Making Their Presence Known...with Chicago’s Rich Jackson and Bri Thomas Back
Sept 25, 2016
By Tracey Bivens
I am a huge fan of steppin dance partnerships when the chemistry is there. Over the years I’ve seen Andre Blackwell and Drew Alexander bring out the best in their dance partners, Kevin “Doc” Dockery showcases his partnership with different women well and of course… Tyk Myn. It takes a special talent, however, to hit the stage with so much talent, chemistry and technique that sometimes when that one dance partnership is right…it’s right! I took the time to talk to Worlds Largest Steppers Contest 2nd Place New Skool winners, Rich Jackson and Bri Thomas. They talk about the sophisticated and classy style that they bring to the dance floor, the things that are missing from the contest experience and what their dance means to each other.
Tracey: Rich…we all know how important it is to come to the table with talent in steppin. We also know that many steppers also like to offer their services to “coach” one another during the learning process…especially around contest time. Was anyone coaching you a factor in this win?
Rich: Well...as far as coaching me I had Josiah Burt. He was my supporter and my pusher when it came to the male side of the dance. He told me to dance, dance, dance! He was really strict when it came to coaching me and the gloves were off. When it comes to Bri…she is an excellent coach as well. I couldn’t have run into anyone better than her. She also pushed me. She has won many...many times…and trophies. So you know I had to step my game up. (Laughing) With him on one side and her I had to step it up. As far as people I’ve watched and taken things from over the years…I had Tyk Myn, Claudell Jackson, Vicki Henning, Pat Clay, Joanne Cain, and Tina Wilson on the Walkin side. Tina gave me all the weapons with Walkin. You’ve also got Valarie Strictland and Peaches Anderson. When we first met… Peaches used to give me a lot of help to better my dance on the male side. Diane Davney…old school…great dancer and supporter. G from Donnie Davis’ class. All these people…I can’t do nothing but praise them and I never want to stop learning. But Bri definitely supports me 110%.
Tracey: Bri…I don’t think I can ask you the same question because you’ve had much steppin success with your family over the last decade. But I will ask you this…has anything changed that’s making you ‘feel some kind of way’ about the direction that the dance is going in?
Bri: It’s a lot of politics for one. You get in to win and to have fun but its like when your friends are on the panel and you see the other people aren’t doing what their supposed to do… and they win? It makes you look at the dance differently. For me…it was all about getting Rich out there. I’ve had my time. I’ve won six times. For me to give someone that’s coming out feel the win like I have… it’s a pleasure. It (the politics) doesn’t really bother me too much anymore and I enjoy my partner more than other partners I’ve had because there’s no pressure. I don’t have a problem with the contest itself…you either get in it or you don’t. You have a choice. You basically takin a chance either way.
Tracey: When I saw you two at the Champions of the Dance Floor last year in Detroit, I could not and still don’t believe you two did not place and quite frankly can’t believe you didn’t not take 1st place after I saw your prelims performance. What do you think happens when it appears that the judges are so off in their scoring?
Rich: You know…that…that’s a touchy one. When me and Bri walked away from the Champions of the Dance Floor we were kind of shaken but when we saw the video we said we couldn’t believe we didn’t win. We were nervous. We hear stories about favorites and all but the dance should tell the story of who won. I thought we gave a beautiful dance. When you are on the floor you try and give it your all and you hope everything comes out correct. But we were in Detroit and we understand there’s a rivalry with Detroit dancers. From what I heard… there were a lot of favorites that the judges liked when we were in that contest. Afterwards, one of the judges told me that he felt we should have won but we told him we were coming back. (Laughing)
Bri: The judges are not looking at the technique with the dance. They are looking at their friends. The thing is when they say “contest” it’s based on appearance, synchronization and they don’t see that. When me and my partner came out…we came out flawless and to see somebody else come in first when it looked like they were battling each other…didn’t have on the same color…I didn’t know what the judges were looking at. For Rich and I to be in that contest for the first time...I did expect to place. Our performance was flawless. It was like… confusing to me…what I saw…you can’t out dance your partner…it’s the chemistry. I have chemistry with pretty much anybody I dance with. I was handicapped before so you have to learn when enough is enough. You have to have a balance. I’ma let you shine…now you shine…but don’t overdo it.
Tracey: I think it is safe to say that as far as dancing…you two are a match made in heaven. What do you two give each other on the dance floor?
