Martha Stephens Discusses How She Upgraded Her Steppin Game

1. Martha Stephans

Martha Stephens

Martha, you’ve come a long way as a dancer.  What do you feel has been most important to your growth and development in Chicago Steppin?

I think for me taking workshops from some of the best teachers out there. Of course I learned from Steppin B and Divita, however I gained a ton of knowledge from working with Andre Blackwell, Tykman and Drew and Lady Margaret.  Of course they all have different styles, but I took what I liked about each and tried to create my own movements.  What really took my dance to another level was when I began visiting Chicago on a regular basis, not for events, but to attend the weekday sets.  That for me was priceless. I STILL don’t consider myself seasoned, I have a lot of growth to accomplish.

Are there any challenges you’ve had to overcome related to your height?

At this age, no, but as a younger teen and woman, I had a huge complex regarding my height. I was taller than the girls and the cute boys [Laughing]! I would hunch over in an attempt to be at their level.  Present day, I am way more comfortable with my height.

How tall are you?

I am 5’10” without heels, and probably around 6’2” with them on.  That’s a lot of woman [Laughing}!

[Laughing] Do you think short guys are intimidated to dance with you?

There are times when I feel my height deters men from asking me to dance.  Most men don’t give a damn [Laughing}!  They will sling my lanky behind all over the place! Overall, if a man is comfortable with their lead, it really doesn’t matter.

This year you took a major leap by entering into the World’s Largest Steppers Contest and you placed.  What was that moment like for you?

WOW, just WOW!  It was surreal Terrance! First off, I was honored that someone as talented as Maurice Thomas would ask me to be his partner!  Being from California, some Chicagoans don’t believe that we are “true” Steppers, so I was very nervous to get up there and dance in front of a room of people you knew were judging you, and sometimes not in a good way.  Overall, the experience was something I will never forget.  It was life changing.

You faced some pretty public criticism on your prelim performance in Detroit.  Some people said your styles didn’t match, you danced smooth and Reese danced fast, and a host of other things.  You addressed these criticisms pretty directly.  Was placing in the contest any vindication to all of the naysayers?

Good question.  California winning in several categories was vindication in itself, in that it was totally unexpected.  It finally proved that you don’t have to be from Chicago or Michigan to take home a trophy, or be considered a decent Stepper.  Only a handful of people know this, but Maurice and I didn’t even practice for the WLSC!  He simply adjusted his dance to match mine.

Speaking of the contest, I loved the outfits.  Reese is known for his designs, was your skirt one of his pieces?

Hilarious!  Everyone was asking if Maurice made my outfit.  No, he didn’t make mine.

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Maurice Thomas and Martha Stephens in the 2015 WLSC

Who came up with the outfit ideas?

I guess you would say that we both did.  I bought my outfit in Downtown LA, took a picture of myself in the outfit and texted it to him.  Within a few minutes, he texted me back and said “I know what I’m gonna make!”  Within a few days, his outfit was created! The man is a genius!

Will you be competing again this year?

I don’t think so.  It’s rare that lighting strikes twice in the same place, especially for a California girl [Laughing]!  I think I want to just enjoy last year’s win, however I will come and support the contestants.

As a native Californian who travels to Chicago a lot to Step, do you see any real distinctions between Steppin in Los Angeles and Steppin in Chicago?

Good lord, you’re gonna get me in trouble for this one [Laughing]!  Well, you know I always keep it real, so here we go.  Yes, I do think there is quite a distinction between LA and Chicago dancers.  For one, we don’t have the saturation of qualified teachers, heavy hitters or mentors that Chicago does … and that makes a huge difference in the progression of your dance.  What I think happens is we observe the good dancers we do have and attempt to mimic their style.  As a result, you see a multitude of people doing the same moves, turns and combinations on the dance floor.  This leads to people saying that we all dance the same.  In addition, we don’t have the ability to have sets Sunday to Sunday every day of the week.  If we did, it would help us perfect the craft a little more.

Who do you credit, if anybody, with turning your dance around?

Oh gosh, I would have to say Andre Blackwell and TykMan.  Andre is a very tough teacher, but he gives constructive criticism.  He is also a very quick dancer, and he will dance with you for hours on end until you get something right.  He taught me how to learn the signals from my lead, and be more confident with myself. Tyk, on the other hand, taught me how to bring my sensuality to the dance, how to take my time through my turns, and how to achieve the look of gliding instead of heavy foot movements.

I see you’re also promoting the Steppin portion of a major party taking place in L. A. this year.  Is promoting something you look to do more of in the future?

Promoting is not my forte, however a very good friend of mine asked me to be a part of his 16th annual White Party this year, and I couldn’t say no.  I have attended every year except for maybe four.  There are 5 dance floors, 4 DJ’s, food vendors, a Jazz Band and a dedicated floor and Stepping DJ just for the Steppers!  We will be dancing outside under the warm California skies, as the date for the event is Labor Day weekend September 4, 2016.  Over 1,000 people attend every year.  I look forward to being a part of the team.

Anything you want to say in closing?

I would like to thank you for providing such a positive forum for all of us in the community.   You have always been a man of great integrity and character, and I appreciate you!  I would also like to thank those of you who have supported me throughout this journey.  Also, it’s been great meeting so many wonderful spirits throughout my travel.  Lastly, let’s not forget that although Steppin is a lifestyle, its purpose is to provide joy, positivity and warmth to the soul. Leave your negativity off the wood!

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