage, or other music equipment and engineering, they’re not reading articles about a disc jockeys unless there’s some element of drama involved, i.e. Hot 97s former DJ Mister Cee or unless they’re branded into infinity like producer Swizz Beatz or DJ Khalid, recently covered in The New York Times. Besides, I’d never written about deejay before, despite having selfishly jammed in the car or on the dance floor as a result of their hard work.

And that ain’t right, is it, folks?

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Deejays help shape the soundtrack of our lives.

Thousands of deejays across America help to shape the soundtracks of our lives within the social stratospheres. I remember specifically, one New Yorker and fellow Morgan State alum – DJ Kaos (or Mike, as we coeds knew him around campus) mixed Toni Tony Tone’s “It’s Our Anniversary” with Jeru the Damaja’s “Come Clean.” Over 20 years later, I still remember it as one of the most innovative mixes I’d ever heard. In the late 90s, dudes like Kid Capri, DJ Clue, or in the early 90s, DJ Red Alert or Dahved Levy were in constant demand.

The same way it’s damned near impossible to forget a spot that sells slap-yourself-good fried fish – it’s pretty difficult to forget a skilled maestro.

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Tony James at the Heritage Ball speaking with recording artist Cardell. CREDIT: SHERMAN KING

Certain deejays, and James is one of them, have a knack that warrants a double-take, a rewind, and possibly a curse word or two: “Did he really just mix that? Where the hell did he find this song? Oh, I gotta download/buy this!” Or quite simply, the least refined, but most honest classic, “Oh, shit! This mix is crazy!

James has a relationship with music that is intuitive and almost ethereal. When he speaks about music, you’ll get the thoughts of a historian, an entrepreneur, and a frighteningly smitten lover of music. There’s an obsession about the strategy of delivering the right music and having a keen observation of what a dance collective embodies that James possesses. And the results are reflective of his efforts because the retired data analyst and financial services professional will tell you that he treats all of his music-related endeavors “as a business, not as a hobby.”

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Tony James focusing on his music. CREDIT: DR. GREGORY GREEN

Not only are his selections appropriate for steppin’ venues, but I have driven to work, cooked dinner, and opted to binge-listen to his mixes. Check out his Mix #30 with three different versions of “Holding Back the Years.” Who in the world DOES that? James, does.

My love of music and what it does for me drives my desire for people to feel what I feel and hear what I hear. I’ve been fortunate to enough to be exposed to greatness,” Tony shares.

His father was a middle school principal and football coach, and his mother was an English teacher. James recalls reading Alex Haley’s Roots in “two sittings.” (Must have been two very long sittings!) Academic focus was fused with musical trivia. James’ father would quiz him on the likes of Lena Horne, Nancy Wilson, and The Four Freshmen. Additionally – piano, violin, and the trumpet were all instruments James learned to play in his youth. The music of the 1960s was a rapture to which he willingly succumbed.

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Jimi Hendrix “Smoking” taken in early 1967, London. CREDIT: GERED MANKOWITZ

From Jimi Hendrix to Rare Earth – the music was outstanding. Psychedelic music came into its own. Then you had Motown music. The Philly Sound. It was just a great time to experience a wide variety of music. Music has always been my sanctuary. A place to find peace and joy,” he recalls. “When I was in the 10th grade, I began collecting albums. I made friends with the disc jockeys on radio stations because I used to call in to WESL and KXOK. My ear for music is what makes me different. It’s just the way I hear music.”

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Detroit, 1967 Riots. CREDIT: JIM HUBBARD

James, who was part of St. Louis’ Northwest High School’s Black Student Union knows that music back then – Marvin Gaye, Carlos Santana, Smokey Robinson, The Parliaments, Gil Scott- Heron – was a reflection of the Civil Rights Movement and racial injustices in the United States at the time. He recalls his cousins from Detroit coming to spend time with him in St. Louis to escape the turmoil of their city’s 1967 riots. Detroit isn’t exactly a stone’s throw away from St. Louis, so they were obviously desperate to escape. If you are familiar with the details of this uprising, you’ll understand why it is considered the largest “urban uprising” of the 1960s after the riots that followed the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

And growing up during a time like this – how could one not utilize music as a form of expression, reflection, and hope?

Today’s standards in popular music aren’t as impressive to James, however.

Some of this music encourages the breakdown of the [black] family,” he says. “The images and words that are project into our community contain subliminal messages and encourages a prison culture. There used to be positive, conscious rap – like KRS One but now you hear ‘bitches and hoes’ in too much of the music. I find some of it misogynistic.”

James notes that some of urban popular music reflects the rough lives that the some of the artists come from but for the most he loathes the rappers who flaunt platinum chains, Bugattis, and being higher on drugs than the St. Louis arch.

Despite these criticisms on cultural genocide and hedonism, the former nightclub owner explains that he is an “old school, hard core party guy” who came from an era where they “were fortunate because [they] got to have a childhood.”

The music was necessary! I wanted to dance. I didn’t have to worry about getting killed because at the time, the community was fairly stable and not as transitory as it is now,” he shares.

James’ foray into Steppin’ came about when he saw Iary Israel, also of St. Louis and CEO of Word of Mouth Entertainment, the host of Stepaganza, doing a trio. “When I saw him dancing, I said ‘I must have this in my repertoire!’”

Prior to stepping into Steppin’ (pun intended), James had several professional experiences, which prepared him for the business and social sides of being a deejay, giving large social events and producing television dance shows. His experiences includes quantitative applications such as selling insurance and data processing as well as managing and owning the 30 Something Nightclub in St. Louis, a stint that lasted seven years.

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DJ Tony James. CREDIT: RODERICK BELL

I got out of that business when it stopped being fun,” he confesses. “I made money but I was married with a child, and working 16 hours a day for six days a week in a cash business. It wasn’t really conducive to family life and besides, I didn’t have a vision for a long-term strategic plan. It became a grind.”

James recalls his club owner days with a humor about what he calls the “Bartender Syndrome.” “People are crazy. When people get a little tipsy, they tell you all their business. I know and still keep those secrets,” he says, chuckling.

Now instead of hearing the woes of the inebriated, he’s more apt to be asked by dancers if he can play a song at a set when he’s on the “turntables.” That also applies to line dancers, a nationwide community to which he also belongs. He understands that there are clear differences between both worlds – often a touchy area for some steppin’ enthusiasts and purists. However, he knows that both dance forms can, and should, co-exist. If anything, the disproportionate number of women to men at Steppin’ sets lends itself nicely to line dancing.

