From Junkie to Professor

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In December of 2009, I met Terrance Pratt who was one of the first individuals to make “Stepping” a social media phenomenon with the creation of his webpage ChiSteppers.com. Occasionally, I would got out to one of the “hot” clubs in the city to stay connected to friends. I’m reposting this interview I did with ChiSteppers. Thank you Terrance Pratt.

reggie miles - TPratt Interview

ChiSteppers, this interview is filled with so many twists and turns that I won’t waste time with an extensive introduction.  Reggie discusses everything from talking on the microphone to succumbing and then over coming substance abuse.  It’s one of the most in depth interviews I’ve conducted in some time and that’s because Mr. Miles has so many wrinkles to his career.  Check it out and share a word or two of feedback if you so choose!

T. Pratt: It was great meeting you at the Dating Game the other day.  As I was leaving the club, Fish of the Majestic Gents said, “Reggie Miles was the man.”  Speaking of the Gents, you were one of the Original Majestic Gents, right?

Reggie Miles: No, I was never in the Majestic Gents. Fish of the Majestic Gents has known me for years. He was speaking of me as the Legendary DJ. Another of the members of the Majestic Gents, Gregory was the first to acknowledge me as an exceptional DJ and hired me for the group that he was in called the 4 of US. They took Stepping downtown and on the north side of Chicago. There main spot was a place called Karl’s Satin Doll. Their [Steppin set] set the stage for the classy style Steppers sets of today.

TP: Who else was in the organization?

Reggie Miles: The Four of Us were Gregory, Preston, Gerald, and Michael.

TP: Now, I also understand that prior to becoming a Legendary DJ, you were a great Stepper that won the Steppers Contest at Chic Ricks 5 times, even besting a young Pete Frazier in the process.

Reggie Miles: Yes, that’s true. I won the Steppers Contest at Mr. Ricky’s “Chic Rick House” 5 weeks in a row with my partner, Janice Morris. After the 5th win, Mr. Ricky asked me if there was something else I could do.  I pointed to the DJ Booth and the rest became legend. Pete was always at the Thursday Steppers set at Chic Ricks. He was bringing in what the folks are doing today on the dance floor.  I am an original stepper. Pete is a class act on the floor. I was just “smooth.” And my partner Janice Morris was totally in sync with me and it showed on the floor [that] the two of us danced as one.

TP: When did you get started DJing and what role did Sam Chatman play in your development?

Reggie Miles: There were several DJ’s who I admired. I studied them all … Willie Cox, Ernest L., Kenny B. Thompson, Gerald Jones, Don St. James, Big Luke, Butter Ball, Jimmie Lee, and others. I also admired Herb Kent and Richard Pegue but on the Steppers side I give credit to a list of people Gregory Richardson formerly of the Majestic Gents, Richard Willis of The Connection, Mr. Ricky, William Barnett, Luther Gage and the one and only Sam Chatman, another one of my mentors, who called me one of his Sons and asked to spin for him at the Fantasy Lounge because other Steppers told him about me. That’s was great.

TP: Tell us about your days DJing at WKKC.

Reggie Miles: Well, I was the first DJ on WKKC back in September of 1975. My format was “Hits and Dusties.” I was the first student with a 4 hour music show. I had an on and off relationship with WKKC for over 20 years. James Kelly (former PD) and Kevin Brown (former Station Manager) put up with my attitudes and mess over the years and I am truly grateful to them. I was the first “Steppers” DJ on the radio with a Steppers Show before V-103 and Kenny B. Thompson. Of course we were only on the South side but my reputation grew. I made a place for myself between the likes of the great radio personalities like Herb Kent and Richard Pegue, the King and Dr. of Dusties.  In 1978 I was the first to play “Love’s Gonna Last” by Jeffery Perry on the radio at WKKC.  Love’s Gonna Last became my theme song. After obtaining my Bachelors degree from Columbia College in 1996, I became operation manager of WKKC and then was promoted to Station Manager in 1997. I was the first student from the program to teach a class and become a college lecturer. Two years later I finished my Masters Degree in Media Communications from Governors State University.

TP: When we met you said, “I went from junkie to professor?”  What threw you off course?

Reggie Miles: Yes. I fell to alcohol. In 1986, the love of my life, my mother Claudia went on to be with the Lord.  I was doing really well with life and was disappointed that my mother could not see my success. I totally immersed myself into the Steppers scène. I kept spinning but I could not spin or dance the pain away. I masqueraded like nothing was going on but inside I was hurting and on a path of self destruction. The results were some of the best sets that EVER happened in Chicago. Nobody knew my pain except those very close to me. I did not face the reality of my mother passing. After running myself into the ground [and] losing everything, I was tired and I could no longer avoid the reality of dealing with my inner pain. Alcohol, Stepping and DJing were no longer the cure or cover up.

TP: How did you recover?

Reggie Miles: Inside of me I knew there was something missing in my life and the only place I knew to go was to God. I found myself attending the Apostolic Church of God where Bishop Arthur M. Brazier is Pastor Emeritus. I saw so many friends and admirers and one of those old friends said just call the name of Jesus. It was one evening and I called on the name of Jesus! And all of a sudden, instantly I was healed. The broken pieces that were scattered about in my life came together.  I had control of myself again. I did not want to smoke, drink, spin or go out. I went to church at every opportunity I could.  I was a Bible carrying brother. I called myself being under cover going to church on Wednesday nights for Bible Class and that was the best thing I could do but did not realize it. Bishop Brazier, through his message of “Saved by Graced and Grace alone,” helped me to feel comfortable in my own skin. Jesus took care of everything for me and I was a new person. I officially became a member of the Apostolic Church of God on November 6, 1994.  Shortly thereafter, I returned to school and finished my college education.

TP: How does a guy go from Steppin, to DJing, to being an award-winning professor at the esteemed Howard University?

Reggie Miles: Through the Grace of God, the Lord had another mission for me. I loved to DJ, I loved Dancing, but God had to take all those things away from me in order for me to see what he wanted me to do. God wanted me to teach and I became an excellent teacher. At Howard, I have an opportunity to study for a PhD if I so desire. The years at WKKC from 1997 to 2003 prepared me in such a way that I became very knowledgeable about radio in general, college radio and training students. Several of my former Kennedy King College students are in radio today,  As station manager at WKKC I had to do everything from production to program direction, engineering managing the staff, writing grants, teaching and most of all, training students. In 1995, two months after I became a member of the Apostolic Church of God, I was approached by an engineer in the church. He said to me, “You’re Reggie Miles aren’t you?” I said, “Yes!”  He said “Your reputation precedes you; I have something for you to do.” He took me to the television audio recording studio and told me that I was going to be working in the studio as part of the audio ministry for the Apostolic Church of God.  I was blown away.  I was responsible for the audio heard on the Television broadcasts of one of the most dynamic ministries in Chicago. During my years in the audio ministry I received training from two of the best engineers in audio, Ernie Greene of Sound of Authority and master engineer Danny Leake. The experiences at WKKC and the Apostolic Church of God prepared me for Howard University.

TP: What subjects do you teach at Howard?

Reggie Miles: I teach radio production, advanced radio production and digital multi-track production and I can teach audio for the visual media.

TP: It sounds like you’ve lived a few different lives.  Is there a danger to those who dedicate countless hours to the Steppers scene?

Reggie Miles: No, I don’t think so. If that’s what a person wants to do so be it.  I will never judge what a person does or does not do. It’s like the parable of the prodigal son. And the great thing about God is that you have a choice, his hand is always extended to you. Stepping is good exercise for the heart. Heck, I wish sometimes that I stayed on the scene because I gained 60 pounds being off the scene.

TP: How do you feel about where Steppin’ has progressed to today?

Reggie Miles: Stepping is great today! Wow! National connections with sets in different parts of the country. That is beautiful. Steppin’ is not only a dance it’s a life style. And the good jocks are getting paid!  The one thing that I loved about the Steppers scene was that people dressed to impress and everybody remembered their ABC’s (Always Be Cool). On a Steppers scene it’s all class … Folks dress from the shoes up. When I did get a chance to dance I loved to “slide” and “glide” and you need some good leather on the soles to slide and glide when Stepping.

