#Team Chroni...Interview with Oni Faulkner and Chris McClellan Back
Sept 29, 2015
By Tracey Bivens
If any young person in their 20s or 30s starts to learn the basics of the Chicago Step they are eventually going to come in contact with the term, “Worlds Largest.” For those that have been around a while, it is the considered the “rites of passage” contest for many out of towners to enter. Many new steppers believe that it gives them an edge of respect by the majority panel of Chicago Steppin judges that sit on it. Detroit has been producing some sure fire talent in recent years and that cannot be disputed. Did 2015 introduce any new steppers out of the D? Sort of. All hail #TeamChroni! Detroit’s Oni Faulkner and Toledo, Ohio’s Chris McClellan came in 1st Place in the Beginners Category in the Worlds Largest Steppers Contest last weekend. The two of them took the time to sit down with me to talk about their focus in preparing for the contest, staying true to themselves and oh yeah…that pesky rumor that won’t seem to go away.
“This dance is the first thing I think about when I wake up and the last thing I think about when I go to sleep.” ~ Chris McClellan
Tracey: Oni, you know that I’ve been admiring your dance style for a while because you have just that. Style. So many women have tried to acquire it through classes but it comes naturally for you. You’ve mentioned that you had formal training in Modern, Jazz and Ballet. How has your style of steppin been described and how has it developed?
Oni: I’ve heard that my stride has been classified as “sexy”. To me…I think it’s okay. I definitely pay attention to what a lot of people have told me and I watch others dance so I am always learning. Choreographing liturgical dance at my church has also helped me be aware of my dance but as far as teaching steppin…I’m not interested in teaching right now because I want to better my dance. (Laughing)
Tracey: Chris…I know that you’ve been ballrooming for about 10 years. What was it about steppin that helped you become contest ready? Was it more mental, emotional or physically taxing?
Chris: The mental part of it. I am a perfectionist. I get really frustrated if I don’t get “it” right the first time. I had to keep practicing to get it better. Drew and Trina Perryman and the whole Smootivity team was there for me. Dwayne Douglas, my ballroom teacher out of Toledo also started coaching me with little things that I already knew but he helped me to tweak them. Then Sherry Gordon and Ed Donaldson gave me a private a week before the competition to help me with the showmanship and in bringing energy to the dance. The whole Toledo and Detroit dance community deserves credit for their support. I’m not really used to that and it was dope.
Oni: For me it was the physical part of steppin. Chris stays in Toledo and I stay in Detroit. For us to practice… it was a little difficult at times. I took one steppin class back in March or April of 2014. I had an injury and didn’t stick with it until September 2014. I will definitely credit Drew Alexander for pushing me to go further with this dance and helping me to “stylize” it…I guess you can say. When I first started steppin I didn’t know anything about it and said, “What contest?” It sounded like a good experience even though I felt like I wasn’t that good. It was new and I had to wrap my head around dancing with Chris. We learned a lot about each other and how to accomplish a common goal. Honestly…Drew worked with me a lot. I’ve worked with Sherry, Ed, Wakeba, Trina…it took a village to help us. Everybody dancing with us and giving us tips and pointers…especially the people from Chicago.
Tracey: How important is knowing the history of steppin locally and the Chicago history? Oni?
Oni: To me it’s very important knowing how Detroiters brought steppin here and their specific experiences in how they learned this dance. It would be the same thing learning about Detroit Ballroom history and the Detroit Salsa community and how it’s changed… if it has. I think that’s what helps a person become a role model in this dance. I want to be a responsible person in the dance and you do that by staying true to the history of the dance and keeping people informed of its roots and making sure the history of it stays in tact. But if anyone really wants to know about Chicago steppin history… they should go to Chicago.
Tracey: Chris…Ballroom or Steppin?
Chris: (Long pause) The energy level of doing different things makes steppin unique. I love my Ballroom dance roots but I would have to say Ballroom dancing is more intimate and close. I want to eventually learn how to walk. That’s up close and personal...that’s me.
Tracey: Are you two going to get into more contests now that you have this under your belt?
Oni: Well, I step for the love of it. I’m still going to keep dancing because I love to step. There might be more contests…Chris and I are discussing that. The whole thing is up in the air right now.
Chris: I could see myself competing again. The experience alone was worth it. The fact that I was around the people that I watched on You Tube all the time and to see them “live and in living color” made it worth it. To see the living legends of the dance at the contest made it a great experience. The contest win was also special for me because it was my birthday and it also marked the 12 year celebration of me being cancer free.
Tracey: What would you say makes people call you two “Team Chroni”? Are you guys a “team” for real? (Winking and Laughing)
Chris: (Laughing) I would say yes. We were seen a lot on and off the dance floor. To me, what made us stand out in the contest is our dance chemistry. It’s kind of hard to put into words. To be honest, dancing with Oni is fun. We’re new to the game so it was a new experience. I don’t think the type of chemistry we have… you could create.
Oni: Chris and I are only dance partners. (Laughing)
Tracey: Chris…who is your biggest competition?
Chris: Me. I’m my biggest competition. I beat myself up a lot. I’m my biggest and worst critic. My passion is in working out at the gym a lot but this dance is the first thing I think about when I wake up and the last thing I think about when I go to sleep. I would love to teach this dance…one day. What I really admired in preparing for this competition is how everybody has been a team in helping me and Oni. Most of the teams dance together, practice together, and compete together. Having a big ego gets you nowhere. The first thing everybody told me was to stay humble and keep learning.
Tracey: Closing thoughts? Any future plans to unite with any organizations?
Oni: I’m not trying to stick with any one organization. Right now I just want to dance. If people are cool with me, then I’m cool with them. For me it’s all about the dance right now. My advice to anyone looking to learn this dance is to stay true to you and have fun.
Chris: You can do so much with this dance and let your imagination run wild. I’ve seen so many different ways of doing this dance. I think young people need to be incorporated into this dance more. The older people want to carry the knowledge and keep it going with the young people. Dance is not just limited to those in their early retirement age. You can learn a lot of life lessons from this dance. It taught me how to talk to a lady and not sound street or hood. It helped me build confidence. It taught me etiquette. Once I started dancing with ladies…”dance” showed me the ropes…it taught me how to lead. If you can lead a dance you can lead a relationship. When your dancing and leading…you’re telling her where to go because your actions speak a whole lot louder than your words. This is what’s missing in a lot of the young people’s lives. The dance is a lot deeper than what’s on the surface.
I have to say that I love Oni and Chris because they remind me of that pure dance spirit that the younger newbies have when they come into the dance world. They are so eager to learn everything about the dance and are equally eager to share their gifts. Detroiters Amanda Anderson and Wakeba Reid have that fire and Pontiac’s husband and wife team, Karron and Onekki Louris, have that same kind of spirit. I hope that they all continue to focus on the love of learning the dance, sharing their gifts and I pray that their generation of steppers gets out of it what their hearts desire.