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Looks like some line dancing’s going on. CREDIT: DR. GREGORY GREEN

My formula is called ‘Nurturing the Dance.’ We can all play nicely together. In fact, I learned line dancing on skates in the late 80s when the Electric Slide was out. Now with Big Muchi, Casper, Cupid Shuffle and Dialtone’s Flashing Slide; line dancing has taken on a life of its own. As we continue to deal with the shortage of men, we can play some of these songs for the women who didn’t get any dances,” he says earnestly, explaining that the male shortage in Steppin’ can be connected to racial, cultural, political, and socioeconomic circumstances of the last quarter of the 20th century.

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Protesters of the Vietnam War in 1967 with a poster quoting, boxing champion Muhammad Ali, who refused U.S. Army induction. CREDIT: BUILDER LEVY

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African-American Vietnam War soldiers. CREDIT:  UNKNOWN

Black men are under assault in this country. There are too many who are unemployed, under-employed, in jail, on, or selling drugs. We’re easy to target and it’s generational. Many men – and a lot of people don’t talk about this – when they came back from the Vietnam War, many were changed for the worse. Many had PTSD and had trouble re-integrating into the community. Some couldn’t find employment and had to create their own forms of income. Some of them chose to hustle and many got so used to fighting over scraps that they would kill each other for those scraps. That is not sustainable. Man, these police will lock your ass up!”

And yet, at the core of Steppin’ James maintains that as a deejay, he pays close attention to the men on the floor.

Anytime you doing couple dancing, it’s about the men. I need to know who they are and what they can do, what is their level of endurance. It depends on the level of maturity in the crowd. There’s a pace and flow to any good set if you really understand your crowd,” he shares.

There might be some guys who are good with dancing only twice in just one hour. They might not want or be able to go as hard as me because I’m a dancer!”

When it comes to taking requests at sets he considers when the time is right to include the person’s request, especially if it’s something obscure. Each crowd is different, depending on whether it’s a local, traveling, or even a more intimate crowd.

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Tony James and his family. CREDIT: DONNA TILLMAN-PEACOCK

James’ exposure to a vast array of new music allows him to facilitate dropping new songs into his mixes without driving everyone off of the dance floor, because let’s face it – all new cuts don’t inspire every dancer. Some of us, like this writer here, will become annoyed quite easily with the unfamiliar.

I have a ton of music – some I haven’t even listened to yet! I really love remixing –

I’ve remixed Tyreese Gibson with Teddy Austin and Kem, just to name a few. Remixing is my mistress,” says James. A lot of his on-set success is born of these very remixes, which he finds naturally easy to accomplish and also enjoys listening to what other deejays and production professionals are creating in their labs. “When I heard Colage’s ‘Afraid of Love,’

I said, ‘I need to know this man,’” he adds, enthusiastically.

James easily – and with humility – gives credit to his contemporaries in the field who have shared their skill set in record production which is much more challenging than deejaying.

DJ Tony Lane, Colage N Tonya Ni and DJ Chillnite are all professionals he toward whom he tips his hat.

These guys are making stuff from scratch,” he says. “In record production, it’s about finding that elusive level of perfection. There’s a price to pay for excellence. There are some good deejays and then there are some who are great.”

But deejays across the Steppin’ stratosphere don’t all share a utopian vision, James explains.

There’s some grimy stuff that goes down behind the scenes. I’m lucky to have encountered a lot of like-minded individuals, and that’s the way it should be. It should be a brotherhood.

But sometimes, there’s pettiness in competition.”

Ethics aside, every deejay is different, asserts James.

You can give us all the same songs to play but you’ll get all different sets, with songs played in different orders, and we’ll blend different songs together. But a deejay knows that you have to bring the crowd back to a familiar spot or they’ll get lost. Start the crowd off where they know, and then you can take them somewhere just a bit further – and then bring them back again. You can keep that going until four in the morning, when the heavy hitters clown,” James says.

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From left: At Stepaganza, Dolores Mitchell, president of Word of Mouth Entertainment; tony James; Master of Ceremonies Keith Hubbard.

Stepaganza is a significant junction where top deejays cater to a diverse crowd of steppers from throughout the United States. For James, who has been playing sets for the event since its eighth year, it’s an excellent opportunity to support the culture of Steppin’ as well as Word of Mouth Entertainment. At Stepaganza, for three years James recalls giving “The Ultimate After Set” at Club 314 with his then business partners Johnnie Campbell and Evaughn Harris. The BYOB set was from midnight to 5 a.m. and steppers could buy smothered chicken and rice, juice, and soda and Step until the sun came up in the city. Now, Stepaganza’s events are late enough (2015’s main event at the Embassy Suites went until 3 a.m.) that there’s no need for after parties.

Iary Israel is doing an excellent job. He’s building great relationships around the country.

It’s commendable to see a black business man do this,” he notes.

In St. Louis, additionally, a key element in the dance culture – with all respect due to Steppin’ – is Boppin’.

Boppin’ in St Louis was like Steppin’ is in Chicago, ” he says. “If you wanted to be on the dance scene, you needed to know how to Bop. It was right up there with the Mashed Potatoes, The Twist and The Bump. It came and it went. But we brought Boppin’ back with vengeance.”

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St. Louis’ DJ Tony James. CREDIT: TONY JAMES

James points out that in 2012 the St. Louis Bop Preservation Society, of which he is a member and music master, was presented with Proclamation from the City of St. Louis that declares The Bop the Official Dance of St Louis. In fact, a variety of dances, including Boppin’, Steppin’, Salsa, Free Style, and Line Dancing can be viewed on the television series StLDance: On Location, which airs late Sunday night on local ABC channel 30. Season One’s episodes can also be viewed on Youtube.com.

It’s clear that James has his hand in several aspects of the music scene in his native town. But when your uncle was a world famous musician in The Quartette Tres Bien, playing gigs in Gaslight Square during the 50s and 60s, and banging on bongos and congos in your basement as a kid, it’s only natural that someone would bear the burden of cultivating music on behalf of the family name. So when Tony isn’t tied up with building his newsletter and ad business,

The St. Louis WeeklyWord & Weekend Update, posting top notch mini-mixes on his Bandcamp page, or uploading new videos on his YouTube page, he’s supporting the next generation of musical genius – his 21-year-old son, Quinton, known professionally as Quizzy of New Money Records.

