Come Into the Ballroom and Step...A candid interview with Detroit’s own Demetrius Jones. Back
Apr 3, 2014
By Tracey Bivens
I think in some ways it’s kind of silly to expect to see only mainstay steppers from Detroit being interviewed on I Love Steppin.com because so many dancers from Detroit have a little bit of everything sprinkled into their dance repertoire. Demetrius Jones is no exception. In our very first conversation ever with a Detroit Ballroomer (for the most part), Demetrius dispels some myths about his contribution to Detroit steppin, who really is at fault with Detroit Ballroom Dancers and Detroit Steppers not seeing eye to eye and what the future holds for the Detroit ballroom dance industry on a national level.
Tracey: Demetrius, we go back a minute...you and I. I remember the first time I saw you at the Elks Lodge in Highland Park back in 1993 and I wanted to cry. I really respect all of my elders in the dance community. I kept hearing about this guy named Harold from the people in Detroit who Latin Hustled… I heard from former Scene Dance Show dancers that bragged about you… your make believe arch rival Bobby Williams gave you ultimate props and I saw you in footage of the TNT Dancers who were the first organized pop-lockin, hip shakin Hip Hop group out of Detroit. Which dance actually came first for you?
Demetrius: Actually…the freestyle street dancing came first as far as an entertainment perspective. I grew up with my sisters and they taught me how to do the bop and the social. The freestyle poppin…we called it Disco Jazz back then when I was with TNT. Before TNT, I was with a group called the Detroit Strutters which grew into TNT Incorporated aka Tough and Naturally Together.
Tracey: With all of this dance talent under your belt, what titles and experiences can you share with us today that you consider major accomplishments?
Demetrius: Wow! I guess I would have to first start off with the TNT group. They allowed me to express myself in the arts and it really was a springboard to my partnered dancing. I would also say when me and Tanya Johnson won 1st place the MGM Grand Ultimate Ballroom Showdown and won $10,000. We were considered the best of the best on more than just a local level in that compeition.
Tracey: You have had some dynamic dance partners over the years for all of the different dances that you did. Who are some of them?
Demetrius: First and foremost…Tanya Johnson is probably the most influential and visible partner. We were partnering in the late 90s and we have done so many different projects together. I also partnered and competed with Sherry Gordon for a few years. Sherry and I definitely had our moments in Ballroom dancing. We won the Norma Miller Award, one of the greatest swing dancers to ever live, for the best showcase couple at the tri-state connection competition in Leesburg, VA in the early 2000s. I have also partnered with Norma Early in more recent years on a performance level. Ann Hunter is another dynamic dancer and we’ve also done some performances together.
Tracey: Okay…let’s change directions here for a moment. I don’t think many people know this about you. You were one of the first male steppers to learn this dance and teach it in Detroit weren’t you? How did that happen?
Demetrius: Well…we (the ballroom dancers) were at Reggie’s Moulin Rouge one night and Larry Thomas (brother of retired NBA Detroit Pistons guard) came in and he was showing us that steppin style of dance that they did in Chicago. Sherry, Shelia Carter and James Pacely…we were messing around with the dance at the Elks Lounge every week. Those three were going back and forth to Chicago on the regular but my work schedule didn’t make it possible for me to go as much as they did. I would like to say that my biggest influence in actually learning that dance was Shelia. She is the one that actually challenged me to learn the dance because I had familiarity with all the other dances we did here in Detroit so it just made sense that I learn how to Chicago Step. She was that one who had that swag and got me into it. From there…Friends United was birthed and I was an original male member along with James Pacely. This was how my steppin career started…in the late 90s…early 2000s.
Tracey: Now it’s no secret that steppin has climbed a little bit higher than ballroom dancing here in Detroit. In terms of influencing a lot of ballroomers switching to steppin…why do you think that is?