Rich: Bri gives me a lot of support. We have been through a lot. A lot of people look at her and say she’s mean but she’s a sweetheart. I couldn’t have worked with a better person in these dance contests. She pushes me to the limit. She doesn’t let me get complacent with anything that I do… in a healthy way. She gets me to where I’m trying to go. I respect her so much and I’m so thankful that she came into my life on the dance floor that I owe her so much. Competing is one thing…chemistry is a whole other ball game. We have it. I listen to her because she has a resume out of this world. I’ve been dancing for five years. When I got older I broke away from the club life and I got into steppin and I fell in love with the dance… so when I found someone that had a passion for dance like Bri...she gave me the passion and push in trying to be better.
Bri: Rich asked me to work with him. I’ve known him for the whole five years he’s been dancing. One night after the 50 Yard Line, I gave him my card and told him I’d work with him but I’d seen the hunger and drive in him and that’s how I was. When I first started, I pushed myself and kept pushing myself. I never counted…never went to a class. In the beginning, to dance with Rich I told him, “You hard to dance with.” (Laughing) He was one person I could never put my finger on why it was so hard. The more time we spent with each other trying to get him to get that count out his head and to stop his wheels from turning…he stopped thinking and that’s when things started coming into play. I couldn’t have asked for a better partner. It’s a chemistry that we have now that’s unbreakable. There’s nothing I wouldn’t do for him. He’s been there 100% for me. He’s my best friend and I couldn’t ask for a better person to be in my life.
Tracey: For me…steppin has always had its fair share of politics and negativity. I think that it’s very difficult for some people to move forward in this dance because they don’t respect the pioneers in the dance that came before them and when you look at some contest footage… they don’t respect the dance period. How important is respecting the dance and the people that paved the way for you?
Rich: It is so important to respect the people that came before you. If they weren’t there…where would we be? They brought the dance to us. To act as if they never existed is dead wrong. You got Pony Mack, Ice Ray, Desi O’Kelley Smith, Josiah Burt, Ty Skippy and Celeste…I respect them to the utmost. My mother wouldn’t let me come out and hang out when I was younger. But when I got a chance to learn it…I realized that it was about style…dressing…minus the gangster part (Laughing)…the way they carried themselves…there wasn’t any foolishness in the game. If they did do something on the dance floor…it was done in an adult way. A lot of these New Skool steppers… when they dress…they do something different. Steppers should be clean fresh dressed adults. When I see gym shoes and t-shirts and jeans every time I go out…that’s not what steppin is supposed to represent. A lot of the New Skool steppers come out with their shenanigans and it’s turnin into a clown show. Some of the stuff their doing is not steppin. It’s nice to be creative but let’s be creative the right way. People that created steppin can’t even fathom what their seeing the dance turn into.
Bri: Well… when I started the dance I’d seen the pioneers. I respect them to the utmost. They paved the way for us. Now I get the love from them because they’ve seen my growth and it feels good when they come up to me and they say, “Yall should’ve placed” or “I can’t believe yall didn’t win.” The pioneers give respect because I give it. The younger steppers don’t respect the pioneers. Rich thanked me sooo much when we won. It felt good. (Laughing)
Tracey: In one word, what can we viewers expect to see from future dance collaborations between you two?
Rich: Class. One word. Class. That’s what we’re bringing to the table. For her (Sabrina) to be classy is normal. I told her she has a “sexy gangsta” thing going on. That’s what we’re bringing to the table.
Bri: I agree. (Laughing) Rich’s dance and the way he carries himself… he’s a sexy gangsta too. (Laughing) His dance has improved so much but I didn’t do it…he already had it in him. I just brought it out. It was already there. I showed him where to put it and how to use it.
Tracey: Anything else that you two would like to add?
Rich: I love this dance…I respect this dance and I would like this dance to stay in the steppin community and not branch off into other cultures and see it turn into something else. I’ve sat in meetings where people didn’t know the difference between Old School and New Skool. Let’s just keep it steppin…whether it’s mellow or advanced style… we can’t cause confusion with it by changing up the labels. Where we’re headed…people think they got to do things that may hurt themselves on the contest floor…we’re older. Also, people are pouring so much powder on the dance floor and they using sooo much of it…it’s dangerous. That Worlds Largest dance floor was like ice and it was really scary. The contest is one thing…you’re already nervous and it made Bri mad. We couldn’t do what we wanted to do. That’s what I’m talking about. These changes that’s messin with the dance. I told her we were bringing a mop and a broom next year. (Laughing) When we stayed in the dress shoes and suits… we weren’t doing all those flips and things. That started when they started allowing the jeans to come onto the steppin floor.
Bri: I want the dance to go back to where we had to dress when we had the prelims. Why would I want to see you in jeans and gym shoes when I’m dressed? I think Rich and I set a standard when we came dressed to impress and we did our thing. We set the bar high. Hopefully next year everybody will be on the same page.
You can check out one of Rich's and Bri's 2016 Champion on the Dance Floor performance by clicking the link below: