An Open Letter...The Detroit Steppers Network Back
Apr 15, 2014
By Tracey Bivens
When you are as active as I have been in the Detroit Steppin community for the last 15 years, it’s pretty hard to stay out of the limelight of controversy. I accept that.
However, when I scrolled through the Michigan Steppers.com site this past Saturday, I happened upon a flyer which read that The Detroit Steppers Network was throwing a party on August 14. It amazed and shocked me to see the flyer because I was under the impression that the group had disbanded.
Let me give you a bit of history about the Detroit Steppers Network. During the years of 2008-2010, I had a series of conversations with Sherry Gordon about ways in which we could help the steppin community grow. Detroit had a pretty nice representation of men and women at that time, but the need for more men was and always will be a mainstay with every city. Long story short, Sherry and I wanted to create a group called The Detroit Steppers Network. This was a group that was designed to mend old wounds, bring instructors, DJs, promoters and community members together. All profits were to be donated back into the community with a little compensation being given back for gas money, incidentals, etc. to the group members. Nothing more…nothing less.
So, I went down to the Detroit City County building and purchased the name, "The Detroit Steppers Network,” not knowing that I had to paid yearly taxes on it. My job was to contact all of the instructors in Detroit who taught steppin and ask them to donate their time and energy to a series of free workshops around the Detroit Metropolitan area for a year. The big prize would be that in after a year, we would see the fruit of our hard labor at a main set given in August. We called it "Project 300.” The local DJs also agreed to give of their time, equipment and efforts freely. Other members of the community were also invited to be a part of the scene as well. The Steppers Café would be our clubhouse and Bobby Green, the president, with Ann Hunter as his vice, graciously volunteered to let the organization have some free and discounted fundraisers with food in this establishment. The main focus of our mission statement, which I wrote and had approved by the members, was to never "line our pockets” with money off of the backs of Detroiters and visitors.
Our first set was successful in that the community came out for Project 300 and new students were recruited into the world of steppin. Many new talents were discovered during this process. I never knew how talented Lynne "Ms. Cheesecake” Batten was with her marketing and culinary skills until this event unfolded. Jeff Clark was very instrumental in providing us with various marketing outlets and contacts as did Emile and KP, who provided the group with DJ equipment that we so desperately needed.
The second year, some people decided the organization was not for them…in the formal sense, but the heart and soul still surrounded our mission with their volunteerism. After the second Project 300 event, I personally decided to focus on my personal life because there were members who wanted to throw parties at Cobo Hall and charge people $50 and $75 a ticket and I wasn’t on that page. Every conversation just seemed to center around "mo money…mo money”. I was ridiculed and dogged out by some of the remaining members who selfishly felt that I should sacrifice my life and stay with the organization so they could make money. I left the group with the understanding that I only wanted to part with the name, "The Detroit Steppers Network,” in the event that Sherry Gordon and I would later resurrect the group in the same charitable capacity it was meant to be used for.
If you ever want to gauge how serious people are when they say they "support” the dance community see if they follow this recipe. I should know because I’ve practiced it for the last 15 years. I have provided free steppin lessons, supported other organizations’/instructors sets, workshops and classes, participated in steppin organizations for free, written interviews, articles or commentaries for free, designed flyers and websites for free, driven to other cities to promote their dance sets, etc.
Am I upset? Well…yeah. As one of the Detroit pioneers of this dance…I see the face of Detroit steppin going in another direction. I believe that every organization has a right to make money if they provide a community service. Thriving organizations only work when you are giving back to your community at the same time…there’s a balance. Sherry Gordon, Rodney Mack, Jeff Clark, Bobby Green, Freda Jenkins and Larry Collins taught me those principles through the years. Lately, I’m not seeing too much of that. Last year, BHG member, Frank Westley, threw a set to help kids in the community go to camp during the summer but later had to deal with people questioning why he wanted to do something for kids and why was he having a raffle, etc. You’ve got to be kidding me! I now see individuals choosing to undercut DJs by disrespecting them by offering to play sets for free or discounted prices so that the previously hired DJ’s negotiated fees becomes null and void. I see individuals choosing to throw parties for "whatever reason” just to make a buck off of the backs of consumers. And I now see individuals making up stories about me, who have never themselves contributed freely to steppin, and stating that I was stupid for wanting to move on with my life when I first left the group.
When I asked that the name Sherry Gordon and I came up with not be used by the current leadership, I was told by the president, "I don’t care if you don’t think it should be used or not. We paid for the name and we are gonna make money off of it! Hope you not mad.” My question to him was this. Why not use "313 Network”? Why not use "The Progressive Steppers”? I was told, "No!” I have never and would never disrespect a pioneer of this dance or any other dance like that with that kind of blatant disrespect. When you have had a love affair with the dance world, built relationships and gone through the fire with people…you don’t want to see those efforts compromised. The Detroit Steppers Network was my baby...our baby.
Do I still believe Detroit steppin will continue to grow? Well…flowers grow but so do weeds. I will always have a love for the dance and its progression but greed… needs to be swept off of the dance floor with the powder at the end of the night.