Detroit’s Steppin Son Comes Home to Roost! Back
Mar 20, 2014
By Tracey Bivens
There have been a lot of people through the years who have yearned to have dual residences in both Detroit and Chicago. Steppers from Detroit traveled back and forth from Detroit down west I-94 during the late 90s and early 2000s to get their weekly or monthly fix for years. There is, however, one man who can boast of having the best of both worlds. Maurice "Reese” Thomas . Thomas can often be recognized for the potpourri of clothing styles that he wears (especially his hats), his legendary Detroit skating style or simple for his skills in steppin. However, today, Maurice Thomas wants you to hear his voice through this interview and he wants you to listen to it very carefully.
Tracey: Maurice…this interview is long overdue. I was a true fan of Northland Roller Rink and Detroit Roller Wheels for years. Since skating is just as big in our steppin community, which rink did you claim as your home and the birthplace of your skating skills?
Maurice: That would be the E.U. Chess on the corner of Stoepel and Puritan…right by Livernois. I started with the Rockin’ Rollers with Eldon Brown who taught me how to skate and then I went with the Rollin Stars with Carl Williams. A lot of the moves in the Rockin Rollers group… we called them hops… we re-did them from what the legends were doing and upgraded them like they do in new skool steppin. Eldon had always instilled in us to reach back and help other up and coming skaters. I taught Reggie Gunn how to skate when we were up on the 8 mile and Meyers rink and Reggie is the best male roller skater out there to this day I proud to say.
Tracey: When did you move from Detroit to Chicago officially?
Maurice: I first came to Chicago in 1986. I stayed there for like 8 months and moved to Waukegan, IL. I served in the military there.
Tracey: Did your tailoring skills and unique style of clothing come before steppin did?
Maurice: Yeah…way before steppin. Having style, being able to dress and having swag was always your first priority growing up in Detroit. It was like our second religion. It kind of started with my mother getting me to help her make her little outfits to go out in. I started helping her do things to her dress to make it stand out. My best friend’s mom was a seamstress for a living and she showed me a lot of stuff and then it just carried on.
Tracey: Who gave you this fierce competitive drive you have in steppin?
Maurice: When we were skating, Eldon Brown taught me how to be a competitor and that’s where I got my drive from. He taught me how to have that and I tell him that if it hadn’t been for him a lot of us guys would have been on the street at 13 and 14. He drilled it and drilled it into us to be the best at everything we did. So it became a part of everything I did. Everything I make as far as my outfits comes from when Eldon and our groups used to put our shows together. He would sit us down and we would make our outfits and that’s how I came into the fashion side of who I am.
Tracey: Okay…you’ve been very vocal in the last year about staying "true to the steppin game.” What exactly does that mean?
Maurice: To me…before you claim anything in your life…even outside of steppin…you have to claim the culture, become a defender of the culture and all those things you really need to know become viable when you get into what you do and why you do it and knowing where it came from.
Tracey: Why is Tyk Myn such a big influence in your life?
Maurice: I met Tyk years ago when I was much younger. Tyk was always "my guy.” I like him as a guy because he don’t put up no barriers or smokescreen. He’s going to always tell you what you need to do. He used to always tell me "it’s not going to take anything from me to show you this dance. You know this dance…don’t try to be what I am and what you see everybody else doing. You don’t have to look like anybody to get where you need to be in this dance.”
Tracey: Detroit steppers have struggled with gaining the respect of Chicago steppers for over a decade. Do you feel that the Chicago steppers respect your steppin skills even though you are originally from Detroit?
Maurice: Yeah… because they watched me for so long and they understood that I didn’t just walk through the door and start being what I am now. I went through the storm and I took the defeats but I came back. Being defeated made me go work harder and made me the stepper I am today. When people notice that about me…they develop a deeper level of respect for who I am as a stepper.
Tracey: You’ve competed in several contests. The WLSC and most recently Versatile Productions’ Champions of the Dance Floor in the steppin category with Ann Hunter. Yes…you both received a standing ovation and there was a lot of whooping and hollering for the two of you to win and deservedly so. I was impressed by both of you because you and Ann did the damn thing that Saturday! However, young master Drew and Trina Perryman pulled out all the stops and came in first place. Can you accept that the judges just didn’t score the two of you as high that night without reading anymore into it?
Maurice: No. People scream politics and after you’ve been through this a few times…you can’t blame politics on everything. I did what I was supposed to do. The only reason it bothered me like it did because I looked at my partner’s eyes and I could see that her feelings were hurt. I told her she did everything she was supposed to. Her outfit was nice, her ponytail was on point…she understood. But I couldn’t understand what the judges did and why they did it. Coming into Detroit where it’s heavy, heavy Drew… I knew what territory I was coming into. I didn’t like the way Ann’s personal style was attacked by the judges or the way Sherry’s and Ed’s style was attacked. The judges voted Ann down on appearance and dress. Ann did a repeat on the trio category as a champion being who she was. I didn’t get that.
Tracey: I don’t want the public to see you as a sore loser because you did not come in first place. What did YOU want everyone, especially the judges, to see that were there Saturday night at Andiamo’s as well as the You Tube footage of you and Ann’s performance?
Maurice: The people that came to the contest got what they needed to see from us. They saw what happened whether we won or loss. Me and Ann proved something to Detroit. We proved that if we go out there and put our best effort forward… people are going to come up to you and speak the truth. That’s what’s been going on for the last couple of weeks with me and Ann from other people. The spoken truth.
Tracey: Now playing the devil’s advocate, since you didn’t win and see many contests as being flawed, if you get in another one…you know people are gonna talk about you right?
Maurice: They gonna talk (laughing). You gotta just go with what you know. What can they possibly say? You don’t know my record. I change everything I do. I have a philosophy on how to win and how to take a loss. That fuels me even more. Losing has made me what I am today. My biggest thing is I’ve proven myself as a dancer…as a performer…as an entertainer and a stepper…I cannot go wrong. The results will be what they NEED to be.
Tracey: Right now, Drew Alexander is a super power in the contest world. He’s young, fast, popular and seemingly flawless on the dance floor. You came in 2nd. That’s not too shabby considering many contestants have not come that close when they’ve competed against Drew and his partners in the past. Have you looked at it that way?
Maurice: It’s a good feeling. Everybody on that floor can dance…Feo and Candace especially! When they feelin it…they bring it! Sherry and Ed got that ability. Nikee and Tori can pull it off…they all can. I study what Drew does and how he does it. I’ve seen what I need to see for me to have the advantage. The biggest thing about this contest is that no one saw it coming... me and Ann. They didn’t understand. When they looked at us it was like, "What are they gonna do?” I knew who I was dancing with. I knew the King of the Hill (Drew) was there. I had to excel beyond what I normally do. I can’t come in and walk through a couple of turns. I had to grab the crowd…shake them and turn them loose.
Tracey: I admire your style Maurice and appreciate the many talents you bring to the steppin community. I pray that your clothing line takes off and that you continue to provide your many fans and friends with what they seek from you…which is?
Maurice: They want the difference. No matter who you are, what you are…people want "different.” People get stuck with the same old same old and that’s causes people to say "we should do it another way.” If we walked out of our homes with black and white and blue and white everyday as opposed to lime green…we are not giving "different.” I’m giving something original which means different isn’t bad.