Reflections from the 2017 World’s Largest Steppers Contest


2017 World’s Largest Steppers Contest Winners (Photo credit: Qiana Nikki Heidelberg)

The 2017 World’s Largest Steppers Contest is in the history books and there is much to discuss. First however, here’s a recap of the winners.

Original New Skool
1st Place – Anthony “Tic Man” Allen & Tabitha Hicks
2nd Place – Drew Alexander & Ann Hunter
3rd Place – Michael Bush & Elana Elmore

Original Old Skool
1st Place – Kevin Dockery & Cheryl Powe
2nd Place – Kammal Sadeeq & Nicole Sadeeq
3rd Place – Maurice Dixon & Ericka Jones

Walkers
1st Place – Drew Alexander & Taylor Raymond

Trio
1st Place – Shareda Newbern, Sherry Gordon, & Sebrina Thomas

60 & Over
1st Place – Easy & Joanie Alcorn

Beginners
1st Place – Donnavan Anderson & Shona Adams

 

Now that we have the details covered, let’s dive into the contest.

Judging

When I looked at the judges panel, especially in the New Skool category, there were a few judges with very little contest experience (Qiana Wilson, William Barnes, and Debbie Travis), and while this doesn’t disqualify them from being good judges, I often wonder if they look for and/or share the same perspective about competing as more seasoned competitors who come back to judge.

From the judges that I could identify, only two were from outside of Chicago (Ms. Mary – Atlanta & Debbie Travis – Los Angeles). What a predominately Chicago judging panel generally suggests, from the aspect of dance appreciation, is that a more traditional style of Steppin will be preferred over a lot of tricks and antics. This was certainly true in the contest, where the winners in each category outside of the Trio danced a very traditional style of dance including more original elements of Steppin and less tricks.

I must say that I believe the judges did a great job in each category. There were certainly a few other contestants that could have been considered, but I think most would argue that all of the contestants who placed did a great job.

Music

The music selections in this contest had me scratching my head. From a technical perspective, there was a faulty cord plugged into DJ Cross’ system that caused the sound to malfunction on a few occasions throughout the night. A couple of the contestants who were affected said this was a major distraction for them with regards to getting into their flow and that’s certainly believable. What I find intriguing however, is how so little thought is put into selecting a contest song. If a contestant chooses a song simply because they enjoy dancing to it at the club, they are truly missing a key element of capturing the crowd’s attention. In my opinion, a contest song should include some kind of strategy including catching the other contestant off guard, bringing energy to the performance, capturing the spirit of the category, and so many other things. When I hear contestants dance to new songs in the Original Old Skool Category, I truly feel they’ve missed the moment. If you look at the older contests ChiStepper.com has posted, watch how engaged the audience was with the songs the contestants chose.

There were some interesting selections throughout the night, with Jazz music reemerging in the contest in a few areas, in addition to a few James Brown selections. Both Nikee & Tori Lynch and Ed Donaldson & Amanda Anderson had the same idea with the song Din Da Da by George Kanz, which was to dance to the various breaks and beat changes in the song. In both instances, the performances were well received by the crowd, but obviously not appreciated enough by the judges to capture a place in the contest.

Tic Man and Tabitha Hicks won the battle of the music with a clever remix of Rihanna’s “Work” including soundbites of “Tic,” accentuated in the dance by finger points in the air right on beat. Rumor has it that the song was created 24 hours before the contest by J. Boogie, but we’d have to confirm this with Tic.

Most Entertaining Performances

The most entertaining round of the contest from my opinion was Nikee & Tori Lynch vs Maurice Thomas and Rhonda Borton. This is not to say that they should or shouldn’t have won, just that the crowd energy was the highest during their performance. Other great battles throughout the night were Drew Alexander & Ann Hunter vs. Michael Bush & Elana Elmore; Kevin Dockery & Cheryl Powe vs. Kammal Sadeeq & Nicole Sadeeq; and Rich Jackson & Sebrina Thomas vs. Shawn Bandy &  Lady Margaret.

You will find throughout history that great battles on the floor usually lead to both people placing and that happened twice this year with Kammal/Nicole vs Doc/Cheryl and Drew/Ann vs Westside Mike/Elana.

As an aside, every year the contest takes on a new theme. Some years it’s been the drops and tricks, in early years it was routines and dips to the floor, then there were years where hip hop was integrated heavily. This year I saw a lot Original Steppin (or Freestyling as some call it) with double bumps and shuffles. It’s so interesting to see this integrated because for years Steppers like Ty Skippy/Celeste and James Harris/Cleo among others were separated from other Steppers because it was looked at as unfair for them to compete. Another interesting development with the inclusion of true original Steppin is that you see it integrated into both the New and Old Skool category, so it begs the question of where it fits best. Does it relate more to the high energy of the New Skoolers because of the turns and tempo, or the Old Skoolers because of the style, footwork, and swagger. What do you all think?

