Chicago’s Darrel Davis...The Key in the Center of the Alpha and the Omega Back
Sept 22, 2015
By Tracey Bivens
“If I had the power to change things, I would ask steppers to unite in our dance and support what is called the WLSC and Heritage Ball among other things.”
Darrel Davis is one of those male steppers from Chicago that truly cares about this dance called steppin. Having mastered the dance at the age of 12, as an adult he started giving parties with the longest running track records with the social groups The Untouchables and Millennium. Davis says at that time, “we invited and embraced the younger generations of steppers.” Today, Darrel Davis has a mission that is different from throwing parties. His mission is to educate, unite and inspire.
This dance originated from the Bop in the basement, quarter parties and high school dances. It was considered a rite of passage to be able to Bop in my day. In the early 70s, the name of this dance changed from the Bop to Steppin. Steppers sets began so the dance was passed on to you from a family member. My parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles…the dance just fell in my lap. It was like that for a lot of people here in Chicago. But more importantly, there were 12 of us and we got the history of this dance. After knowing the history, which people don’t get on the dance floor, meant that you were following the strict code on the streets. I want people to not just do this dance but to care about its origins. Some people say that don’t want to come to classes or workshops to hear about the history or some of the concepts about the dance. Every tree has a root. My proudest moment in steppin came when I was able to step with my mother before she passed at one of my birthday parties. We were able to share a legacy…our point of origin.
I’m doing the original dance which is what they want to call old school. True School is what it should be called. What they (people) are calling New Skool is an accolade I don’t want to carry. There is no direction or recognition that comes with that title. For five years starting in 1999, I taught this dance for free. If you came to the set, I gave you an hour. Our sets cost $3 to get in. You bought your drink…we provided food and we had a very successful steppers set without the drama. Things have changed but the formula shouldn’t.
The Integrity of the Dance
It’s not fair to teach students by people who call themselves master dancers and instructors. Notice I said, who call themselves, MASTER DANCERS AND MASTER INSTRUCTORS. The direction of the dance has been distorted. Women are taught to begin with their left and men are taught to always begin with their right. Incorrect. I could spend an entire evening talking about the miscommunication as it relates to this dance. Just because a person really believes that they think they are teaching you the right way doesn’t mean that they are. Let someone from the Chicago steppin community start teaching Detroit Ballroom in Chicago. You all would have a fit!
I have taught outside of Illinois and all over the Chi. Charnice Simmons had a birthday party one year and I did the walking class. That was the first time I ventured outside of Chicago. In 30 minutes, I had 70 people walking like they had been at the East of the Ryan for years doing it. Charnice convinced me to take what I had to offer outside of Chicago and that’s why people are seeing more of me. One thing is, if you want me to teach you, then that means telling you the truth about where you are in your dance currently. You might not like what you hear. That’s how you maintain the integrity of the dance.
Man on Man
You get these different names. In the late 60s, if you weren’t a well known dancer you, as a guy, would have to get another guy to dance with so that the women could see you get down. The women would NOT dance with you if you couldn’t dance. This is why I think it is important to have the family generation involved in the passing down of this dance. Every family had their own style of steppin. It’s a truth realization.
What about the contests?
The contests are making people think you have to dance all night at a contest level. The degree of tolerance lowers with age. That’s why you see older men trying to dance like the younger generation of males. They look at the WLSC contest footage and think that’s how they have to dance…at that level...all night long. The thing that’s missing with men all over this country that want to learn this dance is style. You have to “stylize” this dance. If not, you look like a product off of the assembly line. I see a lot of that today…especially with the men.
Teach Me Tonight
How do you know who can teach? You would have people with large classes that said they were from the Chi…they were lyin and still are. But the cities promoted them but when we found out here in Chicago we were like…what?! You would ask students what they are learning and they can never answer you. People are taught drills that make no sense. There’s been a lot of damage done out here. I went to California one year and met up with a steppin instructional group that had been teaching in their community for 4 ½ years. They brought me in and the first thing they asked me was if I could show them how to start the dance off. I was like, “Really?!”People wouldn’t allow teachers to teach their own children wrong in schools. They would research the school first and talk to the teacher about what their child will be learning. That doesn’t happen in steppin. Why not?
Let’s Talk Music
The greatest tragedies in steppin are the miscommunication of the dance and the misunderstanding of what steppin music really is. Steppin music has its own identity. It does not have a label and covers a genre from A to Z. It doesn’t happen often but there is music that can be stepped to from Country & Western, Zydeco, Latin, Jamaica, and so on. That’s what makes it so beautiful. We have DJs in Chicago who can make you stay out on the dance floor from start to finish and you walk out with a wet shirt…on any given Friday night. The so called steppin DJS think it’s about playing the latest song and music that THEY want to hear. It’s very easy to tell if a stepper understands music because in Chicago real steppers won’t step to just anything that’s played. They will sit down. The out of towners will dance to anything if they are not taught how to listen to the music.
Let’s get a Steppers Conference which will open up the door to providing accurate information, networking and caring for one another. There shouldn’t ever be a stepper in a small city or far away where a stepper is not taken care of. Life happens. Every other community takes care of their people who get really sick or pass away. People’s homes have burned down and we should be able to help. What is our problem? Wake up and be inclusive instead of exclusive. It would slow down on a lot of misguided thoughts and information if we were connected…more like family. We could bring steppin into the schools all over the country and teach these young people social skills and graces…etiquette. Thirty years ago I was steppin at the Dungeon and the Nursery School which was the down the street. I never believed I would be interviewed about this dance and making a couple of dollars teaching at the same time. I’m about change for the better and I’m also about making that change together.