TP: What are some of the main differences between Steppin now, versus the 70’s and 80’s?

Reggie Miles: That’s a good question; everybody seems to have a different opinion. The differences coincide with the evolution of the music. It was a lot love songs in the 70’s and 80’s and positive music too. Key to World, Love’s Gonna Last, United, My Love is Truly for You. The music was about groups and orchestration. Today it’s beats and soloists.   My mother bopped … it was a two or three step swing type thing on the beat of Billy Larkins and the Delegates “Aint That A Groove” or the The Temptations “Girls Alright With Me.” Then the Undisputed Truth hit with “Smiling Faces Sometimes” and a Four Count came out. Now I hear it’s a six and eight count. I am a four count – hand style Stepper – I feel the music.  Back in the day, the guys only danced or bopped with one hand. The other hand was at the side with the fist partially clinched with the pinky finger extended. All the players did that and sometimes put the hand behind their back. You had to be careful about how to you held your one hand in different parts of the city. There were Stones, Disciples, Gangsters, Gousters, and Ivy League styles of bopping and each used different hands. So I learned the one hand bop with either hand. The one hand Bop evolved into two-hand Stepping with a four-count beat during the 70’s.  The use of “two hands” in the dance arrived and eased the tension from knowing the different one-hand styles. And the great thing about the four-count beat was the versatility which allowed you step on any music tempo. There were several great “slow motion” type steppers. Where the female was working her tail off and the guy seems to be Stepping in slow motion but kept incredible time. I mastered being able to either Walk or Step and not miss a beat on slow songs.  That was the cool thing about Stepping in the 70’s and 80’s … one could change from Stepping to Walking during a slow song. Four-count Steppers stepped on any tempo. The Jock’s back in the day directed the floor by saying Steppers on the Inside, Walkers on the Outside.   In the 90’s, with the arrival of Ice Ray, Claudell, Pete and others, “High Stepping appeared as Stepping continued to evolve.”

TP: Where will Steppin’ history pay you the most homage, in the area of dancing or DJing?

Reggie Miles: DJing of course. I set the stage for many others. Today, when I come to see old friends, somebody always says, “Man ain’t nobody out here doing it like you did it.” Wow! That is a great tribute to be remembered like that.  I started many of the things on the box that are being done today. I blended the music, kept incredible time, always kept the dance floor packed and most of all, I could talk. I entertained and made sure there was a flow in the set. I paid homage to all the Jocks before me. I learned from them all and took the best of what they did and put in my own style. Sam is the greatest at talking to the crowd. He makes everybody feel like they are somebody. All you have to do is walk in and he will recognize you. Sam kept you informed about the music and the artists. I did that too! Sam does what a jock is supposed to do, “Control the Flow in a Set.” Anybody can get behind the box and play records. It takes a special person and character to entertain. Steppers follow certain DJ’s and it’s the DJ’s job to connect with the folk and the only way that can be done is by talking. Now all DJ’s are not as gifted with a vocal presence and that’s okay but don’t hate on those that can talk. A set has a lot of things going on and the DJ needs to be on top of it and be able to speak about it. If you want to hear nonstop music with no talking, listen to your iPod. Everybody in a set is talking anyway, why can’t the DJ?   My experience as a radio personality also helped too. I was a combination of street jock and radio personality. I could play for any group. The thing that made me a cut above the rest was that I could Step. And I would not play a song I could not step to.

TP: How does your accomplishment as a Legendary DJ stack up against your accomplishment as an award winning professor?

