Detroit’s Own Kevin Collins - Straight Up-Can You Handle His Truth? Back
Jul 9, 2014
By Tracey Bivens
Of all the dance personalities in the Detroit dance world, I must say that Kevin "Flash” Collins is one of the most frank and unapologetic individuals I have ever met. Kevin embraces the many trophies, accolades, national performances and criticisms that he has embarked upon for the last 35 years of his Detroit Ballroom, Latin Hustle, Bop and Graystone dance career. Of course, with this being an I Love Steppin based blog site, I can undeniably state that Kevin Collins helped usher in New Skool steppin in Chicago back in 1996. That’s right…Detroit’s own Kevin Collins. But don’t take my word for it. Read on as Kevin talks about his confidence versus his arrogance, why he refuses to step and what real dancing is.
Tracey: Kevin…Kevin…Kevin… (sighing) I know how you are when it comes to speaking your mind so I’m just trying to get my mind right for this interview. Let’s start with your first steps onto the dance floor in Detroit.
Kevin: I started dancing in 1976 in the places I could get into. The Kingsmen Club, which was down the street from Henry’s Palace, was where I was Pop Lockin and Jittin. My brother Eric Collins gave me my fundamentals though when it came to Detroit ballroom dancing. I can also credit Andre Tate who was also known as "Rock.” I admire him because he was my brother’s friend and dance rival. They danced at the Winglider which was across from Murray Wright high school in Detroit.
Tracey: Would you consider yourself one of the individuals who changed up traditional Detroit Ballroom? I know that you can be credited with the "bobble head” that we see in Boppin, the sliding across the dance floor and other "Kevinisms”.
Kevin: Yes I would. I’m a dancer who entertains. Not everyone is capable of doing that here in Detroit. I was an exotic dancer for many years and that actually helped me develop my teaching skills in ballroom dancing and of course…performing. I’m not ashamed of my history. That experience made me fearless, gave me a solid foundation in being business savvy and creative and connected me with a lot of people around the country.
Tracey: I remember when I first saw you dance at Reggie’s Moulin Rouge back in the late 90s. I told myself that I was going to dance with that man one day. When I did gather up the nerve to ask you…you told me that I wasn’t ready yet. I witnessed you say similar things to Sherry Gordon and Fran Hurst. I probably felt dejected for about five minutes but I was also inspired. I practiced day in and day out with Bobby Williams, Darryl, Al "Butch” McClinton, Demetrius Jones, Harmon, etc. and six months later…you grabbed me, we Latin Hustled and you and I received MAJOR claps that night from the audience. I was ecstatic because I felt that I had accomplished something. However, everyone doesn’t have that drive to dance with the "A listers” because they don’t want to put in the work. Do you feel guilty for telling women to get themselves together before they could dance with you?
Kevin: I knew that you, Sherry Gordon, Fran Hurst, and Tonya Johnson had talent. But you have to remember…as an exotic dancer for many years…the mindset that I had at that time was that I wanted all of the attention from the legends in the dance. I was about competing. I wanted to be the only young one that they (the older crowd at Reggie’s Moulin Rouge) paid attention to. That’s why I came to Reggie’s from UBQ… however I wasn’t embraced. The crowd went from 60 on up and when you guys started coming it turned into a 25 on up thing. I wanted to be in the candy store all by myself…it was a selfish thing…I admit it. But it was the start of something big when Al "Butch” McClinton and Angela Ireland came in that club around that same time. I will say this… look at how you all have grown in your dances.
Tracey: You were affiliated with Upscale, Tip Toe and Premier social dance organizations. Did you get kicked out of those organizations because of your "overly confident” attitude? That IS the urban legend Kevin.
Kevin: (Pauses) I was REALLY bitter for a long time about that. Now…we are ALL alright with each other….Bobby, Angie, Eldon and the rest. Things didn’t go my way and because I’m passionate about what I do... things didn’t work out. I don’t think everybody felt as I did. I do believe in the integrity of the dance and when it didn’t demonstrate that to me being in these organizations…it was time for me to move on. However…I got stronger and better after I left those groups. I do have a strong personality and misunderstandings do happen…but you have to move on.
Tracey: Let’s talk about that night you and Angela Ireland performed at Navy Pier in Chicago and you jumped off the stage and then I want you to talk about when you were in the World’s Largest Steppers contest with Tanya Johnson. People still don’t believe you competed in steppin contests.
Kevin: It is a fact. Back in the mid 90s…I was introduced to steppin by Larry Thomas. He took me, Angela Ireland, Paul and Kadijah to the Navy Pier for a dance contest. I thought it was just going to be a partnered dance contest…nothing else. He invited us to get into it. Me and Angie bopped but it looked like we were going to a faster pace than what they (Chicago steppers) were accustomed to seeing. Because I knew how to entertain crowds...I jumped off the stage in a whirling type of spin and lost because of it. That story is kind of like folklore but I have to admit Tyk Myn and Dre Blackwell and them DID start doing a lot of fast spins and other ballroom moves after they saw us that night. As far as the World’s Largest in 1997…I think it was…me and Tonya Johnson and Angelo and Autumn that got in it. I knew we could not win in Chicago no matter how good we danced or dressed but there was a young lady from Chicago sitting next to me after we competed and she said to me, "You know yall won…right?” (Laughing) It was all good.
Tracey: Kevin…you know how to do the basics of steppin but you won’t do it? Why not?