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Tony James with his son, “Quizzy” and his wife, Joyce.

He raps, performs, and produces,” says James. “He’s my engineer and does some video for me, too. He’s such a busy young man and I really respect his work ethic. He records every single day. He has a vision and the passion to achieve it. I told him, ‘Nothing is free, especially success. If it was, then everyone would be doing great.’ He knows that working behind the scenes can be lucrative.”

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Tony James and his wife, Joyce. CREDIT: DR. GREGORY GREEN

But the money behind the music industry doesn’t take away the human side of James, who still recalls fondly, asking his wife, Joyce, of 26 years to learn how to step. James spends much of the morning and early afternoon tending to his businesses, and then focuses on music production until the evening when Joyce gets in from her job as a social services professional.

I can pull from so many genres,” James says. “I might find an instrumental that complements a vocal from another song so well, you’d think it was that song’s instrumental track. Now when you put your remixes and production out there in the anonymous world of the internet, you subject yourself to critics. And critics are everywhere. You have to have a vision and believe in it.”

James believes in his musical visions so much so that in addition to his other contributions, he spins shows on Mondays via WZon Radio from 4 to 6 p.m. (CST).  

Apparently a life well-lived has left him with few regrets.

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At Stepaganza, 2105. CREDIT: WILLIE BROWNLEE

I’ve been a thousandaire, not a millionaire,” he says jokingly. “I have not seen The Pyramids or the Great Wall of China. I had turned down a job in China when I lived in Houston running computers, I do regret that. I could have seen Asia at someone else’s expense. The bottom line is, I love music. The question is, as a deejay – do people like the way you do your thing and can you take them somewhere new while giving them what they want and need. You have to serve the people who are in front of you.”

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Even the DJ has to get in a dance at Stepaganza! CREDIT: EVAUGHN HARRIS

Considering the deejays we’ve all known at graduation parties, weddings, clubs, resorts, radios, college jams – it is a service they are giving us all. Tony doesn’t look at himself any differently.

If it brings me joy, then I know it will for other people,” he says of spinning tunes for not only steppers but for all. “If you open up your mind to the music, it can touch your heart. I truly love this stuff.”

Thanks for sharing your talents and time with us, Tony James! I implore Gallion’s Stepper Chronicles readers to check out James’ remixes, you won’t be disappointed.

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Boss Lady: Ann Hunter Purchases Her Own Dance Studio

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Ann Hunter and fiance, James Lockridge, in front of their Detroit studio.

Ann Goggins Hunter is known for her dynamic dance style and spins and competition placements, and as of SATURDAY, as a first-place winner in Milwaukee’s Largest Steppin’ Contest’s New School category with Drewry Alexander.

But now the steppin’ community can look to her as an entrepreneur who will soon open the doors to her very own dance studio and office space. See details at the end of this post to find out how you can contribute to the fund-raiser for the studio.

Ann and her fiance’ James Lockridge embarked on securing the Detroit property that will now serve as Effortless Elegance’s exclusive center where Ann will facilitate dance lessons and workshops. Effortless Elegance (EE), LLC is Ann’s business organization.

This should come as no surprise. Ann holds a business degree and has a penchant for doing things well. Readers can learn a lot more about Ann in this feature story covered by Gallion’s Stepper Chronicles last year.

The corner studio property is not attached to any other structure and was quietly purchased by Ann and her fiancé in January of this year. It is only now, at the height of summer, that she has opted to make her purchase and intentions public. Her dream to own and operate a dance studio has been a long time coming, she shares.

The opportunity came and I didn’t want to let it pass. James and I felt that it was a good deal and that we were in a favorable position to try to make our dreams a reality. We are still in the stages of fixing up the property and bringing it to life. The restrooms and the awnings are the next tasks for us. A wood laminate floor has already been laid down thanks to one of my students,” Ann says.

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The Effortless Elegance studio, a hub for steppin’ and fitness.

It appears that her desire to open shop by the year’s end is going to happen. The one-level, 3.5-room space was “bad” when she and James first purchased it. “We didn’t want to say anything until we felt that we could pull it off. After a number of visible repairs were completed, the water turned on, and we fixed all of the hidden issues in the walls that needed to be repair, we can say we are getting closer.”

annhunter5James will also be facilitating a physical fitness class that will focus on calisthenics starting this Friday, August 28 at 5 p.m. Calisthenics uses the weight of one’s own bodies to tone and build muscle, which is an excellent way to maintain your balance and core strength as a stepper! So not only is James ready to whip you into shape, imagine how flattering your steppers sharp outfits for the holiday season will look! 

Steppers please believe it, Ann has the kind of mojo to make this dual effort – shall we say, effortlessly elegant. Her students love her so much they’re helping with repairs and a family friend is assisting with plumbing and electrical work. But then again, this is the kind of project that just makes everyone want to lend a hand – and you can, too. (More about that in a moment.)

Most classes will be taught by Ann but she has a small team of assistant instructors (well-versed in steppin’) who are being trained for the art of executing lessons. Her student body – their input and their needs – are very much a priority and a part of what makes her brand memorable. As such, Ann is consulting them on a few notions that will enhance their experience and tutelage.

“I want to base Effortless Elegance off of what my students want and need, as well as my supporters. I’m in the process of getting feedback from them so that [our interactions] will be enjoyable,” she says. “Instead of assuming what they want, I want us to work together to make it beneficial.”

annhunter3In getting the building up to code and prepared for its grand opening, Ann and her fiance’ have begun merchandising the ultimate stepper’s convenience – SHOE BAGS – as a fund-raising tool that will not only benefit buyers but won’t break the bank either.

And for how much? The bags are ONLY 5 DOLLARS.

Yes. Five.

Now, you could wrap your shoes in a trashy, mustard yellow, plastic grocery store bag. That’ll look really classy at the main event. (blank stare, plastered smile) Or, you could reach out to Ann and purchase a bag, which supports the enterprise she is currently building with James and their executive board.

Ultimately patrons of the shoe bags are supporting two progressive minority owned businesses (the shoe bag/apparel AND a community hub for elevating steppin’ and fitness). The promotional/marketing cards for the bags, by the way, feature artwork designed by James, who also has put his aesthetic mark on Ann’s dance shoes. The logo on the bag reflects the simple sophistication with which Effortless Elegance is aligned.

annhunter4“We decided to start selling the bags as a way to get funds that would help with maintenance and repairs. Instead of asking for donations, we wanted to offer something that people might like,” Ann notes.

And who doesn’t love a fund-raiser that yields something of value?

Ann’s vision is to have one or two classes throughout the week, and is currently condensing her schedule in preparation for the transition. This way, the students who current take privates with her will not be inconvenienced and the classes will not be interrupted by the steppin’ weekends that she often attends to conduct workshops. “With my own studio, I have more scheduling options,” she explains.

A note to Gallion’s Stepper Chronicle readers: When I learned that Ann and James acquired the studio, I immediately wanted to contribute to supporting their success by doing my part and using my blog as a platform to get the word out about her fundraiser – I was so happy for them! I believe in what Ann is doing as an entrepreneur, a family-centric woman, and pretty much as a person with goodwill. Investing in our communities makes for a better experience for the next generation and I love that she and her James have that kind of grit and focus.

You may email Ann directly at aheffortlesselegance@yahoo.com. She will then give you further directions as to how to order your bag shipping and handling costs will be. Effortless Elegance’s studio is located at 19520 James Couzens Fwy; Detroit, MI 48235. 

I’ll see you somewhere on the dance floor, friends. And congratulations on that first-place win, Ann and Drewry!

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!

Lemme spill some tea! Literally.

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One of the faces I’m always happy to see in the place, Sister Amina from Delaware. I’ll text you next time BEFORE I go to see if you’re going, too, Amina!

No, I’m not about to tell you that some well known stepper is about to launch a clothing line with Lenny Kravitz or that your favorite lady stepper is really a man. Not that kind of tea. Can you believe that while talking to Detroit’s Wakeba Reid and her friend Shawn — I spilled a drink on Shawn’s knee? Talk about a crazy first impression. I’ll get to that in a second.

So I ventured out across the Hudson to the New York & New Jersey Steppers Big City Weekend event, to be specific, the Friday event on West 36th Street. I’m smart enough NOW to know that there is no need to walk from my car to the venue in my heels, especially in New York City where you don’t have the luxury or guarantee of a free parking lot or a parking space that is nearby. C’est la vie. I walked a couple of blocks and like the city girl I am and changed into my heels when I got into the lobby. (I know I could have changed shoes at the set but nah…I need to WALK up in the set with my shoes already on, you dig?)

I arrived at about 10:30 p.m. but it appeared that the dance floor didn’t start getting peppered with steppers until about 11 p.m. Perhaps people were eating the food, catching up with old friends, etc. That gave me enough time to give some sister steppers a few hugs, grab some hors d’oeuvres, and adjust the insoles and heel grips in my shoes.

There were a few cool occurrences last night and those are what prompted me to write this morning. So here they are:

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How I felt when Dominique asked me to dance last night.

1. My dance with Dominique Robinson made me feel like “one of the Beatles just asked me to dance.” I literally said that. Why the hell do I say crazy things like this? I don’t know where these comments come from. Anyway, I hope that Brother Robinson is used to my random analogies by now. But seriously, has Dominique ever asked to take YOUR hand as Felony Davis’ “Special” begins to play? OR as Bobby Womack’s “Facts of Life” comes on? Well, if so, then you understand. You feel like Courtney Cox in Bruce Springsteen’s “Dancing in the Dark” video. Wait…is Dominique Robinson the Bruce Springsteen of steppin’? There I go with my analogies again. Thank you, we need Ebony magazine to get that cover together, Dominique (inside joke). There’s a photo of Dominique and me with some other ladies in Ashante’s phone, if I get it, I’ll add it to this post.

Me, Linda, and Yvette! Love these ladies.

Me, Linda, and Yvette! Love these ladies.

2. My dance with John Lucas. Lemme explain…I’m a Leo. John’s a Leo. That already means chances are I’m going to like several things about him. From what I’ve extracted from John’s larger-than-life persona (and his stature), you can’t be drifting off into LaLa Land when you’re dancing with him. Thanks for keeping me awake and indulging me, Brother John! Leos rule! Especially smart and cultured ones. 🙂 Happy birthday in advance!

3. The hugs and love from my steppin’ sisters. One of my favorite parts of the set entails the greetings that I share with my steppin’ sister whenever I walk into a set. I mean, if you are in need of good energy and hugs…become a part of a steppin’ community. You’ll get everything from “Hey, girl!” to “You look great!” and for your closer steppin’ sisters, “Girl, I have to talk to you!” or “Let me tell you who you need to dance with…” And then you know we have to take fly photos all throughout the night. I love seeing them — they are maraschino cherries of it all.

4. My babbling foolery with brother Kevin, the coolest WNBA referee I know (alright, the only one I know), during our dance. I was experiencing the heights of the effects of that one “glass” of spirits I consumed, if you will. One glass is really all about I can handle without the silly Newark slick-talking fool creeping out of my Talented Tenth self. Kevin, I know I said something about your cool shirt, the chain, and the speakeasy shoes. Thank you for the dance and for laughing at whatever nonsense I was talking about.

5. Brian. Brian. Brian. The two dances = everythang. Not everything. EveryTHANG.  

Leos are in the house! Me and Dallas' Evie. So lovely to meet you!

Leos are in the house! Me and Dallas’ Evie. So lovely to meet you!

6. Some dude named Roman than I never met before gave me a GREAT dance and told me he liked my energy. And that is probably why we vibed so well. You can’t be alone in your dance, in your head, disconnected from your partner. Get the hell out the Future Contest or Counting Labyrinth in your head and let’s dance. Somebody tell Roman I said thank you!

Rodney Mack and DJ Vince. Pleasure meeting them both!

Rodney Mack and DJ Vince. Pleasure meeting them both!

7. Meeting Rodney Mack and finally finding out the name of a song from DJ Vince! Oh my goodness, as a stepper, you know the exhaustion of trying to find out the names of the songs that catch your ear! Speaking of which, I need some Steppin’ CDs — cause you can’t find some of these remixes on YouTube (or wherever you might steal your music from).

Now the last two events were really interesting.