Reggie Miles: No comparison. The DJing era is over. And as time goes on the memory of me on the Steppers scene will further fade. Maybe one day when I catch up on the new music, I’ll try to play again. The last time I played a set on the scene was at the 3rd Friday set in the 50 Yard Line and a Steppers reporter, Cynthia Bean crucified me for talking. She said I was talking too much! I was not offended, she just did not know who I was. When folks heard my voice they started bringing me their pluggers. I went into my rhythmic style and recognized all the sets in a professional manner in between the music just as my mentor Sam would do. In radio we call it going post to post.  As a matter of fact she wrote that I must have thought I was Sam Chatman because I was talking so much. I took that as a compliment. On the other hand, the Howard journey is still in process. Before receiving an Honorable mention for the Teaching with Technology [award] at Howard, I was inducted into the Broadcaster’s Hall of Fame in Akron, Ohio in 2007 for my years as a Gospel Music DJ. I started playing Gospel in 1995. When I arrived in Washington, DC in 2003, I was immediately hired as a part-time on air personality for a Gospel radio station, Heaven 600. And recently in September 2009, I received a Gospel Gold Star “Labor of Love” Award from the Christian Tabernacle Church in Chicago, Illinois. In addition, I have represented myself and Howard University at a number Communication Conventions presenting my research on Podcasting.  In February 2010, I will lead a team of Howard faculty and students to North Carolina A&T University to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of the A&T Four and The Greensboro “Sit In Movement.” These things along with my written publications will be preserved and available for research. And to God be the Glory for all the success at Howard. In Chicago, I’m DJ Reggie Miles. In DC, I’m Professor Reggie Miles.

TP: Thanks so much for joining me on the Nation’s Home For REAL Steppers and sharing your incredible story.  Is there anything that you’d like to say in closing that maybe I’ve forgot to ask?

Reggie Miles: Thank you for the opportunity to relate my testimony. Stepping has changed a whole lot. And I applaud your effort by taking it to the web. Thanks to everybody that remembers me and I wish all of you the best in your lives. At the sets, I’d like hear more Walking music and the DJ’s taking more command by telling folk “Walkers on the Outside” and “Steppers on the Inside.” And most of all we have to teach the younger generation the beauty of the art form of Stepping and etiquette of the Steppers scene. It’s no drama, just dancing and the coolest lifestyle.

Take care Reggie.  You’re welcome back anytime sir!

A Story of Bopping.

THE INTRODUCTION

“Bopping” is a type of partner dance. Partner dances are dances whose basic choreography involves coordinated dancing of two partners, as opposed to individuals dancing alone or individually in a non-coordinated manner, and as opposed to groups of people dancing simultaneously in a coordinated manner like in a “Line” dance. In “Bopping ” as a partner dance, one, typically a man, is the lead; the other, typically a woman, is the follow. And at times partners of the same sex are “Bopping”.  As a rule, dancers maintain connection with each other and in “Bopping” the connection is both loose and sometimes involves body contact. Bopping is “one dance with many variations.” that includes “walking” as part of the social partner dance.

The history of partner dance for African American people is quite different from the European. And in this essay the objective is to completely reveal the social partner dance of the African American community as a completely unique experience not connected or bound to any European traditions or standards. Although there will be some similarities African American for the most part are separate.  According to Katrina Dyonne Thompson (2014) in her book Ring Shout, Wheel About: The Racial Politics of Music and Dance in North American Slavery, Slave masters forced the slaves to sing and dance as a form of entertainment and this oppressive action was the catalyst for the evolution of black dance thus establishing African American dance as a true form of release from the oppression of their day to day lives as slaves.  Reclaiming the dance and developing a social culture is something that is “African American and not someone else’s.

“Stepping” today as a social partner dance was not created by any one person, set, or community. Although there are claims to the creation of patterns or counts. “Stepping” much like many other forms of dance can’t be traced to any one moment. The social partner dance has evolved since the days of slavery when the slaves were forced to dance at the slave master’s pleasure. There have been many names to describe African American social partner dancing, Swing, Shag, Charleston, Lindy Hop, Hand Dancing, Ballroom Dancing and Bop.

The “Bop” is the modern day forerunner to “Stepping”. Some will argue that Stepping came from the Lindy Hop. And for some it will be another place. Most will agree that the “Bop” is kin and a member of the Swing style dances however the Bop in Chicago took on a uniquely different style of its own just like Hand Dancing did in Washington, DC and the Ballroom styles of Detroit.  “Stepping” in Chicago or “Chicago Style Stepping” has steps that communities in the city agreed on, however, there is no one style of “Stepping” in Chicago or from Chicago, because the reality of  the social partner dance “Stepping” is about the individuals and their creative coordinated identities.  Because of that,  social partner dances like “Chicago Style Stepping” bubble up and spread like wildfires through the communities and the nation. When the Worlds Largest Steppers Contest was created in 1989 there was a merging of Boppers and Steppers as the evolution of the dance continued  creating the “bubbles” that has led to what the Stepping Community is today.

