In a Steppin industry with strong traditions and heavy opinions, even those sometimes opposite of its own best interests, the Heritage Ball emerged 10 years ago as a breath of fresh air for the dance community. In 2008, a massive national crowd descended on Atlanta for Good Deed International’s (GDI) inaugural Heritage Ball event. The excitement of the occasion resonated through the dance community, and outside of being told to wear red and black on Friday night and all Black Saturday, Steppers had no clue what to expect.
What Steppers experienced when they arrived far exceeded anything ever produced in the Steppin community. There were greeters at the airport, coach buses transporting dancers between events, a hospitality center, the best Steppin DJ’s in the nation, a Black History display, state-of-the-art dance hotel (the newly launched “green” Marriott Gateway) and convention facilities, awesome entertainment, an intermission show, and most important of all, Steppers. Thousands upon thousands of Steppers. Some of the very best Steppers in the nation.
Over the years the Heritage Ball, through a coordinated group effort by members Cheryl Powe, Melanie Fields, Cora O’Kelly, Donald “Kazemde” Blount, Devan Powe, Kim Davis, Art Allen, Kirk Pacely, and formerly Steve Matthews, the Heritage Ball has delivered absolute excellence. Analyzing what they’ve done is nothing short of remarkable, starting with their ability to keep the team together for so many years. Generally arguments about money, power, position, and strategic direction ruin large groups. As an insider, ChiStepper is aware of the Heritage Ball staffs knockdown drag-out boardroom fights – but they always manage to come out of it a united front.
You don’t go through 10 years of excellence without some battle wounds, and the larger you are, the more visible the scars. None was larger than the weather storm that forced all but an event cancellation in 2014. When you’ve demonstrated excellence for so long however, your loyal audience is forgiving … especially surrounding situations involving acts of nature. Then there were smaller hurdles they overcame, like moving downtown away from the popular airport location, which brought about travel concerns to the venue, restaurant costs, complaints about microwaves in the hotel rooms, and just about anything else Steppers could nitpick about. Not to mention, a few Chicagoans who opined that an event of this stature should have happened in the “mecca,” despite Chicago’s many failed attempts at organizing a major convention. Through it all, the Heritage Ball took the feedback, integrated the suggestions where possible, and kept their best foot forward.
Over the course of the journey, the Heritage Ball created a destination for Steppers to have fun, feel proud, and connect with one another. We’ve experienced heart wrenching tributes to sick and fallen Steppers, surprise lifetime achievement awards, and the ever-so-popular Steppers Roll Call. The Steppers Forum and the Steppin All Star Challenge originated in partnership with ChiStepper.com were both created at the Heritage Ball. Family Feud, Charity runs, workshops, lectures, and more have all been a part of this fabulous weekend. And they feed you on Sundays as well?
They’ve brought incredible artists like Chante Moore, Glen Jones, Fel Davis, Blue Magic, Anthony David, Marzette Griffith, Ty Causey, and Cardel among others, and we could never forget the time Liberty Silver sang Etta James’ “At Last” as a Walkers song. GDI brought performers from the Universoul Circus with an African dance troupe, Walkers workshops with over 100 participants (at a time when Walking was dying among the new skoolers), all while continuing to show love for a pioneering Steppin location, Ellerys. For all that I’ve mentioned about the memorable moments created by the Heritage Ball staff, it’s scary to think that I’m not even grazing the surface of all that they do.
I could go on forever lauding the excellence demonstrated by GDI’s Heritage Ball however, just a week removed from their 10th Anniversary it’s a perfect time to reflect with a gallery of memorable moments ChiStepper has captured over the years. Here’s to 10 more fabulous years …