First, the tea-spilling. It may not have been tea. Well, I’m almost sure it wasn’t…I had just finished talking to Drewry Alexander (talk about that in a second) and saw this girl and guy I observed dancing at Stepaganza in St. Louis earlier this year. See, this is why I have to laugh at myself. Although I had read Tracey Bivens’ I Love Steppin’ interview with Wakeba Reid, I didn’t know that the “girl” was her! She had braids at Stepaganza and looked like she was in her very early 20s. I don’t know, I imagined that she was like a college junior who grew up watching her family dance or something (another bad habit, I create these stories about people in my head). The friend she was dancing with last night, Shawn was also someone I remember watching dancing in St. Louis, too. I mean they looked like two young people just having fun in the Embassy Suites lobby — I didn’t realize they had both been contest winners/competitors! I found all of this out while kickin’ it with them last night.

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Moments after the drink spill. I had to capture the moment with Wakeba and Shawn!

Now, I talk with my hands sometimes. Apparently, I like knocking over drinks on new steppin’ friends like Shawn. Yes, ya’ll. Just as I was thanking them or saying goodbye — KLUNK! Luckily, it wasn’t a lot of liquid — but I felt like Lucille Ball, trying to dry Shawn’s lap and knee with a cocktail napkin. Totally slapstick steppin’ culture right there. Thank you both for being so warm and welcoming — and gracious about the spilled drink.

Drum roll….can we talk about Drew for a second?

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The dance happened about 15 minutes after that…

Last year I had taped a quick interview with Drew but the lighting was bad and I just didn’t get what I needed to due to technical issues — running out of space on my memory card, etc. But that was when I met him for the first time — last year. Since then, I’ve always enjoyed watching him dance or even just saying hello. Somebody taught that man manners. He is one of the most polite and charming steppers I’ve ever met.

Anyway, I’d never danced with him. ON PURPOSE. I prayed he would never ask me to dance — and well, with the line of women that I’m sure are always waiting for a dance — it was easy to stay under the radar. I was SCARED! Scared that I would look crazy and that he’d go home to Detroit, thinking something funky about my dance like: She can write, but her ass can’t dance! (no offense to my small crew of instructors/advisers, I know you taught me well)

When I spoke to him last night, I kinda confessed all of this. I told him that one day, though, I would be ready to dance with him. It turns out that somewhere in the cosmos, fate would have it that I would suddenly gain the confidence to ask him to dance LAST NIGHT. I don’t know where the courage came from, ya’ll. But he had just finished dancing and I simply walked up to him.

Me: Drew, do you think you might possibly be able to dance with me? (I don’t know why I turn my requests for dances into these Buckingham Palace tea-at-high noon speeches)

Drew: You ready?

Me (breathing deeply): I think I am.

Listen, that man has a gift. Yes, you all knew this. But to be able to lead a woman the way he led me in a first dance, and with such energy — yet with no rough, jerky, clavicle-shattering, hip-dislocating after effects? He is a DANCER. Not a show-off (you can’t help but look but that’s not because he’s yearning for your attention) and is with you AND the music during your dance. I had to hug him like a long-lost cousin when our dance was through.

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Look at Ranee doing her thing. I don’t line dance but they got in a little bit of that last night, too!

I can’t tell you that fear isn’t going to enter your adventures in steppin’. I will say that it’s okay to fumble around with it and even wait a little while until it dissipates. But there comes a time when you should take a deep breath and step into a new dance. Let a new partner lead you (or follow you!). I think you’ll know when it’s time to be brave.

Trust me. It is worth the dance that ensues, for better or for worse. In my case — totally for the better! Thank you, Drew & safe travels with your crew back to the Midwest.

Next week I’ll be in Philly! Oooooooooooooooh! I can’t WAIT! Last year, I had a BIZ-ZALL and I’m just brimming with excitement about the dances I KNOW I’ll get at this event. Where are my vitamins?

And P.S. — I am so excited about Doc and Sunshine competing in the World’s Largest Steppers Contest!

Shout out to the New York & New Jersey Chicago Steppin’ crew for feeding and entertaining us in the Big Apple! Arietta, I got you in Philly! 😉 See you soon, steppin’ friends.

These 10 Steppin’ Songs are a Trip

Unfortunately, I’m an overanalyzer. What does that mean as a stepper? It means that certain songs have way more of an effect on me than they should. I thought I’d share some reflections on some lyrics that have made me think way too hard or imagine way too many scenarios!

1. Bobby Womack’s “You’re Welcome, Stop on By”

swayzeHave you ever listened to how Bobby is letting this woman know that she can stop on by because he has this gut feeling that she really isn’t truly happy living? My favorite part is when he tells her he’s trying to keep from hurting her feelings! She better get it together…

I’m totally #teamwomack in this song, the woman sounds like she doesn’t know that real love is what he’s giving. Silly girl. She’s not worth it, Mr. Womack. We know you’re getting tired of being that second guy. What baffles me is that he says one day he might “be the one to make” her “cry”…yet claims he’ll dry her eyes. The tears he makes her cry or the ones from the rich, main dude? Hmmm.

2. Carmichael “Rock It”

chickens-without-feathers-naked-hot-weather-sunburnFirst of all, I want to exactly know what Carmichael is doing when he’s going “round like the hands of a clock”. There are various ideas I have but I just keep imagining Swiss secondhand movement on a clock, going round and round. Or clothes in a dryer. Or a hamster wheel. What is he talking about?

Also…that line about the “bird that’s trying to fly without the feathers” is visually kind of gross. A rubbery featherless bird always pops up in my mind here. But, I really love this sweet song — the sentiments are totally in line with an ideal love. He’s working hard, to give her what she wants and needs. She supports him. I love it.

3. Daniel Moore, “Halfway Love”

I loathe this song. What a manipulative bastard. This man starts out the song with seemingly harmless bongos and chimes and then commences to singing a song that rationalizes his descent into being a player, while blaming his girlfriend for wanting some damn respect. Oh, I hate this song so much, ya’ll. “We’ve been arguing about my wandering eye, and the female friends who call me in the Negro-Please-Award-600middle of the night.” Um, you damn skippy! And he’s singing all of this in a calm, neo-soul manner at that keyboard with the dreadlocks swinging, like he’s some sensitive, compassionate person for inviting the woman to SIT down to listen to his selfish platform. “See I wanna go when I want, come when I want, and that ain’t fair to you” is his rationale. Why doesn’t he just leave? Instead, he repeats this ludicrous chant with the background singers, “But you ain’t never gonna go for that!” Who the hell would? And that part about checking his phone? If he’s acting shady, wanting one foot in and one foot out — trust and believe he’s attracting some phone-checking energy. This has to be one of the craziest songs I’ve ever heard in my life.