In most African-American dance cultures, learning to dance does not happen in formal classrooms, dance studios or with paid instructors. Since the modern internet era, social partner dancing has become part of a commercial dance and event industry which features fee based dance workshops and paid instructors are becoming the norm. Historically, in learning the social partner dance styles like “Bopping”  children often learn to dance as they grow up, developing not only a body awareness but also aesthetics of dance which are particular to their community. Learning to Bop – learning about rhythmic movement – happens in much the same way as developing a local language ‘accent’ or a particular set of social values.

For some learning to “Bop” happened during the teenage years and for many who learned in the early years of the dance still dance the same way today.  The trends of today finds people of all ages learning to do this social partner dance “Stepping”. Although the teenagers today don’t regard the “social partner” dance as previous generations. Children of earlier generations learned specific dance steps or ‘how to dance’ from their families – most often from older brothers and sisters, cousins or other older children.

Today the trend of learning to “Step” comes from contest winners and people who have moved to other areas in the nation with a partner and brought a different style of dancing to the community that was migrated to. The couples or individuals then promote themselves as dance instructors establishing themselves in the industry of social partner dance instruction. Because cultural dance happens in everyday spaces in the African American community, before the dance instructor revolution, children often danced with older members of the community around their homes and neighborhoods, at parties and dances, on special occasions, or whenever groups of people gather to ‘have a good time’. Today some “Steppers” are devoid of the teenage experience and others who are taking on the dance come from Disco and House. Many adults today learn the social partner dance style in their middle ages from instructors and what is missing from that experience in learning about the dance is the culture and “cultural” dance traditions within the social partner dance community.

Cultural dance traditions are therefore often cross-generational traditions, with younger dancers often ‘reviving’ dances from previous generations, albeit with new ‘cool’ variations and ‘styling’. This is not to suggest that there are no social limitations on who may dance with whom and when. Dance partners (or people to dance with) are chosen by a range of social factors, including age, sex, kinship, interest and so on. The amazing thing about the social partner dance tradition is that it continues to thrive in the midst of differences and sometimes chaos brought about by the impact of the dollar and revenue generated in the social partner dance industry.

Today, so much attention has been placed on the commercialization of the dance that the most important parts of the experience,  the music and culture are often overlooked. Lee Ellen Friedland and other authors argue that to “talk about cultural dancing without talking about music or art or drama is like talking about fish without talking about water.  Music and dance are intimately related in African-American cultural dance, not only as accompaniments, but as intertwined creative processes”.  The evolution of the dance is closely related to the different dance style.

The music of the social partner dance has evolved along with the changes in the dance. Jazz and R & B music has always been the backbone of social partner dancing. As the big band era ended many of the “swing style dances” began to evolve with the new R&B music, jazz and the Motown sound.  The Bop emerged and became prominent in the 60’s with dancers attending the night clubs and ballrooms around the city.  The music played by the DJ’s spoke about love, heartbreaks and relationships. Bopping was moving forward and the culture of the Bop demonstrated the epitome of smooth and cool. In 1968, the Chess Records house band the “Soulful Strings” released a swing jazz tempo smash called the “The Stepper” that would go unnoticed until a DJ and Promoter Sam Chatman would coin the phrase “Stepping,” at one of his affairs in the mid to late 70’s and all of a sudden “bopping” as a term made a quiet exit however the “bop” social partner dance style remained and is the foundation of what is called “STEPPING” today.

