The Second Time Around with Josiah Burt! Back

Aug 30, 2015

The Second Time Around with Josiah Burt!

By Tracey Bivens


“A lot of these instructors figure if they teach you how to free yourself in this dance….then you won’t come to their class anymore. It’s a trap. Malcolm X said, “You didn’t land on Plymouth Rock, Plymouth Rock landed on you. Well I say, “You didn’t land on steppin classes…steppin classes landed all over you and made a mess!”

                    Josiah Burt



I went to Chicago this past weekend with every intention of making it my last steppin related visit. The first time I fell in love with steppin was back in 1997. I developed a hot and heavy relationship with the dance and its culture for years.


However…over the last three years…the relationship I have with steppin has become dysfunctional. In the early 2000s I was teaching the basics to the ladies and had begun recruiting men left and right in an effort to grow the community. I wrote commentaries and conducted interviews but I started noticing that some people in the community were developing a dark side. There have always been egos associated with this dance but more recently I discovered that there are instructors who get mad at their students and won’t dance with them if they go to someone else’s class. I was seeing men making women mess up on the dance floor and laughing at them for the sole purpose of convincing them that they need to go to their class. What !!!!? Nowadays every conversation about dance seems to revolve around contest wins and losses. And surprisingly, it’s not enough to be called a heavy hitter these days but now people want to be “super” heavy hitters. But the biggest disrespect of all that I witness on a daily basis is the arrogance that brand new steppers are developing by teaching the dance after a month of lessons and getting on Facebook speaking negatively about the pioneers of the dance by calling them old and played out.


Last weekend, I told myself that if I went to Chicago one more time…I could say goodbye to the 50 Yard Line and some of the people I had grown to know and respect over the last 19 years.


So I walked into Donnie Davis’ workshop like so many out of towners on a Saturday morning. I panned the room and saw a tall, brown skinned man with chiseled features who stood with a commanding presence. He looked at me, smiled and walked towards me. I smiled and said to him, “I bet you don’t even recognize me.” {we are Facebook friends but had not met each other in real life}. He replied, “Tracey…I know who you are. Now let me get to know you on this dance floor.” He took my hand and gave me an impromptu “private” in Old School for about 45 minutes and then we sat down to talk in front of Donnie’s large fan. I told him that I wasn’t coming back to Chicago anymore and that I had given up on trying to make a dysfunctional relationship with steppin work anymore. I teared up a bit as I poured out my thoughts to him. He stared at my hands which were in my lap clutching my tissue. He locked eyes with me and asked, “You still write and do interviews?’ I answered, “Well I….” He said, “Good. You talked to me before but I got some things I need to get off my chest today and I only want you to write about those things. I’ma show you why you are needed in this community.” I found some paper and a pen. He began…


Weathering the Storm


“These days, the way people are taught this dance really sucks. They (New Skool instructors) have done more damage to the dance than good. A lot of these promoters and instructors only care about the financial gain and what they can get out of it. This dance came from kids who wanted to have a good time. It was the challenge of being able to say who had the coldest steppers on a particular side of town or neighborhood. Now… it has become a lucrative business. I think people should be handsomely rewarded for having a skill set but don’t get rewarded for having a watered down version of the dance. Promoters going all over the country telling people who can barely do a basic step that they should enter into steppin contests and to bring 10 people with them to cheer them on. How is that a good thing for the growth of this dance? You tell me.”


Instructing What?


“So called steppin instructors just want to teach men and women 8 steps. That will cripple you. They teach you those fundamental steps but those 8 steps keep you inside a box and it won’t let you dance freely within the dance with developing footwork. Where is YOUR footwork in your dance? It’s like caging up a bird. Once you free them… they spread their wings, fly and sing but as long as they are locked up, they flutter back and forth with no flight in sight. From where I’m sitting, these heavy hitters aren’t teaching too much because I think they are scared of the competition in that their students might surpass them. Teachers are showing guys a four step stroll basic or a right foot lead and a “kick yo feet” basic. This is the typical class design. The instructor puts the guy(s) in the corner by himself. Then the instructor gets a whole lot of women on the floor and spends the majority of the time with them. After the men learn the stroll, they are brought out from the corner THEN they gotta learn HOW to dance with the woman doing that stroll. Teach people this dance right…teach them what they need to know so they can be good steppers. You want to be a lifelong learner of this dance… not a lifetime student. If you have been going to someone’s class for six months and you don’t have your basics right…something is wrong. Students should be taught so that they get this dance…we need to teach it better. It’s a crying shame that this dance I love so much and the dance that YOU say you love… has so much turmoil in it.”