4. Jeannie Reynolds, “The Fruit Song”

This song is naaaaaaaaaaaaasty! Cherries and bananas. Really? The beat is fly but it almost sounds like it belongs in “The Wiz”…perhaps during a love scene between one of those dancing Gold people. I do like this song, though. And the way she croons the word “bananas” is hilarious. I can’t.

5. Res, “For Who You Are”

nene-byeWhat the hell is she talking about in this depressing, post traumatic stress disorder song? ” I know we had to grow apart, but I never knew things would get so hard, and I’ll always love you for who you are.” Seriously? She’s totally romanticizing the circumstance. This person ran away from her. She says, “I don’t blame you for running, I’ve never seen the dark places you’ve been.” So she loved someone deeply that she really didn’t know very well? And then she asks, “So please can you tell me something, like what’ll it take to make it ours again?” Huh? You want to get back with the person with a mysterious dark past who ran away from you? Um, okay.

6. Eddie Kendricks, “Body Talk”

goblinsLet me explain. I love this song, especially the video clip of Pete and Linda Frazier dancing to it! But ya’ll it reminds me of goblins and Halloween. “Time for makin’ love girl! It’s love o’clock!” I can just imagine little imps coming out of the bushes and accosting unsuspecting women with this demand. I don’t understand half the words in this song but I do make up my own words and sing along to Eddie’s falsetto. “You’re so distant…so mysterious GIRL (you know his voice goes all high there)…don’t you know by now, what you feel is real?” I don’t know ya’ll, a cool goblin might be able to seduce somebody with these words.

7. Gladys Knight and The Pips, “Still Such a Thing”

fox-empire-gladys-knightOkay, Gladys Knight “can’t convince the world that it’s crumbling, falling apart.” Nor does she want to tell “you what to think or how you should feel in your heart.” Then she spins off into confusion, which then confuses the hell out of me. She laments, “I don’t know why I still believe, that there’s still such a thing, still people dream of love.” When I’m in a room full of people singing along to this — I feel like we all become just as clueless as Gladys who doesn’t know why she still believes. Everyone looks confused as if they really DON’T know why they, too, believe that loves exists. Watch the next time this song plays. Everyone looks forlorn and in total agreement with Gladys that everyone wants to “play the game for the pleasure.” This song literally makes me forget about whether I have my own beliefs about love. I just fall in line with Gladys because she sounds like she knows what she’s singing about here…even though she keeps saying she doesn’t know. See? confusing.

8. Beverley Knight, “Salvador”

poorboyI love this song and when I finally was able to secure it, I grimaced when I realized how disturbing the lyrics are. Do you all know that you’re dancing to a song about a terminally ill child who plays an air guitar? Do you know also, that Beverley is also singing about a dying doctor whose former patients refuse to help him? What the hell? It’s like an undercover expose on marginalized, critically ill children and former professionals on their deathbeds. I’ll dance to it but now I can’t help but seeing some haunting images when I’m being given a turn.

9. The Mighty Bop, “Lady”

candymanOne of the coolest steppin’ songs but dude’s voice though. His voice. It’s scary. LAAAAAAADEEEE I’ve waited so LONNNNNNNNNNG for this MOOOOMENT. Remember “Candyman”, that horror film about the brother who needed to claim Helen, the white chick? This is Candyman singing to Helen, and that’s Helen’s freaky voice at the end of the song. It’s cool, don’t get me wrong. I just wouldn’t want to hear it being played outside in the dark — like in a forest clearing or an alley. (I know, why would it be playing out of nowhere in an alley?)

10. TL Williams, “Gettin’ Mo’ Money Than You”

black-people-eating-outNow, we all know folks start jammin’ when this song comes on. But TL Williams, I do not believe you when you say people lose their appetites when you always front the bill. Who are these people? Aliens? I know they not black people. Can we be real here? Do any of you, my steppin’ family, lose YOUR appetite when someone offers to front the bill? I didn’t think so. Stop exaggerating, Mr. Williams! However, I love how you say, “I know how you really feel” to the financially challenged haters, at least you’re a compassionate member of the One Percent.

Special Mention: Quadron, “Better Off”

confused-woman-420x0Is she better OFF without him or WITH him? Doesn’t she sing about being better off without him in the beginning and them switch it to better off WITH him at the end? I love this song, though. I just don’t know what stance she’s taking. And Kendrick Lamar’s rap is extremely annoying. Especially his part about stuttering. So, yeah, if you figure this one out, let me know. At least in U2’s “With or Without You” we all know that Bono has accepted that he’s in a real conundrum with homegirl. Quadron, on the other hand, she doesn’t seem quite ready to take a stance here.

My Blog was a Boon: Please Honor Your Talents

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That’s me after work one of these days this week. Hair’s a mess but it was a productive day!

Hey, steppin’ family! It’s been a while and I’ll do my best to make this short and sweet. (If you’ve read my blog before, you know it’ll be sweet — not so sure about short). Let me cut to the chase. The last post was on STEPAGANZA! I didn’t even make it around to summing up the main event, which, by the time that rolled around, I was so partied out I think I was bordering on cranky and delusional. I don’t know how I made it through that Saturday night in St. Louis but NEXT year when I attend, I’ll be sure to ration my energy out with more care. I returned to Jersey on Sunday after dancing a bit in the Embassy Suites lobby and then upon my return to the Northeast, I still needed at least a week’s recovery time. And even still life became extremely busy after that!

So, I was cutting to the chase, right? This post is less about steppin’ and more about this amazing blogging experience that I’ve had with Gallion’s Stepper Chronicles and why, if you are harboring or downplaying a talent, you need to stop doing that right now.

For those of you who didn’t know, I was an educator in a magnet high school for nine years. Before that I was in publishing (print and online). For several reasons I decided to transition out of education and eventually was offered a position that was aligned with my goals and talents as an editor/writer.

