A ChiStepper Exclusive With Milwaukee’s Vicki Henning

1. Vicki Henning

Vicki Henning (Photo credit: ChiStepper.com)

Vicki, we know a lot about you as a Stepper, but not much as a person.  What do you do for a living?

I was working in the mortgage area for 9 years until at some point, in some areas of that business took a big down fall, which caused the company I was working for to downsize. So for the last 7 years I am making my living as a bill collector.

Tell us something about you that we would be surprised to learn.

I don’t know, maybe that I might be the first black woman that don’t know how to swim or eat soul food. [Laughing]

How were you introduced to Steppin?

Well, I first saw it in a club in Milwaukee called ARJ’s and every time I went there thinking I was going to get some Hip Hop in all I saw was Bopping/Steppin.  I would get so upset and say they doing this old folks dance up in here, until I started dating this guy and he was Steppin and he tried to teach me but I was just scooting at that time. [Laughing] One day I decided to take it more serious and learn.

Vicki, how long have you been dancing and who do you credit for teaching you how to Step?

Well, I learn quick because I am a dancer. I’ve been Steppin for about 12 years, but I learned the basic just by watching, but didn’t realize there was other aspects of the dance, like lanes, counts and beats to this dance.  This lady came up to me named Angel, who said, ‘You would be a great dancer if you just count.’ She would come to my house every Monday and work with me.  Then I met Deon and Mykel Farr; I went to their class and I learned the basic turns and trio – boy I couldn’t grasp that to save my life [Laughing]. Then I went to Clifton “Big Slim” Reynolds class for a whole year faithfully. I was later introduced to Andre Blackwell, L.C Henderson, Charnice Simmons, I was provided some pointers from Shareda Newbern and Darrel Davis. I took many privates from Anthony “Tyk Myn” Allen and other seasoned steppers.

Are you still based in Milwaukee, because I see you in Chicago just about every weekend?

I am based in Chicago, but I am in Milwaukee often for personal reasons.  So I am in between both cities. I am glad I have a job here in Illinois that allows me, if need to work in Milwaukee due to some personal family matters.

How do you feel the Milwaukee Steppin community has evolved over the years?

I can say that it has changed a lot. I know Cynthia Wilson and Lisa Smith McCants as well as Mykel Farr is still holding it down and keeping Steppin going and getting more people involved.  I know I go to some of the sets they have because I still like to try and support my own, but I noticed new faces and of course they certainly didn’t know me as well, so that tells me more people are becoming interested in this style of dance, especially with events for a cause like “Steppin With The Stars” and “Steppin for Autism,” that bring the community together.

You won first place in the New Skool category of the World’s Largest Steppers Contest a couple years back.  Were you expecting to hear your number called?

To be honest, ‘no.’ I actually had just grabbed my coat and was about to head out when my number was called. I had to stop and think for a minute until my friends was like “wait that’s your number” and I say that because I wasn’t really happy with the performance and with myself, so winning 1st place really was a surprise to me, I was expecting that.

Did winning the World’s Largest Steppers Contest prove anything to you?

No not really. The only thing I could say is that after leaving the contest and looking back at the video, it allowed me to be honest with myself about what had just happened that evening with the performance.

Who are your top 3 favorite guys to dance with?

Wow, it’s so many to name other than 3, but I would have to say Tim Alexander, Anthony “Tykman” Allen and Rick Wetherspoon. Now I don’t have the opportunity to dance with these guys, but I stated them because they made me dance and challenge myself when I was really beginning to get an understanding  of what I needed to do to step my game up.

What do you look for in a strong lead?

I look for timing, execution of the turns, how well I am understanding the signals, synchronization, and the energy I get from my partner.

I put up videos of you dancing many years apart?  I know you mentioned being able to see the growth in your dance over the years. Where do you feel you’ve made the biggest improvements in your dance?

I can whole heartedly say, slowing down and putting the music in my dance and taking constructive criticism and using it for improvement. I was not one to rush learning this dance. I knew there was going to be some bumps and bruises along the way, but patience is a virtue I didn’t plan on trying to reach the top of my game quickly, I wanted to experience knowledge as well as growth.  We all know this dance is always evolving.

Do you feel Steppin’s best days have come and gone, or are you optimistic that the best is yet to come?

I guess I’m riding the fence on this one, because when I was learning the dance I had a lot of mentors that I watched over the years – of course they didn’t know it. [Laughing] Women like Tabitha Williams, Charnice Simmons, Pat Clay, Daniel Wordlaw, Shareda Newbern, Lady Margaret, Rosa Douglas, Jeany Bradley, and Sunshine Haywood to name a few. They all had different styles and different personalities in their dance that made me want to watch and go to the sets to watch them get it in.  They had me saying to myself ‘This is what Darrel Davis meant by I need to DANCE and these phenomenal women were passionate about this dance called Steppin. Now it seems like it’s going in another direction and not enough love for it. I will say there are two’s and few’s I do see on the floor that have so much to offer and I am optimistic to some degree that the best is yet to come.

I recently interviewed Tony Dow and he said in so many words that Out-of-Towners should no longer be segmented.  Basically, Steppin communities outside of Chicago have had many years of dancing and good instruction to be considered equals.  Do you agree with this sentiment? 

I would have to say I agree. Steppin has definitely become a chain reaction across the nation. Everyone has taken interest in the dance and travel state to state to interact with other Steppin communities.  People have reached out to have more and more workshops in place so that they can get the knowledge and experience to one day get that courage to complete in Chicago, the “Steppin Capital.”

Any closing thoughts?

I am just glad that I have been introduced to this dance that I love so much and have been able to have the opportunity to meet some great people who have became great friends and some mentors that have inspired me to want to step my game up and be the best that I can be for me.  I thank everyone that has crossed my path and genuinely shown me lots of love.  I thank you Mr. Terrance Pratt for reaching out and allowing me to share my thoughts.  FYI, I can honestly say I’ve never danced with you until Donnie “The Dancemaster” Davis’ class … that was an awesome experience.