Walkers Winners: L. A. Chase and Wakeba Reid
Another contest year is in the history books and the next week or so will be filled with conversation on who should and shouldn’t have placed. I decided last year that I would let the judges decisions stand on their and no longer pick who I thought should have won, instead opting to share my overall reflections on the contest and individual dancers. Here are my thoughts and observations …
In my opinion the music selections for the contest really sucked this year. I don’t know what the contestants were thinking this year, but I confirmed with Mellow Khris that the contestants did pick their own music this year, just like every other year. Mellow Khris and many others also felt the music sucked, especially in the Original Old Skool category, where most of the Steppers danced to whack new skool music.
I did however, like Feo, Candace, and Keesha’s Trio music, which was put together by Black Cool. Their music seemed to match the military ensemble they had going on.
Speaking of Feo, Keesha, and Candace’s military ensemble, I must admit that I really liked it. Steppin used to be all about tailor made suits and dressing elegant, but as the generations change so does the fashion, and now Steppers are dressing more like America’s Next Best Dance Crew or something similar. Other outfits that really stood out to me where Alvin, Showtyme, and Carlton’s Preppy/Hip Hop look in the trio, as well as both of Lauren Lagrone’s outfits in the contest which prompted my girlfriend Ryan to say, “If we ever get married, I want the top of my wedding dress to look exactly like Lauren’s top.” Only to correct this later by saying, “Scratch that, now that I’ve seen Lauren’s dress, I want my wedding dress to look like that. It’s so beautiful I can’t take my eyes off of it.” I also liked Keisha Gilmore’s dress and the hot pink look created by Maurice Thomas and Ann Hunter.
There are so many things that stick out to me that I can’t mention everything, but I’ll do my best.
I thought Drew, Ed, and Sherry deserved their win. They were able to blend both talent and entertainment, which is difficult to do and they took a number of risks that if gone wrong they would have surely lost. As the saying goes, high risk, high reward.
I must say however, that I thought Feo, Keesha, and Candace danced the most technically superior dance this year. I sat in awe as this group blazed through lightening fast turns with precision and flawlessness. Everything from their look, to their music, to their dance was on point and this was just a matter of what the judges appreciated more this evening, and from the look of the overall contest it was entertainment.
Additionally, I thought the California trio of Carlton, Alvin, and Showtyme put their name in the mix with a solid effort but it seems they just couldn’t build momentum. The performance never really peaked to me, even though I loved their look and the classic hip hop songs they danced to. I also thought Nikee, Tori, and Ann danced well but it was just a standard Trio to me, nothing really special. As always, Nikee, Tori, and Ann looked great but I hear they decided to dance with no practice this year and while I commend the idea of spontaneity as part of Steppin tradition, the Trio category might be one of those exceptions these days.
Gone are the days, it seems, when Steppers like Herk, Maurice Turner, Tyk and Dre would just hop on stage and dance. Since Dre threw glitter in 2005 a new understanding was created in the Trio category, which is that you better come prepared to put on a show or you won’t be leaving with any money.
Most of the Walkers did extremely well to me but I have to compliment both L. A. Chase and Wakeba Reid on their win for a number of reasons. First, this is a couple that was joined together spontaneously in Detroit at the White Party prelims. Chase wanted to dance but he didn’t have a partner, so he pulled Wakeba out of the crowd. I witnessed firsthand Wakeba’s reluctance to dance with Chase, probably more because she’s a newbie and Chase’s style of walking is pretty unique to say the least, but she took the risk and look what it got her. Wakeba would win again in the Beginner’s category with Arnel Cross, both students of Drew Alexander.
As for L. A. Chase, he’s been telling anyone who would listen that he should have won the Walkers category 2 years ago. I commend him for coming back, sticking to his style, and making the necessary adjustments to win. Speaking with Chase he said, “I toned it down a little to show them that I could actually walk the normal way, and then I went back to doing me. Walking is the most boring category in the contest. You have to add some flair to it for the contest. I told Wakeba that we were not practicing, to just trust me and submit to me and we will be fine and she did that and I commend her for that.”
Lastly, Chase walked to a fast Steppers song to the ire of traditional Walkers. Chase said, “That shows that they don’t really understand the dance. You can speed up or slow down any song that you want.” Dre Blackwell, who was seated at the table with me said, “Now this is my kinda Walking. He changed shit up and I happen to think change is good.” I personally like smooth classic Walking to smooth classic music but I admit that was entertained. Another thing that I’d like to point out is that Chase was not the first to do this. Nikee and Tori did something similar in the prelims and everyone lost their minds like they’d just committed a cardinal sin. Is there a double stand between Chase and Nikee, or are you all equally upset with Chase’s music choice?