Who Do You Think You Are?


“What gives me the right to say the things I’m saying? It comes from what I have seen, what I’m seeing and what I’ve heard. If somebody has a dispute on what I can teach or what I’m saying, don’t say nothing to Tracey…find me on Facebook and talk to ME! A lot of guys want to learn Old School. The new guys are learning bits and pieces of it. They don’t understand the “why” behind the “do”. The New Skool instructors out of Chicago used to say that nobody does Old School anymore and that’s because they don’t know how to do it. The Old School guys don’t want to teach it because they are saying that the New Skoolers look like clowns and messing up the dance. Obviously people want to learn Old School because they see legends like Ty Skippy and others putting it down in earlier contests back in the 70s and that can still go today! Shawn Bandy is getting Old School now so he is one step ahead of the game. Old School and New Skool should be blended. The New Skool dance has a lot of variety. It’s not bad at all. The New Skool is like a tailor made suit on an Old School body of work…it polishes it up. The New Skool allows you to cater to the woman and it allows her to do a little more. But there is a disconnect because the New Skool tries to dismiss where the dance came from and the people who invented it and then they go out and lie and tell people they are from Chicago when they’re not. Just cause you say you are from Chicago don’t mean you can step. Out of towners have nothing to gauge it by so that’s why a lot of them are being taken advantage of. I made a statement that just because you got in a WLSC competition doesn’t give you cart blanche to go out and teach. The stars were aligned just for you that night. Now these groups are fighting each other in these cities because it’s about making that money. If your going to teach, at least find yourself a master stepper like Donnie Davis who can teach you HOW to teach. Stop trying to teach what you don’t know. I send this challenge out to anybody in the United States. If you think I don’t know what I’m talking about ,confront me on the dance floor and show me that I’m wrong. This dance is about the history. It’s a great dance…the way it started and where it is right now. Because of this dance, people go on vacation and travel more than they ever did. Some people are traveling at least 12 times a year instead of once a year. This dance should be preserved.”



Here’s My Solution


“All the guys who want to learn Old School footwork or footwork in general… I want to help you. I’m trying to build a network of the original male steppers to help you develop your skill set. We are going to show you how to pull out your dance FROM your own personal skill set. I was there at the sets in the 1970s and I know this dance and can teach it and communicate it very well to the next person. A lot of these instructors out here can barely explain the dance but they getting that money from it. You have people out here who are talking negatively about this dance but nobody is coming up with any type of solutions. I would say to anybody out there if you want to help…contact me. If you know how to make the dance look like it’s supposed to look in its correct form…let’s do it. I’m not trying to be controversial but if you are upset with anything I’m saying…call me out on the floor and show me I don’t know what I’m talking about. I’ll be at Donnie Davis’ Worlds Largest Workshop Party on Saturday, September 19, at the Hamilton Park Field house from 10:00am until 2:00pm. I will apologize if I’m proven wrong. Until then, when it comes to teaching Old School… stop messing up my dance.”


