Enter 2016: For the Love of the Dance Back
Jan 1, 2016
By Tracey Bivens
A picture is worth a thousand words. Well… this picture is worth about 60 years…of dance experience that is. I wanted to end out 2015 and begin 2016 with a reminder of what it means to love “dance”. People will often say, “I love this dance.” I submit that some people truly do not have an understanding of what loving “dance” is. Some people use dance as a weapon to punish people by not dancing with them because they go to other people’s classes. Some people use dance to make money off of people through workshops and privates knowing the students have capped off at their personal best but I think the worst crime of all are instructors who look at their students through the eyes of contest judges and evaluate every step they take on the strength that it either is or isn’t good enough to win “a contest.” Where is the love in these actions?
In this picture, I am standing with Sherry Gordon and Tanya Johnson…both of Detroit. I have known both of them since the early 1990s when we were in the thick of learning Detroit Style Ballrooming, Bopping, Latin Hustling and Graystone dancing. We were a handful of young women who had seen the dances around the city and instantly wanted to learn this dance that was being done by older people in their 40s and 50s. There were no classes back then…just learning from the older gentlemen who would take the time to show us on the floor. There have always been dance contests but they were not given on such broad scales as the Worlds Largest in Chicago. They were contests that showcased peoples’ talents and the people were rewarded with money and a small trophy at the end of the night. It was over after that. We all did contests back then.
I remember watching Tanya doing one leg sit spins being guided by H. Demetrius Jones. He would drill her down to the floor on one leg and she would come right back up on that one leg that while her other leg was folded across her knee the entire time…flawlessly. She kept a smile on her face in every contest she entered and everything she did looked effortless. Sherry had entered and won her fair share of ballroom contests as well and often performed for large groups of people around the city and Chicago. To date, Sherry has been the only woman I’ve seen do multiple reverse spins in excess of 4-6 times to the right and or left without the assistance of a partner. They were amazing.
I did the contest thing too with Bobby Williams and had the opportunity to do signature moves with the Latin Hustle but was turned off by the people who tried to create drama amongst Sherry, Tanya and I for entertainment purposes. Oh yeah…people love to see you perform on a stage and will build you up but take great pleasure in trying to tear you down afterwards. Sherry, Tanya and I briefly fell into the trap of not communicating with one another being young and inexperienced in the politics of the dance but it didn’t last because the love we had for dancing took over.
When steppin came to Detroit, Sherry founded Friends United and introduced hundreds of people into the world of fundamental steppin for years. You could and can still see Sherry working with someone in a corner or the dance floor trying to make sure they understand the dance. She could be dog butt tired from working a 12 hour shift or sick as a dog but if she has made a commitment, she honored it. Notice I said understand the dance not “get it right for the stage” like so many other instructors have a tendency to do.
Tanya began steppin but focused on Ballroom and Latin Hustling with World Class Productions. She has taught many young ladies how to be graceful and poised with the dance while exemplifying great strength and creativity. Ahh…that innate creativity that Tanya has is often imitated but has never been duplicated in the 25 years I’ve watched her dance.
Yes…25 years of being agile enough to compete, instruct and have fun has been no easy task. The three of us have experienced death, injuries, family issues, job stresses, etc. but none of us has ever had to lie, tear down or manipulate anyone to be successful in the dance. I define success in this dance as being someone who will try to bring 300 people from around the city of Detroit into the steppin world for 11 months by offering free workshops like me and Sherry did with the Project 300 crew. Or…I can define success in the dance as Tanya going out into the schools and showcasing the dance in front of young girls for free so they can focus on developing social graces and etiquette while still in school and not have to search for it on the dance floor like we had to do back at The Elks, Reggie’s Moulin Rouge and the Detroit West Club. My contributions have included teaching in the form of Centerstage Productions, Unique Steppin Styles and Profiles, Project 300 and writing for Chistepper and I Love Steppin.com for the last 10 years.
If you struggle with the definition of love when it comes to dancing, then I have just provided for you a template of it. You all see the fancy performances from Sherry and Tanya but I have seen the hard work and hours of practice that they have put in with the aches and pains…25 years of it…yet they are both still here…dancing. We all are. Do you love “the dance”? How do you know?
I implore you to go into 2016 with a renewed look about “dance.” Dance is about giving…not taking. It’s about being responsible and leaving a path for others to follow…while you lead. It’s about understanding the fidelity of the dance and not leaving it to your own interpretation. It’s never been about the money but if it is…invest some “free time” back into the dance community. I’m sure there are Sherrys and Tanyas in every city that has a dance community in it with more than five years. If not...you can most assuredly follow in their footsteps.
Sherry and Tanya…I am proud to have taken this picture with you two as we come upon 25 years in the “dance world.” What a blessing and an honor it is because it has always been about the love of the dance.