A Memorable 2016 WLSC is in the Books

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The 26th Annual World’s Largest Steppers contest has concluded and boy was it a wild ride. Before we dive into the contest, let me congratulate all of the winners for great performances and all of their hard work leading up to the contest.

Starting off in the Beginners Category, my hometown natives Marc Wilson and Kimberly Danzy took the victory. Marc was on my youth basketball team and Kim is my big sister’s best friend, so it was definitely good to see another win from Kalamazoo, Michigan. I think their win was more impressive than mine however, because they had to learn the dance outside of Chicago. I know Ed Donaldson and Sherry Gordon put a lot of work into Marc and Kim and it paid off.

The Old Skool Category was up next and boy did it get interesting. Andre Wilkes and Sheila Wilkes kicked the category off with a strong performance that I thought could have put them in title contention but it wasn’t so. First place winners, Kevin “Doc” Dockery and Vicki Henning followed up on their 1st place Milwaukee’s Largest Steppers Contest win with another strong performance of footwork and style. Simply put, they know how to turn it on when they get on the big stage, and their style bodes well for competition dancing.

Nikee and Tori took 2nd place in Old Skool, and I told the people at my table, as well as Nikee shortly after the contest that I thought he was going to get some money potentially in two categories. Why? Because Nikee and Tori are entertainers. Regardless of my feelings about tradition in Steppin, I can’t deny the impact certain dancers have on the crowd. My fiancé Ryan Whitney LOVES to watch Nikee and Tori dance. She’s a trained dancer from childhood and she says the problem with a lot of contestants is that they’re good dancers, but not good performers. Nikee and Tori certainly don’t have that problem.

A well-deserved 3rd place victory went to Pharies Henderson and Dana White. This victory comes on the heels of a 2nd place victory in the 2015 World’s Largest Steppers Contest. When ChiStepper spoke to Pharies after the contest he said, “Third time is a charm” insinuating that he will back next year to win first place. One thing I’d like to point out, and you’ll see this over and over again in the contest if you pay attention, often times two couples who share the floor at the same time will both win. This happened with Pharies and Dana, who shared the stage with Nikee and Tori. I believe this happens because these dancers push each other to go to new levels. The energy on the stage during these two performances was extremely high, because neither one of these couples wanted to be out-danced and it showed.

A real treat of the night came during Lionel Foote’s performance. For the record, Lionel has been competing in the World’s Largest Steppers Contest for many many years. He’s a definitely a veteran of the contest. This year Lionel kicked his performance off with a Michael Jackson record and he did Michael Jackson to a “T.” My nephew LOVED his performance and asked me after the show why he didn’t win. Following the contest, The Movement had already created memes about the performance. It was certainly a joy to watch. Lionel’s a passionate guy, so I cringe as I write this, but I imagine he didn’t win because there simply wasn’t enough Steppin in his performance. It was definitely an awesome show that got a standing ovation, but to win the contest I think there has to be showmanship and Steppin (which Lionel did), but the balance should lie more heavily on the Steppin.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t recognize Smoke and Ericka Jones. I loved Smoke’s green suit and I thought he and Ericka danced an incredible dance, but unfortunately they were overshadowed by Lionel Foote’s performance. I could see Smoke’s face as he battled to bring the attention back his way, and he did at points during the second song, but it was difficult. To that end, I have to be honest when I say that this is another reason I don’t like freestyle dancing in an Original Category. Smoke and Ericka danced well enough to place in my opinion, but they didn’t have a chance. If we ask for Original dancing in a category and the dancing is more freestyle, it’s unfair to the contestant that followed the rules. I remember dancing in a contest where the other couple lost their damn mind on the floor and I knew from that point on no one was watching me. While I am entertained by the antics and I think they make for a fun contest, I can honestly say I don’t prefer them over great Original dancing.

Speaking of antics, the New Skool Category was bananas, but let’s start a performance I thought was incredible. Ed Donaldson and Amanda Anderson and Drew Alexander and Ann Hunter went to war on the dance floor. That’s simply the only way to put it. It was a battle from start to finish and really the most entertaining portion of the night for me. From the time they walked on the floor, you could see the battle brewing. Drew and Ann walked on first dressed in black with light up shoes. I loved it. I was an ode to a new generation of Steppin. Dancing in the digital era where technology and Steppin melded together with two of the greatest Steppers this generation has ever seen. Then, Ed Donaldson and Amanda walk to the floor dressed immaculately in African inspired attire, Ed donning a robe and cane like Hakim from “Coming To America.” When Ed was disrobed you could see this absolutely beautiful ensemble he and Amanda sported with a long oval design reminiscent of one of those crystalized rocks people buy as decorations.

Ed and Drew have matched up on the floor before with Drew winning first and Ed and Amanda not placing at all. Drew teased Ed on Facebook in the past telling him he didn’t stand a chance in previous contests. This was Ed and Amanda’s “David and Goliath” moment. Can Ed Donaldson and Amanda take down two of what we will eventually consider Steppin’s all-time great dancers in Drew and Ann, and not just that, but create their own legacy in the process? Then the beat dropped and they went to war. It was clear that they both came for blood. They were both pristine and flawless. Then, at the same exact time, both of them brought out their big moves. They both executed their moves flawlessly, but Ed and Amanda had an advantage that I noticed immediately … they were right in front of the judges table. Unfortunately for Drew and Ann, they were directly behind Ed and Amanda. Now, my table is right in line with the judges, so I know if my view of Drew and Ann was obstructed, the judges were too to an extent. I didn’t even notice that Drew and Ann had started their big move until I saw Ann’s feet in the air.

