Dec 14, 2015
By Tracey Bivens
“If out of towners want to get all of the components right in developing this steppin culture, then we all need to have a “Donnie’s” in each or our cities.”
Going to Chicago for a day or two on the weekend has been a formula for many out of towners who have an interest in steppin but I was asked to share what a typical experience for me is like for future travelers.
Four women on a mission. Three events in Chicago in 24 hours. Ready…set…go!
Getting up at 5:00am on a Saturday morning is never something people look forward to unless you plan a road trip to Chicago. First things first…you have to have a plan. The plan starts off with selecting insane people to travel with that love to step. I will clarify. The average person outside of the steppin community doesn’t understand the fascination with traveling close to 400 miles to dance at the very least…for 14 hours. What sane person would do that? (Laughing) In addition, throw in a little consumption of eating non FDA approved foods and sleeping for a little while…that’s what it amounts to.
Titania Jordan, Kena Broach and VaShon Collins were my car mates for this excursion. The agenda was simple. Donnie Davis’ class….uh…workshop was first on the list. The reason why I hesitate to call it a class is because it is unlike any class that typical out of towners have ever experienced. Donnie is the facilitator of this “workshop” that has been going on close to 15 years if not more because I’ve been going to it since 2000. A bunch of new steppers and seasoned steppers gather at the Hamilton Field house on 72nd street around 11:00am and step. The learning part comes in where you are not doing the same thing for three hours or being someone’s “crash test dummy”. If you are a woman, you’ll dance with someone and if you miss a step that he gives you…you and the guy can go over that step again in your own square without embarrassment or you can pick up on some new footwork. If you are a guy, you get to dance with a woman and try out something you saw at the East of the Ryan the night before or learn something from someone who walks through the door. The fun part is that you never know who is going to show up. Through the years I’ve seen Tyk Myn, Dre’, Shareda Newborn, Danielle Wordlaw, Pete Frazier, Stephon W, Angie Faine, and other out of towners from Cali, New York, Texas gather at Donnie’s place. Because Donnie is a very well respected stepper in the Chicago dance community with over 30 years in the dance, steppers have always come out to participate in his workshop… based on that respect. In addition, LC Henderson also has a class that is very strong in providing foundational skills that starts a little after Donnie’s workshop for people who need more structure.
Let me get on my soapbox for a minute. When are other cities, especially my city…yup…I’m calling Detroit out, going to be able to duplicate having a venue where most of the seasoned instructors/steppers can gather under one roof together and just step with the steppers that show up for tightening without it being an issue? Yeah…yeah…I’ve heard reasons as to why this doesn’t happen. Tracey you know “it’s too many egos” “People gonna steal my stuff or my students” “I don’t like them” “Cause they are a control freak”, “They don’t dance correctly”, etc. Seriously…let me say this. Nobody owns “students.” If you love this dance like you say you do, then why would you try and hoard people and stunt their growth in the dance? Steppers can’t get everything from one class. The WLSC does not constitute who can or cannot step. It acknowledges who was liked “THAT EVENING”. If out of towners want to get all of the components right in developing this steppin culture, then we all need to have a “Donnie’s” in each or our cities. Chicago doesn’t have a problem going to Donnie’s. Who is going to step up to the plate and organize it? Ohio, California, Atlanta…what say you?
Okay…I’m back. So on this particular Saturday, 70s Club Member, Michael Davney, Terrance Pratt of Chistepper.com and his cute as a button fiancée’ Ryan Whitney came out, Ken Hilliard, After 7’s Billy Hall-Jones, which has got to be Chicago’s answer to Morris Chestnut…hmph…hmph…hmph (interview coming soon) and DJ Michael Black Cool Thornton. Incidentally, DJ Black Cool played to a packed house in Detroit last week. Packed! Shawn Bandy was there and I want people to take note of this. It is very rare to find young men in the steppin community who don’t ego trip after winning a Worlds Largest 1st place win. In my personal opinion, Shawn’s personality is reminiscent of Tyk Myn’s because Shawn is so unphased by the attention of the “limelight.” He took the time to dance with most every woman in Donnie’s class regardless of their level (myself included) and when they needed to make an adjustment, there was no eye rollin or laughing…just encouragement and enjoyment of the dance from this man. In addition, he had his pen and paper out as well when he danced with Michael Davney and Donnie Davis. How often do you see that? Three generations in the dance steppin together? So in between dancing, losing weight and drinking water, Donnie also plays the best classic music to step to. I’m still amazed at the songs he drops from the 70s that are picked up by people and takin to other DJs across the country.