Newcomers Emerging on the Scene

Of the newcomers to the contest, two young women were ushered into the big leagues with great performances, and that’s Tabitha Hicks and Elana Elmore. I said on Talking Tea With Tika that Tabitha Hicks was a wild card because I didn’t know how she would hold up under the pressure but she did an incredible job under a huge amount of pressure. Also, Elana Elmore had some big shoes to fill as Westside Mike is not only a modern great, but most of his career accomplishments were achieved with Alexis Carroll. Elana did an incredible job matching Mike’s energy and they were among the most talked about performances of the evening.

Fashion

The contestants did a great job of dressing up for the contest this year. Sequin dominated the most popular looks this year, with Maurice Thomas and Rhonda Borton sparkling the brightest among the contestants. Other great looks in sequin included Tic Man and Tabitha, Doc and Cheryl,  and Shona Adams.

The Outcomes

There was a lot riding on this contest, as Ed Donaldson, last year’s winner and the self-professed “King” of Steppin called out arguably the greatest Stepper ever in Tic Man, suggesting that his time was up and there was a new sheriff in town. Tic Man, of course, disagreed and told Ed that “real Steppin” would win over the gimmicks and tricks. The debate was made public by ChiStepper.com, who also discussed in an article whether this contest would signal a changing of the guard.

Even more energy was brought to the rivalry when legendary Stepper Josiah Burt took to Facebook to question Ed’s legitimacy, which was later ridiculed by Team Petty 2. Even so, Tyk and Ed, who I never believed took the challenge seriously, wished each other the best of luck just days before the contest. In my opinion, the rivalry was incredible because it provided a much-needed story line for the contest and drummed up interest.

Obviously, Tic Man won the contest and the win was monumental in the sense that not only did he and Tabitha beat Ed and Amanda, he also beat Drew and Ann, the other heirs apparent to the throne. With the recent success Detroit has experienced in the World’s Largest Steppers Contest, Tic’s win was not only major for the rivalry, but also for Chicago Steppin as it reestablished, if there were ever a question, that the top dog is still in Chicago. To Ed’s credit however, he took the loss on the chin and didn’t make any excuses. He was all smiles after the contest and he and Amanda should have been – they danced great together.

Ed is not the only person that needs to eat a little humble pie however, I do too. I predicted in an interview with Talking Tea With Tika that Tic would get 3rd place behind Ed and Drew, and that obviously was not the case. When Tic and I discussed my pick at The Pines the Tuesday before the contest, Tic smiled and said, “Great observations T but this contest is mine,” and he smiled like a clever poker player holding a royal flush.

What I will say however, is that while I didn’t pick the right winner in the New Skool category, 5 of the 6 couples I picked between New and Old Skool placed in the contest.

In the Old Skool Category, Kevin Dockery and Cheryl engaged in a highly entertaining battle with Kammal and Nicole. Both Kevin and Kammal, known for footwork and style, totally captured the essence of Original Steppin, displaying style and swagger while Cheryl and Nicole were the perfect complements following with grace and elegance.

For Smoke and Ericka Jones, their 3rd place victory was highly impressive because not only did they dance well, they also had to battle Lionel Foote and Andrea Wright, whose dance was visually imploding on the floor and could have been a distraction. I said on Talking Tea With Tika that Smoke and Ericka dance really well TOGETHER and that’s very important to Old Skool judges.

The Walkers category went as I expected. Drew and Taylor did an incredible job and with three previous Walking category trophies, Drew is always a formidable competitor. Other couples I enjoyed in the Walking category included Bobby Taylor & Sherry Gordon and Drew Jones & Tanya Nash. Sooner or later you all are going to learn that the hard stop on the emphatic beat will rarely ever win you anything in the Walking category. The downbeat push or the stroll styles are generally more entertaining in this category.

I won’t say much about the Trio Category because it wasn’t particularly enjoyable for me this year. I commend all of the contestants for giving a great effort however, because this category is particularly difficult to master. The winners, Sherry, Shareda, and Bri had a very entertaining routine and I thought they did a great job, but it was too much performance and not enough Steppin for my personal taste. In the last few years, minus maybe one, the Trio Category has turned into a choreographed performance and that’s cool when it’s combined with a lot of original Steppin, but that hasn’t been happening as much lately. What I enjoy most about the Trio is seeing the innovate ways partners weave in and out of turn combinations, how they manipulate the beats, change leads, and interact with the music. I can only imagine that the crowd doesn’t share my purist view of the category and enjoyed being entertained, so all’s well that ends well.

Finally, the Beginners did very well this year. A lot of the people at my table loved Shona Adams dress and I thought she and Donnavan danced a great classic dance. I tried to tell you all what type of dance was going to win the contest and sure enough, a classic smooth style won Beginners this year. It sucked that the first 2 sets of couples had to endure music malfunctions during their performance. It’s hard to perform your best and get into your groove when your music is jacked up.

That’s all I have this year. Great job to everyone who competed. See you all next year!

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