When the dust settled I thought I’d witnessed 1st and 2nd place, I just didn’t know in what order, so I questioned some of the people at my table. I said, “Whew, great performances but I’m giving it to Ed & Amanda.” Andre Blackwell said, “Damn, I don’t know who to give that one to. It’s  a toss up but I don’t see anyone else beating these two performances. I think we can leave and go set up the After Party after this T.” [Laughing] Ryan said, “That was great, but I think I’m going to give it to Drew and Ann.” Rolling Out Magazine’s Munson Steed was also split on the victory. Well, Ed and Amanda got the victory and revenge had been exacted. Following the contest I spoke with Ed Donaldson who said, “I got the victory exactly how I wanted it, on the floor against Drew.” Sounds like the beginning of an awesome new rivalry from two of Detroit’s Steppin stars. I love it!

Sebrina and Rich Jackson said not so fast, as they snatched a 2nd place victory (Drew and Ann got 3rd place) and made good on a promise Sebrina told Drew in Donnie Davis’ class earlier that day, that she was “coming to kick his ass in the contest.” She accomplished that and placed in the money. With all respect to my man Rich Jackson, there are times when you know a couple will do well because of the woman, and Sebrina has to be respected on the dance floor. Sebrina, like Lady Margaret Fisher, wins with damn near everyone she competes with. When this happens, you have to know it’s not just the man, it’s also the woman. I’m proud of this couple because both of them have come such a long way.

Outside of the winners, I have to mention the homie Steppin LP (Lawrence Parker) and his partner Niecy. Midway through their dance L. P. leaps off of the stage, over a section of VIP seats, to the floor and then drops into the splits and dances on the floor. Now we all know L. P. is extremely limber and acrobatic, but that was pretty freaking incredible … or maybe crazy is the word. I honestly thought he was going to break his ankles. Let me tell you what I loved about it though. L. P. and Niecy took the stage against Marcus Reynolds and Cheri Lilli, who had just performed a jaw dropping performance in the prelims. So clearly L. P. knows what he’s up against. A standard dance performance against what we all knew was about about to be a freestyle performance from Marcus and Cheri was just not going to cut it. So what did L. P. do? He called an audible. He simply said, “Fuck It. I am not going to be out shined.” You could tell L. P. could care less about winning the contest. It was almost his way of saying, “So this is what you want? Okay, well I’ll give it to you.” L. P. and Niecy are both incredible dancers in my opinion, so I know he made a decision to go off course, and the funny thing is that it worked. Marcus and Cheri did their big moves, and executed them much more cleanly than in the prelims, but it just wasn’t enough. After the contest everyone was talking about L. P. To that end, Marcus and Cheri probably should have saved their big moves for the main contest, but I thank them for bringing more intrigue this year. A number of people who weren’t previously coming to the contest decided to come after Marcus and Cheri’s prelim performance.

Now, I know this is getting long, but it was a long damn contest, so bare with me. Luckily, the Walkers category will be quick. Shawn Bandy and Wakeba Reid took 1st place in Walking. I thought they did a great job and this is the second straight World’s Largest Shawn Bandy has taken first place in. Shawn also won this contest on the heels of a second place victory in the Milwaukee’s Largest Steppers Contest, making him a new force to be reckoned with in Steppin competitions and a bright spot in the next generation of Steppers out of Chicago. This is also Wakeba’s second Walkers victory and third victory over all, giving her damn near as many wins as she has years Steppin. Wakeba is a natural talent, and natural talents bloom a lot faster than trained talent, and she has certainly bloomed fast.

Lastly, there was the Trio Category. Nikee, Paris White, and Tori Lynch won first place in this category, and I shared with Nikee that I thought he would be in contention for the money. I thought he spent too much time in his opening skit, as he told a story of cheating through music using classic songs by Barbara Mason and Shirley Brown. To me, it felt like performance theater with Steppin, so it was definitely interesting, but it also shines light on a new trend I’m seeing in the contest, which is part performance and part Steppin. I’m not sure how I feel about it, but I certainly enjoyed the performance and see absolutely no problem with their victory.

Drew, Ann, and Richard’s performance was interesting. I enjoyed it a lot and was very impressed by Richard’s following, which improved tenfold between the prelims and the contest. There was nothing super special about the performance, but it was a good solid performance for me. As I clapped for the performance at the end, my buddy Pat Clay scolded me, telling me that the performance was a mess and that I should not be clapping. I said, “I disagree Pat, I enjoyed it.” She said, “Well you’re wrong. It was sloppy.” So, I’d be interested in getting some other opinions of Drew, Ann, and Richard’s performance. I’ve been told in the past that I’m such a fan of Drew’s dancing that I’m not critical enough of his performances. I don’t believe that to be true, but I’m definitely open to feedback. Do you agree with me in the sense that they performed well, or do you feel that they were sloppy as Pat suggested? Comment and let us know.

I have to mention the remaining two Trio performances. I thought Charles “Cee Cee,” Vernel, and Linda did a really good job of putting together a fun entertaining performance with great showmanship. On the other hand, I was quite disappointed in the performance of my buddies Feo Duncan, Candace Hinton, and Keesha Anderson. Feo, Candace, and Keesha are known for precision if nothing else. They had a number of bad miscues throughout the dance and could never really right the ship. I spoke with Feo after the contest and he was clearly disappointed with his performance. Feo is a winner and he’s used to being on the podium and being talked about after the contest. I’m sure they’ll return to proper form again next year.

To that end, another memorable year of dancing has been completed. Congrats to everyone who competed. Until next year……

Editor’s Note: Correction made on 2nd and 3rd place in the New Skool Category.

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