Kim Bowie...46 Years in the Making. Back
Mar 24, 2015
By Tracey Bivens
You can tell a tree by the fruit it bears. Chicago Steppin is no different. This tree bears much fruit and its roots run deep.
For those of us who are fortunate to know any of the pioneers of this dance, personally, it’s more than a blessing…it’s an honor. In my earlier days of writing about the different personalities on the scene, it never occurred to me that there was such a rich history with this dance. Some of the people I have interviewed may have glossed over the history or never cared to mention it at all. I’m glad to say that these days the Old Schoolers are approaching and trusting me to tell their side of steppin as no one else would know it better than them.
Kim Bowie, who now lives in Louisiana, with his wife Patricia, is no exception. This interview is the funniest interview I’ve ever conducted because he’s funny but at the same time…brutally honest. Be prepared to find out why there is a clash of the steppin titans, why steppin was and still is a way of life for some and why passing the traditions of the dance must take place.
Tracey: Kim…you have stated that you were a male child of the streets. I’ve calculated the total and you’ve been steppin 46 years…almost half a century! I’m not sure everyone understands why this dance could be so important than hustling, hanging out, living a life of crime and such. Why choose dance?
Kim: I started dancing back in 1968 on the South side when it was called “Boppin.” Boppin is actually steppin. The format changed with the era. As you know…Sam Chatman put that term on the map. We didn’t say we was going “steppin.” We said we were going to a “party.” This dance goes all the way back to the Jitterbug days. My mama was doing Jitterbug and I was Boppin…at 11. After Sam Chatman said, “Look at those Steppers” one night at The Dungeon…that’s when the steppers sets began. Don Vic, Donnie Davis, Frank Poindexter and Donnie Ray were very important in the dance back then also.
Tracey: It’s gotta be strange to see all this attention that Steppin has gotten around the country for the last 20 years. One minute the dance is in your backyard and the next minute people are doing it in videos with R Kelly and Levert.
Kim: When we came up…we didn’t have the opportunity that Tyk Myn, Dre and Lady Margaret have. We was 11-14 years old going to parties and we didn’t have the filming, pictures or videos to capture what we was doing. But what has happened is that Steppin has now turned into “Turnin.” That’s what you might as well call the dance. I love the newcomers…don’t get me wrong… but this 6 and 8 count stuff…..we never heard of that in our life. All of us learned how to dance using items in our homes. There were no classes. We liked what we saw in these clubs we went to at 10:00pm, 11:00pm and 12:00am at night…as youngsters. I remember grabbing the refrigerator door and that was my partner. I grabbed the house door…opened it and that was my practice partner…then my mama told me to “shut my door and don’t let those damn flies in! (Laughing) We each had our own signature style. George Macaroni…Lil Alfred…rest in peace to them both…Jannice Robertson…they were their own original works of arts not carbon copies of anybody else. People callin themselves Master Steppers…I see a lot of Master Turners and Master Counters. Today everybody steps alike because they mixed it up with Ballrooming and Salsa. And now…a lot of my friends are mad at what they are seeing going on like my friend, Taboo, but I tell them, “yall gotta let that go…it’s a new era.” Now as far as all these niggas lyin about when they started dancin and how important they think they are in the dance…all you gotta do is ask me. I was there since 1968.
Tracey: Do you ever feel cheated out of some of the fame and fortune because of the traveling opportunities that Tyk and Dre and others had?
Kim: I taught a class before. Iary Israel from Steppaganza and a guy named Al used to come over to my house but there damn sure wasn’t no countin’ goin’ on. We couldn’t explore the world like Tyk and ‘nem because we never dreamed it would be like it is today. We were countin our money back in the day…ya dig? We had committed our lives to the streets. Willie Bell from the 70s group was fortunate enough to get a county job but the rest of us…(Laughing) People tried to put a hold on Steppin in the early days. A guy named Slim won the first Soul Train Dance Contest Award that Don Cornelius sponsored in Chicago. As a matter of fact…me and Slim both made the final but Don Cornelius said that people didn’t dance like that in California and they wouldn’t understand what we were doing. My partner was LaDonna Scott. Now…the dance has gone to Detroit...Atlanta…California…and a whole lot of other places.
Tracey: What bothers you the most about what you are seeing now?
Kim: These different names that they put on our dance. There is no Freestyle dance…we were just steppin. I never did the splits and somersaults but some guys did it and that’s when a label was put on the ones that did do all them stunts and things. I won in 1998 in the WLSC Original Category with Big Freda…and what we were doing was simply Steppin. But I will say this…if videotapes were around back in the day….people would not be putting all these New Skoolers on a pedestal. You all will never have a chance to see the greatest steppin ever done because people have gotten sick…died or just stopped dancing.
Tracey: People keep saying that in order to be a great stepper you have to be from the streets or have some “charisma” about yourself. So having said that…can somebody from corporate America be an “ice cold” stepper?