Do you all know that THIS blog partly influenced the president of my company to bring me aboard? Our little steppin’ blog! Upon applying for my current position, I was asked to provide a few writing samples. I sent some straightforward ones and decided to be brave enough to share this blog. Even one of my colleagues who had never heard of steppin’ before appreciated that I loved to dance. My hobby, specifically my 2015 New Year blog post, was favorably received by my future teammates. To add to this, and these numbers are modest in comparison to hardcore bloggers or websites, my stats show that over 10,000 steppin’ friends from countries ranging from the the United States, the United Kingdom, Taiwan, Brazil, Germany, and even Slovakia have stopped by to read a post or two!

My message to you in this blog post is not about your dancing or attitude at a set. It’s about honoring your passions and dedicating effort into being good at your inherent talents. Whether it’s cooking, creating art, writing, dee-jaying, coaching sports, etc. don’t discount it as some insignificant way to pass the time. I am telling you that you never know how your hobby or talent can change your life or open up doors for new opportunities.

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Me in my old classroom. I believe it was an 80s-themed day.

Listen, I’m a divorced mom with two kids. I can’t (nor is it practical to) be at every set during this time in my life when I’m also nurturing a family and cultivating elements of adventure in between running errands and cooking dinner. That takes work! But deciding to start a blog on steppin’ was one of my downtime activities that I found exciting. Although I was teaching at the time, writing in this space let me go back to my journalism roots and creative non-fiction composition. And since I really wanted my audience to be engaged, I learned to consistently put my best effort into it when I found the time.

I want to go back to the fact that THIS blog, as a writing sample, left an impression on a team of colleagues from different cultures and industrial backgrounds from me. Thank you so much steppin’ friends, for being the kind of audience for whom I want to write well. 

This blog, my hobby (no longer being in education will mean I shall have more time to update it) is one I take really seriously. I almost go into conniptions  when I notice I’ve published a post with a typo or when a graphic doesn’t show up properly. Why? Because I value the time of the wonderful folks who read my posts, the people who’ve been willing to conduct interviews with me (every single interview is different but always enlightening), and essentially I value my presentation of my talents.

I think that when we hone our skills and share our talents with others, a myriad of great events begin to occur. I’m just curious: Have you been honoring your talents? Not your job-related talents, necessarily, but those gifts that afford you sheer joy when you are engaged.

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And your talent, when nurtured and honored, can yield an adventure for sure.

I challenge you to respect the things you do well. Don’t downplay them. Share them! I know that in this steppin’ community we are a talented collective of individuals who showcase mostly, a dance, and perhaps some wit or social skills at a set. I’m not talking about all of that. I’m talking about the painting you do, the cooking, the knack for cleaning domestic spaces, the comedic energy you attract people with, or the exercise regimen that inspires your friends and family. These are all creative outlets that could seriously align you with some life-changing opportunities.

But you’ve got to do them — not ignore or hide them. Imagine if I wrote this blog with jacked-up grammar and a careless or obscene approach in composition. I’d probably have readers who thought I was a clown, didn’t respect my work, and certainly not any writing samples I could share with the president of a lucrative and established manufacturing company.

Perfect and love your gifts! If you’re ignoring them — that means we are all MISSING OUT on your possible contributions and insight. And quite frankly I don’t think that’s fair to us, and certainly not to yourself.

In the words of Bobby Womack…think it over.

Got some good stuff coming for you soon. Hopefully it’ll make you think, smile, and laugh. Until then, see you on a dance floor somewhere (gotta dust off my shoes).

Stepaganza: Saturday in the Park (The Cookout)

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MC Keith Hubbard and Damone being witty at the Stepaganza Cookout on Saturday,

I need to declare that I am upset that I arrived to the cookout AFTER “Guilty” by Barbara Streisand and Barry Gibb AND “Better Off” by Quadron was played. Yes, sitting here in New Jersey, I feel the sting of anger still sitting in the pit of my core. Ugh! I saw a great video by Diana Howard of Texas Regionals and that’s how I found out I missed those two songs. Please send me your comforting energies.

I digress.

I knew Saturday was going to be a fuller day than Friday. Here’s what was on my agenda: private lesson with Dominique Robinson at 10 a.m.; Stepaganza Cookout; and the Main Event. I’ll cover the lesson and the cookout in this post, following up with another post later on about the Main Event. So let’s get right to the lesson with Dominique.

Now, I met Dominique in New York at the Big City Steppin’ weekend in 2014 after having been steppin’ for about a year. Ever since that first meeting he’s been nothing but witty and gracious. Since then, whether it’s laughing at his wacky posts on Facebook or his forthright philosophies at the workshop I went to last year in Dallas for Geno Spears’ Spring Break Birthday Bash – I’ve definitely grown to appreciate this brother.

Dominique came into the Hilton lobby, ready to work with a rolling bag trailing behind him as we walked into the smaller sized banquet room. When we arrived, it was like watching some kind of scientist prepping for an experiment as he took out two phones, the speakers, I saw some boots (he never changed into them, though), and he was doing something on a touchscreen phone/watch. Think Steppin’ Superhero/Spy/007. That’s what he was giving me.

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One of the most stylish brothers I know — Dominique Robinson, after my private lesson Saturday morning.

I truly feel like MY lesson was a treat. Let me explain. Dominique clarified some foggy areas for me and made me think of movement and following in a totally different way. I did ask him about his ideas regarding a curriculum or set objective when giving lessons.

We both agree that some teachers can truly assess a dancer’s abilities in an organic manner that does result in progress by the lesson’s end. Listen: I’ve taught high school, college, English as a second language, and journaling to the bereaved TRUST me I know when someone’s lesson ain’t tight and they’re flip-flopping, wasting time, and philosophizing about fluff. This was NOT that.

Not only did I get Dominique’s instruction one-on-one, but he critiqued me while his assistant Lucius danced with me. And then Mr. Kirk White came through, and on an impromptu note, tested my abilities to remain focused on my movements versus anticipating his own. I must apologize for the uber long dress I wore, which almost caused Kirk to trip. I won’t go into all of the details of the lesson but it was the BEST purchase I made that day. Lucius and Kirk only enhanced the concepts – so thank you, guys! And Dominique – what a consistent and honest teacher you are, a pleasure fo sho’!

Back at the Hotel

My with greasy coconut oil on my face, real comfortable at the Marriott kickin' it with Ms. Ebony.

My with greasy coconut oil on my face, real comfortable at the Marriott kickin’ it with Ms. Ebony.

