Carlton Puckett: From The Mind Of A Contestant

First, I would like to thank T. Pratt for the privilege to share my thoughts on such an honorable platform as I’ve been a fan for many years and greatly appreciate this opportunity.

In my 12 years of being on the scene and 3 years competing on this grand stage we call the World’s Largest Stepping Contest (WLSC), I’ve grown an even greater respect for the path and precedent our predecessors have paved. Along my journey, I have learned there’s a fine line between the art and entertainment aspect of Steppin’ … OR IS THERE? As I’ve matured in my craft, I often ask: Why should art and entertained be viewed as separate entities? Isn’t art a form of entertainment and vice versa? Have you ever considered what makes a masterpiece? Why do we celebrate certain artists and/or pieces of art more than others – what makes their art a “masterpiece?” I believe it’s when the painter desires the viewer to enter into his work, and once there, make them want to dwell a while (ENTERTAIN). How do they do this? By imagination and the use of all the means, tricks, skill and techniques at their disposal. They use texture, design, color, aerial/drawing perspective, form and shape – these skills have been honed over thousands of years and are a proven method to attract the curious and entice the imagination. Similarly, with our canvas being the stage, from the detail of our outfits, to the footwork, synchronization and our overall showmanship, we also use technique/skill to engage and inspire the imagination of our audience. So, again, I ask the question, if the most celebrated painters in history used their tricks, skills and techniques to entertain/capture the imagination of their audience, why should we separate entertainment value from art as it relates to Steppin’???

See some consider tricks , dips, flips and drops to be a negative introduction into the Steppin format. I disagree. It’s takes a considerable skill set to pull off these feats and still perform within the confines of the rules of the dance as it relates to the contest. In every other form of dance recognized on the world stage platform – Salsa, Ballet, Tap, and the list goes on these  attributes are embraced. Why does our dance have to be limited?

Let me also take time to applaud and offer my sincerest admiration to the many fearless competitors that displayed the courage and resolve to get on the “world’s largest steppin’ stage” and subject themselves to not only the criticism of the judges, but also the opinion of the ultimate judge: THE CROWD. As a competitor, it’s a vulnerable place to be to have your art critiqued and regardless of outcome or anyone’s opinion cause everyone has one, you’ve rightfully earned my utmost respect. And I would be remiss if I didn’t also show my deepest gratitude to the crowd, for without them, we have no platform to entertain and showcase our art.

Contestants have 1 year/365 days to sharpen their skills and prepare both, mentally and physically, for that “one” moment. We have 3 minutes and 30 seconds to convey our message and leave a lasting impression on the judges and most importantly, the audience. As I think about the growth of the competition I’ve witnessed year over year, I realize we’re expanding our reach and attracting audiences ranging anywhere from California, Texas to Atlanta. And as competition and audiences grow, so then does the expectation/requirement to create fresh, original material. And with increased competition and creativity comes “evolution.” While I realize many veterans of the game feel evolution compromises the integrity of the art, it’s my opinion that not only is it a positive, it’s necessary. I’m respectful of all points of view and I understand change can often be difficult to embrace; however, I feel change is essential to the growth process.

I’m not only an entertainer, artist and competitor, I also pride myself in being a student of the game. As I reflect on the history of this beautiful dance we all so love and adore, I’m reminded of its origin as an extension of a dance formerly known as “the bop,” which in itself derived from a popular dance from the 50’s and 60’s named “The Walk.” As the civil rights movement, war and the revolution/protests became more prevalent, African American music began to reflect this dramatic change in the social atmosphere. In fact, listening to music became more popular and fashionable than dance until the mid 70’s when the bop re-emerged on the social scene, but with a faster pace and more “entertaining ” presence to keep pace with the disco era. The bop maintained its popularity well into the 80’s until it got a facelift, a new identity and a new name that we currently know as STEPPIN’. It had a new sound, high fashion wear, a smooth beat and an overall cool/smoothness about it like never before. Which brings us to today – Why did I provide you with this history? Because it’s important to illustrate the role evolution and entertainment has played in the perseverance of Steppin’. Evolution is not only important, it’s necessary. Our predecessors set a precedent and left us with a responsibility not only to carry on a legacy, but to also expand it to new heights. As entertainers, competitors and artists, we must continue to hone our skills, push boundaries, constantly re-invent ourselves, raise the bar of excellence and create our own masterpieces and raise the bar for the greater good of this beloved dance.

Again, thank you , T. Pratt for this platform to share my thoughts. I’m truly humbled and so appreciative to the judges, crowd and everyone involved for the win we received Saturday night. I take nothing for granted, I’ve taken my lumps over the last couple of years with no complaints. I can only keep learning and getting better as  I recognize I still have a lot of work that needs to be done and only 340 days to go ….. God Bless