Kim: Yes ma’am. But you have to master the basics and put your own signature on the dance. We went home and practiced. We didn’t take no lessons from nobody. Steppin is not a routine…”We gonna do this first and then” …unh….unh. We got on that dance floor and we went to work. Showmanship and class was a balance. George Macaroni never practiced. He entertained at contests weighing close to 300 pounds. Me and Taboo won the 1st Man on Man contest in 1972. He didn’t know anything about the dance at first but I talked him into learning it by watching three basic steps of a pattern. My boy Taboo saw Raymond Smith…who yall call Ice Ray and Romeo dancing with Anna Bob. After that he was hooked. It you want this dance bad enough…you’ll get it.
Tracey: Does “eye hustling” work for everyone?
Kim: A lot of people have to be taught. We livin in an age where people have access to You Tube and video cameras and that’s what’s killing the creativity. If you constantly watchin what somebody else doin on the computer or in class…how can you be creative? The only thing you can do is imitate what you see. You have to put your stamp on what you do. A lot of the “goofy” kids or “nerds” couldn’t come out past 10:00pm to The Dungeon to even see the dance back in the 70s so how could they learn it? I got so many whoopins for staying out late…but it was worth it. By the way…a DJ named Cousin Danny started The Dungeon as the original DJ for us then Sam came in and took over.
Tracey: If steppin was mainly done by guys and with the guys who did the Man on Man…that had to discourage women from wanting to learn the dance…right?
Kim: It was some ladies that danced the man’s style and could follow just as ladylike as they wanted to. Jannice can go on the man’s side and the woman’s side with grace. Damita…rest in peace…Larry Thomas’ wife Kim…they all had different styles and made it their own. The women were very important to this dance. We didn’t go out as men and say, “I’ma dance with niggas all night!” It was a chance to show how cool we were against each other. My sister, Rogina Bowie, taught Drew Alexander his very first basic. This was when Drew was in elementary school. Women were good at introducing the dance to men. Carlene Acklin, Big Biggie, Cheryl, Redd…the Foxettes, etc. etc all have a page in Chicago Steppin history.
Tracey: What wins contests?
Kim: Whoever is feeling really good that night…will win a contest. I have a cane and bad back now but I still try to move. (Laughing) You rarely seen dumb dumbs back when were coming up argue about who danced the best. If you were feeling good …you got in that contest. One year, Ty Skippy clowned against me and won…that night! Just like when Jannice used to dance with Lil Alfred…they might win tonight…then next week…Lil Mike and his partner. Steppin is not about who is better than who it’s about what is shown that night. Now I will say this…nowadays I can tell who taught who when I look at the contest footage. That’s not what you want. If you hanging around someone that has their own signature style…you gonna be compared to them all the time when it comes to contests.
Tracey: If you had a magic wand and could change something in the world of steppin, what would it be?
Kim: Nobody would be counting. No 6 or 8 count…nothing. Throw it out the window. It cripples your dance. I can always tell when someone is counting!
Tracey: I feel bad that a lot of the press around individuals in the steppin world haven’t covered the ones who are no longer here. Interviewing George Macaroni would have been an honor for me.
Kim: I wish that people could see a guy names Romeo get down. Without Romeo…there would never have been an Ice Ray. In reality…Romeo was the baddest around to me. But they were boys and danced out together a lot. I used to watch Romeo and danced against Ice Ray and him and actually won a contest at Circle Campus College back in 1972.
Tracey: Who has the most important role in the world of Steppin? The DJ, the steppers or the promoters?
Kim: The DJ. He or she can make you stay at the party or walk out. Then it’s the promoters…then the steppers. Today… DJs try to out play other DJs by playing what THEY want to hear which is usually new music that ain’t nobody feelin yet. I remember going to a party in Vegas and walkin out because the DJ was that terrible. The DJ gotta feel it too. If you DJing and you don’t see some of your baddest steppers dancing…that will tell you that they ain’t feelin what you playin. The goofy people will dance off anything…but the real steppers….will sit they ass down every time.
Tracey: Anything else you want to add?
Kim: Back in the day when we had contests…women gave their money to the man. The women just wanted to be seen dancing with an Ice Ray or Taboo. Today…a woman will knock your head off if you try to keep that money away from her. (Laughing) By the way…watch out for a cat named Lil Lloyd out of Chicago.
Another Steppin Legend has spoken people. In order for this tree in steppin to continue to grow, we have to recognize what kind of tree it is. An old tree has many rings but can still produce fresh fruit. I feel it is our responsibility to always know steppin history like this because it can only elevate our dance and knowledge of this art. This is the only dance we have in this country that was exclusively created in the streets by African-Americans and has reached national and international status. Taking care of a tree is easy. You keep a tree alive by nurturing it and making sure that contamination stays away. What kind of tree do you have in your city and what condition is it in?
Educate your steppin!