How to Get Taken Advantage of in this Dance


“One of the ways a man can tell if he is being taken advantage of in this dance is that he learns the basic then you have these instructors come in and they take your basic and say, “This ain’t right” and they try to change your basic. That’s the biggest problem right there. Let these men keep the basic that their comfortable with and teach them dance moves from the basic they already know. Football has basic techniques but the players that understand the basic techniques turn into better players. Guys are being shown basic strides and 995 turns but instructors are not teaching the men how to develop a personal skill set and how to feed off of what the women are doing. In a lot of cases, a lot of “heavy hitters” are not good teachers. Some athletes can play the game but they can’t coach. People go to workshops over and over and over again and they come away with nothing. The guys are giving these women 100 turns in a three minute dance and they barely move their feet. A lot of instructors don’t want you to dance like them or better than them because they want to keep you coming to class and paying that money then they never have to worry about you as competition. People say this is a mirrored dance. People don’t understand what their teaching. They’ll give a right foot lead and tell you that this lets you mirror the woman. So what’s the purpose of that? Somebody told me that a guy came up with the right foot lead because it looks different. Others just say, “It’s the way I was taught.” Nobody can really answer that question.”


How to Tell if You are the “Truth” as a Stepper


“Listen to me. Anybody with some subpar skills can win a contest on a given day. Can you get the respect of people from the Chicago neighborhoods who grew up with this dance? Can you go to the schools and get the kids to hollerin for you? What about the local Chicago dance clubs where most out of towners don’t go? You can win a Worlds Largest and go to the club later that night and get the lining ripped out of your back pocket by people that don’t even get in contests. That’s what these contest junkies don’t understand. NBA players always say that there were guys in their neighborhood that were better than them but they never made it off of the block. Out of towners get blindsided by the glitter and glamour of the WLSC. It’s a great display of the New Skool dance for the most part but before you get on that stage… come to the stage with something that you picked up along the way that your instructor didn’t show you.”


The Big Myth


“We went to the middle of the floor to dance and people would come crowd around and watch. We did not travel from corner to corner. That’s some made up out of towner stuff. The traveling around the floor came from the pimp who had on his best tailor made clothes and when he got his woman on the floor, he would travel around the whole dance floor because he wanted to be seen. The pimps want you to see them but the hard cold steppers did not do that…we DID NOT TRAVEL AROUND THE FLOOR. Look at any old footage from the late 70s or 80s if you can. You don’t see that. Ain’t nobody traveling from corner to corner. We only moved around the floor in competition. That’s an example of misinformation with this dance. If you got a bunch of cats getting it in, who got time to be going from corner to corner? That’s only for walking. Think about it. Why else would your instructor tell you to stay in your lane and your box? Use your common sense when people tell you stuff. That don’t even make sense logically.”




You Know What?


“Anybody that says they used to do the Old School but they don’t do it anymore or don’t remember… never did it in the first place. Some of us that left Chicago because of careers and didn’t dance during any of that time… we didn’t forget how to do the legendary steppin. A lot of guys and ladies chose the streets and some of us chose to have careers when we were in our early 20s.How do I still remember the dance and I was gone in the military for 25 years? You know what? I want to apologize to the out of towners for being taught a watered down dance. For the people that need to understand how deep this steppin can go and need something with substance to equate it to…go look at the story of Philip and the Eunuch in the Bible. “Do you understand what you are reading?” Philip asked. “How can I,” he said, “unless someone explains it to me?” Acts 8:30-31.”


Sit Down Before the People Stop Clapping


“It’s not hard or bad to have a reputation from the past but your glory days can’t come back. Look at the hall of fame players from football. Hershel Walker who is in his 50s might still be able to play football…but on average people can’t. Don’t keep preaching about what you used to be and make it seem like you supposed to stay on top of the mountain. There are other people that are sitting on top of the mountain now. When your time is gone…accept it. If you were a legend…be a legend. The things you did then…the majority of the stuff… you can’t do it now. Pass on your legendary skills to somebody new. Deion Sanders is in the hall of fame. He has football camps for little kids. He encourages inner city youths. Do you see him going around talking about “I’m a legend…watch this!?” If you want somebody to remember you…don’t give these new steppers whining and crying. Give back to what you received from. If you receive popularity, rewards…give back to the people. Help them become legends…if you can…or are you really that selfish? Most people who are remembered for being great are remembered for being kind, humble and giving back. That’s it. I don’t have a mike to drop…” (Laughing)


Tracey keep your head up and hang in there. Don’t quit on this dance and don’t stop writing. It’s gotta get better.





I Love Steppin 11th Year Anniversary