Sam Chatman the former CTA Bus Driver turned DJ and Promoter, found a niche that would be catalyst for the “Underground Steppers” movement which began in a placed called “the Dungeon” and would eventually spread to other places around the city.  Another place for the underground movement was called the “FORT”. The FORT was located on the LOW END side of town and most alumni of the area called themselves “Low End” Steppers. In addition to the FORT and the Dungeon there was movement on the “West Side” of Chicago as well. DJ Sam Chatman is the common thread of the Underground Steppers Movement.  Radio personality Herb Kent (the King of Dusties) was called the Pied Piper to the Teenagers and Sam Chatman became the Pied Piper to the teenagers who were pushing another variation of the bop among the youth. Sam Chatman like the late great Herbert Roger Kent, has many of the same fans since they were teenagers to mature adults. Sam has played music on the scene for nearly 5 decades making Sam Chatman the “Godfather”. There will be no other DJ in our lifetime that will capture and have the same impact on the “Social Partner” dance called “Stepping” as DJ Sam. Other DJ’s will only add to the foundation that Mr. Chatman set.

BOPPING

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Tilden HS 1972

Tilden My initiation into having a good time socially came from the many parties that I witnessed in the home of my parents. My family partied “at will” for any, good, bad and no reason. We partied all the time where I lived.  I learned and appreciated the social partner dance and culture from family. Dancing socially was a living part of the culture in our home. The dance that was being done was the Bop and of course “slow dancing” the forerunner to the “walking” styles.  The bop that was done was a two step swing style dance that recently has resurfaced in Texas today as the two step swing. My older brother Robert was an amazing dancer who “bopped” much like our father. And my cousin Sharon was equally gifted and together the two were smooth, and stylish doing incredible turns. My brother and mom would also set the floor on fire much like my mom and dad would when they danced. As my family danced I watched and learned.

And because I was my mother’s last child, she always invited me to dance with her. Those dances allowed me to stay up late and party with them. As a result, I learned fast how to two step bop with mother teaching me and especially giving me instruction on acting within the culture and treating women with respect. My older brothers helped me to refine the “one hand” bopping style. At the parties in my home I started playing records and knew to play everything that mother liked. So the social partner culture was being ingrained in my spirit before I took my try at dancing with a female partner outside of my family.

In the world of a teenager during the time before, Hip Hop, Rap, House, Disco and other dance styles social partner dancing was the direct connection to world of the opposite sex. The music was more romantic. The love songs. The R&B music spoke about relationships and love. As a young man growing up, with hormones racing, those chance encounters with members of the opposite sex kept bopping and slowing dancing as a center of excitement, the “basement party” era became the focal point. My parents were strict about me going parties outside of the neighborhood, they were cautious and didn’t want me too far away from home. So they let me have “basement” parties. My foundation to the social partner was rooted in smooth and slow music. The only song heard at a basement party was something by James Brown.

The neighborhood where I lived had its share of violence with gangs and my parents didn’t want me going anywhere they did not know of the people who owned the establishment. They felt better knowing I was safe. So I confined my partying to the neighborhood. My mother liked to be able to call the other neighbors to find out what was going on. In those formative years of experiencing a social partner dance culture I started in the basements of the community in which I lived. And the norm then was “Bop and Grind”. During those high school years of the late 60’s into the early 70’s bopping was the “in” thing and a step up from the “basement parties” of the neighborhood.

In high school with the attraction for the opposite sex raging through out the bodies and minds of young males. It was an event to go to another high school to dance. For me, Lindblom and Phillips on the south side of Chicago were hot places to go. There was always a belief by many young men that at other schools the young ladies were “finer” and better dancers. However in most cases the belief was just a myth. There were beautiful young women at all the schools the question was “could she bop?” Back then when it came to social partner dances your dancing ability got you in, out and through a lot of places. And both the men and women took “bopping” at a sock hop VERY seriously.

Because of the gangs in Chicago, a young man had to be conscious of where he was dancing. Dance styles in Chicago in the late 60’s and early 70’s during the Bopping era was designate by “zip” codes. In certain areas you had to hold your hands in a certain way. So you had to learn to dance with either hand.  The “One Hand” Bop had so much style. In the winter, guys would not “check their coats” and learn how to be stylish with your coat neatly draped over a fore arm.

STEPPING

PROMOTERS

SOCIAL CLUB SETS

THE MUSIC 

THE DJ’S 

SOCIAL MEDIA & THE EXPANSION