Kevin: (Laughing hard) I was so strong at the other dances but I would have done steppin well also if I would have stuck to it. But I look at it like this…when everyone ventured towards steppin…somebody had to be the gatekeeper of Ballroom dancing and the other dances from my generation. I did not want to lose the heritage of Detroit dance and get caught up. People made their choices…I made mine. So where you have 30 plus steppin instructors in Detroit…you have more room for Kevin Collins to teach the other dances…correctly.
Tracey: When it comes to James Pacely, I guess I am to blame because I remember telling James to abandon ballroom dancing and gravitate towards steppin because we needed more men to focus on that dance. I knew he was one of the guys you were grooming to become one of your ballroom dance protégé’s. Are you mad at those of us that have focused our dancing more so towards steppin?
Kevin: James Pacely has done a great job with his steppin. I’m proud of him and I smile knowing what he and I know when it comes to winning contests. I just wanted my boy to excel like I had with other forms of dancing. When it comes to great dancers…I know what I’m looking at and what I like to see. I think Darrell Brown is very good and can go to the stratosphere with his skill set. Sherry Gordon is very accomplished…she doesn’t miss a beat…you can’t lose her! I’m really proud of her also. Pamela Moore is top shelf as well. Both of those ladies can do all the dances we do and can make a mistake look good. Pam has a theatrical side that surpasses everybody. But let’s face it…as far as the growing steppin community… people like to be around people…especially in the dance world. The White party draws thousands…Dance Fusion draws hundreds. In my opinion…quality beats quantity. Mr. Smooth draws people that way. People who step have made a personal choice. Eventually…they will come back to the original dances of Detroit.
Tracey: Let’s talk about arrogance versus confidence. Which one do you possess?
Kevin: I’m both. Arrogance is the beast in me. It makes me dance. There’s nobody better. I’m the puppeteer and every other dancer is the puppet. Until someone shows me otherwise…I’m the best at what I do! The Detroit legends are the only ones that have ever made me say "Wow!!!” Legends like Sugar Dorsey, Nate Barnes, Eddie Weems and Wendell. As far as my age group in the dance…I have to say that Bobby Williams hears the music, he feels it and he lives the song for however many minutes it is. I give him props for that. As far as my confidence…it comes with the right music. I’m not always the best dancer if the music is not what I like. But if I hear "Streetwalker” by Jan Ackerman, "Sweet Lucy” or any Isaac Hayes song…I’m lettin everybody have it on that dance floor! (Laughing)
Tracey: What would you say has been you greatest accomplishment in your dance career?
Kevin: Teaching at the Detroit Public Schools. That was THE most joyous experience that I have had. I was not only teaching those young people…but I was giving them life lessons as well. Here’s a little know fact about my teaching experience...I also taught in the Houston and Los Angeles public schools also. I’m a national instructor of both children and adults when it comes to Detroit Ballroom dancing.
Tracey: There’s a generation of young dancers out here, not only in Detroit, but other places who seem to struggle with what you believe is the "heart and soul” of a dancer. Can you speak about that for a minute?
Kevin: I see a lot of disrespectful young dancers out here now and I don’t have a problem saying it. You must respect your elders in the dance…any dance. These contests that I see these young people itchin to get into…don’t promote the "context” of the dance. That comes with age. As great as Drew Alexander is…he has not developed a proper context of dancing yet. When he does…he will be great. Drew has the ability to pick up moves all day but he still needs a mentor. We all had one. That comes with maturity. The legends…like Nate Barnes…dance to the bass lines or the words in the songs. Everyone now is so caught up on the downbeat or the upbeat. That’s the difference between a stratosphere dancer, a great dancer and a bad dancer. Great dancers just don’t do a lot of moves…they dance in context. I can do a million moves in one song but where’s the beauty of the dance if I do that? So…since many people who call themselves "great dancers or A-Listers” don’t understand that concept…at the end of the day… their opinion doesn’t matter because they can’t dance anyway.
Tracey: I’ve heard a couple people say you are the "Tyk Myn” of Detroit Ballroom dancing i.e. innovator, entertainer, creator, etc. Do you agree with that?
Kevin: In my world…YES! Now Tracey…let me say that that encompasses Bob, Chop, Greystone, Latin Hustle as well. I do them all! Tyk Myn is my guy and we have talked and shared experiences and philosophies in our respective dances. I have to say that I really admire Dave Maxx because I most identify with him. Dave teaches the same as I do and has the zest and mentality of a champion like I have. I also communicate with Pete Frazier a lot. That’s my main man right there.
Tracey: What has been the greatest tragedy in the Detroit dance community?
Kevin: The dissection of the dance community. If the promoters are respected, you never see the steppers not support one another at Jeff Clark’s event, the Majestic Gents in Chicago or Rodney Mack’s White party. Those individuals are respected by everyone. The ballroom dancers have splintered and don’t support one another. The boring dancers don’t like to mix with the great dancers because their intimidated. I don’t believe in being politically correct Tracey when I talk…you know that. That to me is like being politically fake. Now Tracey…what sense does this make? If everyone danced on the same level in this world…can you imagine how boring the dance world would be? You have to mix the ingredients up the right way to get the recipe right. By the way…here’s my plug…The 2014 Dance Fusion event takes place August 7-10 at the Book Cadillac hotel in Detroit. Everybody is welcome because it’s a dance event…period. (Laughing)
Tracey: Last question or statement. Kevin Collin’s only true love has been the dance floor. True or false?
Kevin: It’s true. I’ve turned down a lot of….naw…I’m not gonna say that… (Laughing) Yeah…I admit it…I’ll probably die on the dance floor… but I’m gonna look great doing it!