As I was rushing out to my hotel for my 10 a.m. private lesson, I saw the woman from housekeeping who would be tidying up my room and quickly gave her the tip in her hand as I forgot to leave it in the room. I didn’t think that upon my return from the lesson that Ebony and I would end up talking for at least an hour about everything from marriage to our aspirations and yes, even Apollo and Phaedra on The Real Housewives of Atlanta. It is CRAZY how this woman made me laugh, think, and become inspired as a mother and in general as a human being. She was a couple of years younger than me and had a head of beautiful locks. Turns out she did natural hair on the side, too! Her tatoo on the inside of her forearm read, “What doesn’t kill me makes me stronger” and based on our conversation, she is clearly a resilient woman.

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Tatoo: “What doesn’t kill me makes me stronger.” My St. Louis sister — you ain’t never lie.

I do hope that in our travels we steppers take the time to learn about all who cross our paths and I hope we treat them with dignity, too – especially those who serve us to make our trips more comfortable and convenient. Go online and write your reviews, contact management and tell them how pleasant your interactions have been. I know it’s important to report our complaints but I believe it’s equally necessary to report the good things about our friends in hospitality industries, too. I will be writing a glowing letter to the Marriott management regarding Ms. Ebony!

The Cookout

Hey, Lucius!

Hey, Lucius!

Saturday, in the park you’d think it was the Fourth of July.

Brother Brandon Williams of Texas made a good point about the feeling (Texas Regionals) Diana Howard’s video of the cookout generated: “You’ll think everyone is family.” I totally agree. Remember, I do know some people here and there but this was my first Stepaganza and I didn’t travel with a group as that’s not even really my modus operandi. Yet and still, I didn’t feel awkward walking around, talking to people, or sitting down at any of the picnic tables. I’m not going to lie, though, when I saw people chillin’ in those lawn chairs, I got scared that this meant I played myself and wouldn’t be able to find a seat. Not so at all! People were either dancing, taking photos, standing in line for food, or – I lie to you not – in a cipher showing off their hula hoop skills (men included!) as cheerleaders chanted. There was a seat always open somewhere.

It was like that.

It was like that.

This is how family-like the atmosphere was. No one was trying to be cute and not eat — that line was real and so was the food. The line wasn’t Sweetie Pie’s ridiculous (it was actually moving, lol…but more on that in my post about Sunday) but people wanted that cookout fare. If you were looking for a quinoa salad or some cucumber-mint water, you best had brought your own. Now, I didn’t eat the sausages because I wasn’t sure if they were pork (which I don’t eat) or the baked beans (the possible pork factor) but I sure wish I knew whether I could have eaten either one.

And please, don’t make me a hater by e-mailing me, “Ayesha, those were actually BEEF sausages.” or “Those beans had SMOKED TURKEY in them.” I will feel really salty that I didn’t indulge, especially since one stepper was like, “I don’t know what it is but it SHO’ is good!”

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Renee of California, looking Cookout fly!

I did cop some of that grilled chicken. It. was. so. daggone. delicious. But why, oh why did some ultra-cleaning person throw my half-eaten chicken away while I was dancing? I know the intentions were good but that hurt me like Danny said Olivia Newton-John’s character hurt him in “Grease” when he was singing “Sandy” at that drive-in with the dancing hot dogs in the background. A moment of silence for that chicken. Gone too soon.

A sister even killed a bee with a promotional set card on my behalf. Not sure which future set’s paraphanalia smashed that buzzing nuisance but the woman saw that I was about to leave the table ’cause I’m afraid of bees. BAM. This is the kind of love I’m talking about that happens in between the dances. You know, things like holding the Kool-Aid dispenser button down for some 6-foot-5 dude you don’t know or getting yourself in group photos, crouching down like it’s 1992 – and you might not even know everybody in the photo!

Me and Ms. Dolores Mitchell president of Word of Mouth Entertainment.

Me and Ms. Dolores Mitchell president of Word of Mouth Entertainment.

Speaking of photos – MC Keith Hubbard (I hope by now he’s gotten some rest for his voice!) helped to facilitate all of those regional photo-taking sessions so efficiently. And honestly, his jokes were pretty, funny, too. That’s a hard-working man right there and with a temperament that is fitting for the occasion at hand. I remember his hosting abilities the 1st Philly Steppin’ set last August and he left a great impression.

Say

Say “Stepaganza!”

There were even photos taken of veterans and Black fraternities and sororities! If they would have called all left-handed people to take a photo it would have happened. As cheesy as taking group photos can be – folks were more than happy to cement that they were in attendance.

No caption needed. You see what's going on.

No caption needed. You see what’s going on.

People without inhibition were going Grace Jones on the hula hoops and some brother in a red-striped shirt (I don’t know his name but I saw him dancing and he looked good) got it in! He kept that hoop afloat longer than some of the ladies – and in a very manly way, mind you. With cheerleaders in the background. Maybe I need to get out more but it was kinda surreal — and really fun to watch.

If you needed a massage, Heavenly Hands was on site to make that happen. If I’m not mistaken, the gentleman who was performing the massages was also at the sets dancing. Forgive me for not knowing his name but I was staring at what he was doing to the feet and calves of the patron laying down WHILE waiting for more food since my chicken had been thrown away. I was hungry and jealous at the same time, I suppose.

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I understand why Heavenly Hands was on site. I think all steppers do.

Soon, the afternoon had begun to come to a close. I got my dancing and photos in – met some cool people, too, including Mr. Corleone (that’s the name he gave me), who griped a bit about Steppin’ lacking the history and footwork that it once had. I chatted and checked in with my Northeast sisters from NYC Renee and Arietta.

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Arietta, Renee, and me.

I don’t remember if my feet eventually had that Daughters of the Dust dirt-ashy glow that happens when you wear open-toed shoes to the park but for real NOBODY CARED. This was not a place where ladies were trying to sneak Jergens lotion on their heels (like I was doing at Friday’s Meet-and-Greet on the sly when I noticed my heels were in need of some love).

Completely unpretentious and down home is what the cookout was – but then, you know there was the Main Event later on – and for that people did eventually leave to make sure any ashiness was obliterated and that the bow-ties, suits, poofy or snug dresses, and shoes were — as the youngins’ say, on fleek.

I’ll update my thoughts on the Main Event as soon as I get another moment. Click here for Thursday’s reflections or Friday’s if you haven’t had the chance to read them yet.