Old Skool Category
I had no qualms with the judging in this category. I watched the contest with the legendary Ice Ray who seemed to concur that Kevin Dockery and Sebrina White should have won in the Old Skool category. I spoke to a few spectators who felt that Lawrence Parker and Ginger Jackson should have placed higher, but I’m just happy to see L. P. get in the win column after 7 years of competing. L. P. said, “It’s been so long in coming I had mixed emotions about winning. I wanted to feel happy, and I should have been happy, but instead I just didn’t have any feelings.” As for Ginger, out of all the contestants who entered the contest from California, she was the most over looked, yet she’s the only one who came home with a trophy. Ginger is only third person originally from California to win a trophy in the World’s Largest with Big Al and Tamara Lloyd being the first couple 5 or 6 years ago.
As for Royce Banks and Candace Hinton, they should be recognized for proving the critics wrong. After the prelims I heard A LOT of people say they didn’t look good together. They said Royce was going to out dance Candace in the Old Skool category and flip back into New Skool mode. Well, I guess you guys were wrong. They danced well together and did enough to get in the money.
I must mention another couple that I thought had a strong chance of getting some money, and that was Smoke and Monique. They danced awesome together and had to be in high contention. Even though they didn’t place, from what I heard they were surely a crowd favorite.
New Skool Category
I was actually surprised that Drew and Keesha won the New Skool category. Not because they didn’t dance well, but because they didn’t fit the theme the judges seemed to be going with for the evening. That is to say, if you look at the winning selections, the judges seemed to want to be entertained on Saturday night, so in a number of instances they chose entertainment over skill it seems. Drew and Keesha danced a pretty technical new skool dance, outside of a cool quarter drop with some footwork mixed in.
Now Alfred Johnson and Marsha’s dance was anything but technical. I must say, I have been one of Alfred’s biggest critics, constantly giving him a hard time for his fun and eccentric style of dance, but on Saturday night he give me and any other critic of his dance a big “F&$% YOU” by sticking to his style and winning 2nd place in the contest. And I begrudgingly have to admit that I was very entertained by his performance. Was it technical Steppin … No. However, it is a contest and entertainment is a big part of it, so I commend Alfred and Marsha on their win and both the judges and the crowd were in full agreement.
I was also happy to see Maurice Thomas and Ann Hunter get some money in the World’s Largest. Had Pete Frazier never gotten rid of the Out-of-Towners category Maurice probably never would have reached his true potential. No we all get a chance to see what he’s really capable of against the best of his era and he’s proving what we all knew to be true, that he’s a force to be reckoned with. It doesn’t hurt that he has one of the very best followers in the game with him in Ann Hunter, who always seems to rise to the occasion come competition time.
Lastly, I want to mention that I thought Carlton Puckett and Lauren LaGrone did superb in the New Skool category. They didn’t place but they took risks and they made an accounting of themselves in the contest and to me that’s a Step closer to winning. One of the hardest things to do in the contest, with three couples on the floor, is to get both the judges and the audience to focus on YOU. Once everyone knows that you can bring some heat to the floor, they’ll be on the lookout for the next year. This couple will win eventually if they stick to it because they have the right look, the right attitude, and they’re both getting better. I believe their both protégé’s of Steppin B, who was on hand to watch his pupils perform. As any instructor would be, he was critical of their performance saying, “I thought they could have taken it up another notch. They didn’t POP to me.” I said, “Well if they didn’t POP, who did?” He laughed and said, “Good point!”
Last but not least I cannot forget to mention my girl Jannice Robertson and her brother Paul who came back to the contest after 23 years to win the contest again. Jannice and Paul looked great in their custom made blue jean outfits and gave us a flash back in time with fancy footwork and handwork. Afterwards Jannice said, “I didn’t feel complete being told that I couldn’t do the splits in the Legends Category. The splits were a part of my dance that made me a Legend.” I reminded her however, that she has many tools and the splits were just one of them, and she proved that Saturday night.
That’s about all for my long list of reflections, but here are a few interesting take home facts …
1. Chicago males swept the Old Skool Category.
2. Out-of-Towners swept the New Skool Category
3. Drew said he would win every single category of the contest he competed in this year and he damn near did. He got first in Trio and New Skool category and his students won Beginners. Only category he lost was Walking.
4. Ginger Jackson was the only Stepper from California to place in the World’s Largest Steppers Contest this year, and part of the only 2nd couple ever. Ginger told me after the contest, “I think my stock is rising.” (Laughing)
5. Jannice Robertson has won a place every time she’s competed. The first time she competed however, she danced against 72 couples. She won again on Saturday night for her first time dancing since the 2nd Annual World’s Largest Steppers Contest. To put that in perspective for you … when Jannice won her first World’s Largest Steppin Contest, Drew Alexander hadn’t been born yet!
6. Drew danced against his protégé Ed Donaldson in New Skool and Walkers, and actually lost to one of his students, Wakeba Reid in Walkers.