Demetrius: I think primarily because the instructors and leaders in the ballroom community lack innovation. I think if we would share our dance in a fashion that would inspire people...people would be more apt to stick with it. All swing dances are exciting. Whether it’s West Coast Swing, DC Hand Dance, Philly Bop…innovation and creativity is the major difference. Ballroom is really laid back and low key these days...instructionally and performance wise. Our ballroom community leaders…we don’t travel the cities and share our dance on a large scale like the steppers do. Ballroom dancing could be a little more colorful than it is. I will say that I do quite a bit of traveling and I was the first Ballroom instructor to travel to Milwaukee and helped to launch one of their dance organizations. Milwaukee Boppers and Steppers United changed their name to Milwaukee Ballroomers & Steppers United after I introduced them to ballroom dancing. We took Detroit Ballroom there in 2003…ballrooming hasn’t grown a lot but it is there and they are ballrooming in Milwaukee.
Tracey: You learned how to step and you were even teaching it for awhile. Why didn’t you stick with Chicago Step with the same amount of intensity that other Detroit dancers did?
Demetrius: Well Chicago steppin wasn’t in my heart but I was dedicated to that dance when I was available on an instructional level and performance level. The reason why I didn’t keep teaching it…I had a major work schedule change. Friends United would teach every Monday and once I fell out of the loop…I was just left to learn and pick up things on the fly. I couldn’t get off into the teaching aspect of it for that reason.
Tracey: There is a belief system that the ballroomers and the steppin community do not support each other when it comes to social events. In that same belief, each camp blames each other for the "great divide” in the Detroit dance community. Who’s really at fault in your opinion Demetrius?
Demetrius: For the divide? I’m not sure if the Chicago Steppers are willing to embrace ballroom like we ballroomers embrace steppin. It is sort of selfish on the Chicago side. They want people to learn steppin but they don’t want to learn ballroom dancing. If we are willing to embrace steppin…the Chicago heavy hitters should learn how to ballroom. We could probably co-exist and have this large scale urban dance event one day. Now as far as Detroit is concerned, I feel that the "former” male ballroomers in Detroit couldn’t step up there game in ballroom and settled for steppin. I, at this point in my career, am still creating stuff and being innovative. A lot of the male ballroomers get bored because they were boring themselves...truth be told.
Tracey: I would like to believe that both dance communities will allow each other to grow as they go and not try and make people feel guilty into choosing one dance over the other. Do you think it will happen?
Demetrius: It can…but the dance community leaders would really have to come together from the ballrooming and steppin side. The "former” ballroomers who are now steppin instructors need to help the community a lot more by allowing both sides to share in the glory…just like we used. I’m all for new things…I’m not stuck in a time warp…I like Classic Sundays but (Laughing)…it’s time to open up and broaden Urban Dancing. If we give an event…if it’s given by a ballroom group we they try to accommodate everyone but there are some steppin organizations that don’t support all the dances. Let’s be honest. Some events are labeled one thing but you get there and it’s something different. We need to be honest with each other and try to fix this problem…it can only get better.
Tracey: Are there any new gentlemen on the ballroom scene these days whose talents are developing where they could rival the creativity of you, Bobby Williams, and Kevin Collins?
Demetrius: Yes. I think Cornelius "Corn” Mickels who worked with me on the Ballroom Explosion Dance Team. He also won Versatile Productions’ Champions of the Dance Floor two years in a row with Laura Goodwin. RaShaad Azi who competed with Norma Early in this year’s Champions contest, has been taking privates with me and had some lessons with Chuck Boone as well. He’s only been dancing a year so I’m really encouraged by his talents.
Tracey: The Ballroom Explosion is coming up. What is the mission statement of that event?
Demetrius: The Ballroom Explosion’s mission is to bring awareness to all Urban Style dancing. We want to raise the consciousness of our Urban Style Dance community. Whether it’s Baltimore and DC Bop, Philly Bop, West Coast Swing…these dances have different names but share the same discipline. We want everyone to come together in one room…on one dance floor. We are not main stream. A lot of people don’t know how dynamic and great we are in our own way. To see some Baltimore and DC hand dancers perform…it’s amazing! We are very proud that it’s growing and people are enjoying this "all styles” dance event.
Tracey: Any final thoughts…?
Demetrius: I appreciate the opportunity to be the first nonstepper to be interviewed on this site. Hopefully I won’t be the last! (Laughing) I also hope I’m making the ballroom community proud.