Tony, 20 years after you won 1st place in the 1996 World’s Largest Steppers Contest for a $10,000 prize, you placed 1st in the Master’s Category. How did you feel going into the contest?
Just like a BOSS. Charnice and I both have a very high level of execution and skill so the confidence was there. I must say I can’t believe it’s been 20 years [since our] first place pot of $10,000 and there has not been a pot to equal or surpass that championship. Wow.
You have a history of breaking away from your partners and moving across the floor. In the Master’s however, you stayed with Charnice the entire time. Was this something you discussed in terms of strategy?
It was funny because the first time we talked after the semi dance she said, “Man you can’t be leaving me on the dance floor. (Laughing) I said, “Sweetheart you and I don’t have any problems.” From that moment we were good. One thing is for sure – Charnice can really DANCE and we never got a real chance to pratice or make up anything. The more I drove the more she followed. It was amazing how everything we did in the contest was created that night. It just all came together. I will always feel like the UNIVERSE opened up for her and I. Man I had a ball that weekend.
Steppers talk about the Master’s Category like the Oscars, in the sense that they feel a person has to pay their dues before they’ll be allowed to win in that category. To that end, some felt that you and Charnice were gonna win before you even danced. Do you believe there’s any truth to that?
Well I want to say for myself, I never take any contest or opportunity for granted. I try to bring It. I feel like anybody can win if they know how to execute on that level. I think some people knew Charnice and I would deliver. This is not back in the day, it don’t matter. I feel like everyone who was in the Master’s Category paid their dues. They deserved to be there as well. It was just that we knew what to do to win. When I got to Chicago on that weekend, Leeana sent for to come to the 50 Yard Line. Charnice showed up. We were blessed by the Original Skool, so that’s where that music came from. We had the whole city on lock. I must say it was two major forces that came together. It was too powerful.
Another conspiracy theory surrounding the Master’s Category was that they wouldn’t let an Out-of-Towner win that category. What are your thoughts on that?
I think we can all let that theory go now. EVERYONE can dance now. It’s a matter of this being the Master’s though. You have to be able to dig deeper in your delivery and your knowledge, and that’s where they all fell short, out-of-town or not. That’s the reason Charnice and I danced together, we both have the depth of the knowledge to deliver on that level.
What do you feel is your greatest accomplishment in Steppin?
With the fact that I was there to Step in the mid 70’s, you just had to be there for that. The 80’s was a great time ‘cause we had a little more money. The 90’s was the birth of the WLSC where I won several championships, and the biggest cash prize in the history of Steppin along with Darlinda Russell. Also won with my daughter, Dominique Dow more than one time. To have taught some of the greatest steppers of All Time, the list is long. To be featured in the “Step in the Name of Love” video, movies, TV, plays, etcetera. To have my family travel and roll with Me. As well as come home to win the prestigious MASTER’S CATEGORY. I will add that this all makes me very humble.
You’re one of Steppin’s original instructors, and in recent years there has been a feeling that the best talent is no longer coming out of Chicago. Out-of-towners seem a bit hungrier for the dance. Do you see a day in Steppin where Chicago is no longer the King of the Hill in Steppin?
I dont think we should be putting a focus on out-of-town, it should be just the fact that we are bringing in new fresh talent. This is the reason why there is so much diversity in our culture. You say you want to grow the dance, then turn around and do this. It dont matter where no one is from, it’s about level of execution and skill. The other part is that the type of instructor that I was at the time, it was all about producing champions. So it don’t matter where you are, if you are teaching that, that’s what will develop. The whole dance comes from Chicago, so it will always be where the talent is coming from and the king of the hill no matter how you look at it.
What Steppers did you admire when you first started dancing?
I will be talking about that in its entirety in my documentary. There were so many Steppers it was a shame.
What’s happening with that project?
We have put together part one of this documentary with quite a bit of footage and material that is gonna cost a reasonable amount of money and we are indeed in pursuit of execution and completion. I might add this is an extraordinary piece of work. IT’S A MUST SEE PROJECT.
What Steppers, if any, are you keeping your eye on from current times?
I keep my eye on EVERYONE – I find that it works for me. They had better keep their eye on me.
Steppin seemed to reach its pinnacle in the late 1990’s. There were movies, TV Shows, big contest prizes, and quite frankly, a larger pool of talent. Have Steppin’s best years come and gone, or do you believe the dance will see bigger opportunities in the future?
It’s something that I am personally working on. I think the focus has changed. People are more on making a personal dollar. That has left it to where there are no deals on a larger scale being made. The fact is there are more Steppers now, so there is an opportunity for people on a smaller range to make money. The interest has changed.
A few years back you made a move to California. What is your opinion of the dance culture in California?
I was very grateful that there was a Steppin Community in Cali when we got here. I think California is making moves and is here to stay. After we have put out the documentary, Dowhouse has plans to bring some really amazing talent out of Cali, so stay tuned.
If you had to give Steppin in the current times a grade, what grade would you give the current generation of Steppers?
I would give a high grade because as it stands a whole lot of us from back in the day are still very active in the culture, as well as all the new people. I think we are doing fine as a culture. I feel like there is gonna be a lot of really GOOD STEPPIN in the near furture. What Charnice and I did was brought it back to authentic Steppin, that’s what sooooo maaany people were saying to Charnice and I and thanking us for it.
It’s been great catching up with you Tony. I’m going to leave you with a difficult question. Of all of the Steppers you’ve watched dance, past and present, who is the greatest male and greatest female, in your opinion, that you’ve ever watched dance?
Sir, thank you for the opportunity to do this interview [I]had a Blast. The two cooldest were Lil Mike and Rossi!