I was blessed to share a few moments in time with the “legendary stepper”, Jannice Robertson 3 years ago. She pointed me in the right direction with my research on the Steppers Community. She helped me understand what is going on. We talked about Her-Story, the game, the dance, the music and the future. She complimented me on my dance one night at the Universal. I wanted to ask her to dance but I waited to long. I regret that I never danced with her.
Dancing with a lady is the only thing that kept me Bopping and Walking for more than 50 years. The woman is the key in the dance. I’ve seen many changes in the steppers community since my return. Some good and some not so good. “Steppin” now has instructors, counts, schools, competitions, categories and features. I’m amazed by all of the changes to the simple folk dance that was passed down through family and friends. Now, don’t get me wrong there is nothing wrong with change. Change is the only thing that is constant. What makes me wonder are the reasons why people dance. And the absence on the focus of why we should dance.
When I started dancing in high school, I would bop and walk my way through the corridors of Tilden High School. Walking in rhythm got me noticed by the ladies so I danced all the time.
You see in high school, I wasn’t this or that, I’m a NERD that could dance. And with dancing came advantages and disadvantages. The advantage was the popularity of being a good dancer which gave me opportunity to dance with females that were talented, bougie, intelligent and beautiful. The disadvantage was females who may have had an interest in me, for me wouldn’t give me the time of day because I was too popular. And then there were the problems that come with dance “relationships” between partners. So I was damned if I did and damned if I did not. The confusion and drama with dancing put something on my mind that made me look differently about dancing. I needed to be able to flirt and show interest in a woman without saying a word. Thus, dancing became a ritual for me. My dance became a language where I used my natural rhythms to talk to her through the dance without saying a word. And if she smiled, I knew then that I could talk to her.
The ritual part of the dance turns into a man’s particular style on the wood. I’m not sure if the style can be developed through the 8 count the way it has been taught by some instructors because the ritual requires moves that are in time with the rhythm of the music and not the numbers in the count. Over the years, I’ve seen some incredible rituals performed by the brothers on the wood. I’ve seen brothers use their hands, kick their legs, go under a woman’s outstretched arm, use props like a handkerchief, pull up their pants leg, slide in every direction and my favorite “stomping”. I use the “STOMP” to show approval to a woman when she makes a move that catches my eye. I also stomp to appreciate her beauty, style and elegance in her dance.
The ritual of a dance is simple the dance should be to her, for her and with her. Let’s put the focus in the dance on where it should be and that is on the WOMAN.
I returned to the Steppers Community a few year ago, and witnessed little to no walking music played at a set. The shock of limited walking music caused me to question how could people of the opposite sex be in an event 4 – 6 hours and not want to be close and embrace each other ? People would attended some of the most popular events and could count the number or walking songs played on one hand. What happened to the individuals who enjoyed stylistically moving around the perimeter of a dance floor to some beautiful music. The answers to why walking was dying were even more shocking! And caused me to take up the banner of “Keep Walking Alive!”
In doing more research some DJ’s were asked why walking more music is not played at sets and events and their responses was disheartening. As a pioneering steppers DJ, it was understandable the reluctance by many of the DJs to play walking music. Probably 99.9 percent of all the DJs today started in HOUSE Music with the craft. And to my knowledge SLOW dancing (couples) is not done at a HOUSE set.
DJing as a craft has changed tremendously with the advance of technology and the era of the Instructors. Many DJs double as music producers as well as mixologists attempting to create the next great steppers mix or remix. It is unfortunate though that the forward movement of walking suffered. DJs cited reasons for not playing walking music as being too intimate, the music is only for married couples, it clears the dance floor, not enough men and the list goes on. Any reason that was stated raised an eyebrow as to the musicology of the DJ and knowledge of the culture prompting the question do you know WALKING MUSIC?
The viewpoint of some instructors was shocking as well. Walking in many of the Steppin classes was not being taught. It wasn’t until recently that walking has emerged since the crusade to “Keep Walking Alive” began 4 years ago. As steppin grew in popularity during mid 2000, the market for “learning to walk” was not there, and as one “prominent” instructor expressed “people didn’t want to learn to walk, so I don’t teach it!” Of course that response raised both eyebrows, and the realization as to why walking was dying and how students were being taught in the classes.