Following the Phoenix Steppers Forum a few Steppers left with the idea that I was somehow against Los Angeles Steppin. It was also shared with me that members in attendance felt that I was against Steppin B, and even worse, that I felt people in Los Angeles couldn’t dance. None of this could be further from the truth, so I’d like to spend a minute speaking directly to my Los Angeles Steppin family.
Regarding the forum, I never singled Los Angeles out in my observations. I spoke of the West Coast in general, since cities like Las Vegas, Portland, and Seattle were also present. What I stated in a nutshell was that I saw a lot of dancing, specifically from the men (I never addressed the women at all) that looked off to me. It lacked the swagger that I’m used to seeing in Chicago and other well developed Steppin communities around the nation. I’ll dig into this a bit deeper, but I want to address a few truths and untruths first.
I was a part of the very first out-of-town group to come to Los Angeles to demonstrate Steppin in 2003. Tulivu Jadi brought Dre and Company out to do a demonstration at the University of California Long Beach, and then to some local venues around the city. In my personal opinion, Dre and Company was largely unprofessional on this visit. The group was late to the Long Beach performance for Maulana Karenga, not to mention, Dre wanted to perform to hip hop against his agreement with Tulivu. At the time, Dre had just finished choreographing for R. Kelly and he was known for his fast and flashy style. Tulivu wanted a demonstration of original classic Steppin, and Dre wanted to demonstrate his new skool style for the students of UC Long Beach. Although Dre and Company’s interaction with California was brief, we could understandably take some of the blame for some of the criticisms hurled at California today, such as being too fast and loose.
Following Dre and Company, Tulivu linked up with MAK 3, who played an instrumental role in building a foundation for REAL Steppin in Los Angeles. A number of people in the L. A. community mention Dave Maxx and Yausmenda’s role in helping to build Los Angeles Steppin in the early days. At one point, Tulivu said he would provide me with a more exact history of Los Angeles Steppin, but unfortunately it never came to fruition.
Shortly thereafter, Chicago implant Brian “Steppin B” Patterson made the trip to L. A. to set up shop. Steppin B was a well-respected New Skool Era Stepper prior to coming to Cali, and remains so ‘til this day. Steppin B, Dre, and I made history together in the 2003 Trio contest, and any thought that I would somehow undermine Brian, his teaching, or his students could not be further from the truth. I’ve always thought Brian was a good dancer and instructor, and he’s always been cool with me. To that end, in the forum I suggested that Brian filled his lane in the dance well, but there were indeed other lanes. Just as I had to branch out from Dre to add new wrinkles to my dance, I don’t think any one instructor can make a Stepper complete. For those individuals interested in having a complete dance, with knowledge of both the new and old skool, I would never suggest that you leave your main instructor, but link up with other greats in your spare time to fill in gaps in your dance.
With that said, the forum is an opportunity to hear knew perspectives on the dance. Some of those perspectives may come with some hard truths. If you’re not open to hearing hard truths, criticism, or varied perspectives on Chicago Steppin, why come to an Open Forum in the first place? If you feel your dance is complete, or that your style of Steppin is representative of where you live, despite what everyone else in the nation is doing, I wouldn’t suggest you come to an open forum. An open forum is an opportunity to get a new perspective on the dance, to ask questions, to hear critiques and complaints, and to share dialogue with peers who love the dance. It takes a certain level of humility to hear your elders in the dance share thoughts that might be inconsistent with your current knowledge of the dance. Fortunately for most Midwesterners, and especially in Chicago, we get these hard truths unsolicited at times. In Chicago, at least when I started, if we were dancing too wild, or taking the dance out of context, we might very well be corrected on the dance floor in that very moment.
In my opinion, constructive criticism is a form of love. It is a way of saying, I applaud your effort but there are deeper levels for you. Once again, if you are only dancing for fun, stress relief, or a pure hobby, don’t set yourself up to be criticized in an open forum context. Fortunately for us, we didn’t have the luxury of boycotting a person for sharing their hard truths with us. We couldn’t fire the DJ when he didn’t play songs we liked. We adjusted, improved our dance, and many of the dancers from earlier eras are better because of it. The answer when faced with criticism is not to grab your ball and head home, but to work harder to perfect your craft. I saw that in Carlton and Lauren and also Martha Stephens, who both had to embrace some hard truths before finally being successful in the World’s Largest Steppers Contest.
Personally, I can think of tons of good dancers in Los Angeles. Many of these people I’ve been cool with for years. I would never generalize and entire community of dancers, when I know for a fact that so many of them have done the work to become good dancers. The notion that a small minority of Los Angeles Steppers have suggested that there is an “LA Style” of Chicago Steppin is ludicrous to me. I’ve never heard the pioneers and greats of L. A. Steppin talk this way. As Tony Dow stated in a recent interview on ChiStepper.com, I think the goal is to remove the whole “out-of-town” barrier all together. I lead the charge for the removal of the “out-of-town” category of the World’s Largest Steppers Contest.
With that said, people have to understand that there are occasions where we might like a person but not appreciate their art. We often times think a person is being two-faced when they say “Hello” to us, but tell someone else that they don’t like the way we dance. I don’t think that’s the case. There are people in Chicago that I think are great people, but terrible dancers. While our art is an extension of us, critique is an essential aspect of growth in any art. Beyond the dance, we make up an incredible Steppin family that comes together to experience fun times, close friendships, and support in times of need. This truth is not reversed by the fact that you might have terrible basics, a sloppy right turn, or too much upper body movement.
In short Los Angeles Steppers, although I was not speaking directly to you in the forum, you should know that I have nothing but love for you. Most people in Los Angeles already know this, but I’m speaking to the new people that I haven’t had a chance to meet personally. Contrary to some of the posts I’ve read, I’ve never made a single dollar teaching Steppin in California. The most I’ve ever made teaching in my entire career is $40, and that was a gift I tried to turn down. I’ve never accepted money for teaching because I didn’t want it to become a job. I still help Donnie Davis’ students on random Saturday’s in Chicago for FREE! I never made money conducting forums on the west coast. It has all been for the love of the dance. I don’t gain or lose a thing conducting the Steppers forums. I asked Denise Barrow to remove the forum from the Harlem Nights 2016 agenda, because the forum is only valuable if the community wants the feedback. To that end, if someone (me) who has examined and written about the culture almost daily for 10 years straight offers a criticism to newer dancers, at the very least open yourself up to the possibility that you might be able to learn something.
I’ve been dancing 15 years now and I still don’t think of myself as a great dancer. I pulled Charnice aside for 20 minutes in Phoenix to help me learn a timing and movement sequence I was having trouble with. I still get help from Darrel Davis, Donnie Davis, Drew Alexander, Feo Duncan, Kevin Dockery, and Will Barnes as of late. I never want to get to a place where I stop growing and learning. I never want to be a dinosaur in the dance. I implore the newer male Steppers in Los Angeles who want to continue to grow in the dance to keep your mind open. That doesn’t mean you can’t have fun with what you have right now, just don’t throw the Old Skoolers to the side when they offer their critiques. Even if you can’t use the information at your current stage of dancing, put it in your knapsack for later.
Whether you desire to get better in the dance, or continue dancing for fun with two left feet, I want you to know that honest critique is never personal. We can always get Roscoe’s Chicken and Waffles together. I wish you all nothing but the best in this dance. For whatever reason you Step, continue to be happy and blessed and don’t take it too seriously.