After Donnie has to kick you out after 2pm, you realize that you probably should get something to eat before you go to the 50 Yard Line which starts roughly at 5pm. Now this is the time you would check into your hotel. Historically, Lansing, Illinois hotels will give you the best rates and comfort but you have to be careful which ones you choose because several of them have turned into “ stay and pay as long as you want” hotels and um…yeah…things have changed.
So after Donnie’s, you would shower up and grab a bite to eat before you go to the 50 Yard Line, provided you don’t fall out on the hotel bed and try and take a nap. That’s where you’ll get into trouble if you do.
The 50 was filled with steppers. It never ceases to amaze me how they fit so many couples on that small floor. The floor etiquette has always been tight like that in Chicago though. Kevin Dockery, Cliff “Big Slim” Reynolds, First Lady Linda Morales-Frazier , Maurice Thomas was there along with Carolyn Carter Rawlings out of Tennessee. The ladies and myself received numerous dances because it’s always obvious when out of towners are in Chicago’s clubs. The men go out of their way to extend dance courtesies. Now I want to focus on this a minute because when Rodney Mack’s White party comes around, I see a lot of the local men who dance…stick with dancing with the local women for the most part and I’ve never understood this. Why wouldn’t you want to dance with women you’ve never danced with before after two or more years of instruction? Anyway…by this time, knees will begin to throb and fatigue starts to set in but The Dorchester was calling. You press on and the ladies I was with were real troopers.
I have always loved The Dorchester because of how it’s made. Ample parking, beautiful floor, great seats and because After 7’s Billy Hall-Jones was at Donnie’s class earlier, he saw us and made sure we got a great table. Every single group member from After 7 spent a considerable amount of time dancing with all of the ladies and made sure that we were taken care of as well. I have been going to After 7’s parties since 2003 when they were in Harvey, IL and these gentlemen have always remained “clean” and their attendees follow suit. I mean…the “blue jean wear what you want hook ups” have come in like a rocket… particularly at the out of town sets, but I will say, dressing up a little makes a difference in setting the ambience. Cynthia Bean and Ken Hilliard showed up and showed out also. He said his goal has always been to dance with at least 30 different women per set. Imagine if all the men thought like him. Victor Anthony James Sr. was there and he makes the same concerted effort.
By 1:00am, I was clearly sleeping with my eyes open at the table. Our city mates, Ed Donaldson and Sherry Gordon were in the house according to the DJ but Titania, VaShon and Kena were glued to the dance floor. Their smiles let me know they were having a good time so we pretty much left with the employees by staying until the end.
Sunday morning will bring with it a lot of stiffness. We received dozens of invitations to attend a brunch and other sets but when work calls on Monday morning…you hit the road jack. Stick to your script.
The conversations on 94 focused on the people, the music and the good time that was had in Chicago. There was NO ARGUING whatsoever because we had an agenda, there was no endless mall shopping throwing of us task and we arrived at every venue and left as a team. Going to Chicago is supposed to be about having a good time. If you go to dance…you’ll get that. If you go wanting to learn something about the dance…you will definitely get that. If you go wanting to be a notch on someone’s belt OR purse strap because they can dance…you can find that too. But Chicago has never changed…the out of towners are the ones that do. Some for the best and some for the worst but as far as the “Living Single” crew (inside joke referencing the TV show) I was with…we are making plans for #RoadTrippinAgain.