This past Friday I had the pleasure of seeing a gentleman that I had come to know as a very accomplished stepper back in 2002. He’s a great guy, who asked not to be named when I share this story, but suffice it to say that the first time I saw him Chicago Steppin’ I knew that if I ever mastered the dance I wanted to be like him. I didn’t recognize him initially, and as I was on the floor dancing that night I noticed him watching me as he sat with his significant other, and at times he would comment to her, look at me at times as he spoke to her, then he’d continue watching. The entire time he was watching he was smiling, so I thought he was just another guy who admired my style of dancing. He didn’t dance for a while and he didn’t approach the dance floor, so I couldn’t tell from a distance exactly who he was. People watch me quite often so I was somewhat accustomed to the phenomenon. That night his gaze felt different and initially I didn’t know why.
Eventually we ran into one another on the dance floor. He looked somewhat familiar to me, but I still wasn’t sure he was who I thought he was (and you never want to embarrass yourself calling folks out when you don’t know them). He looked different, yet very familiar to me as he walked past me to the dance floor. Then this guy started dancing and doing his thing. I felt I knew who he was then, so to be sure I called out a name that I thought was his. He called my name right back. I ran over to him, embraced him like a long, lost brother and quickly got back to my dance partner. The re-connect was indeed “on” after that greeting!
It was great seeing him again and it was surreal in a sense because we hadn’t seen each other in a dance environment for more than 10 years. This guy knew me when I couldn’t do a lick of Chicago Steppin’, in fact it was HIS visits to Indianapolis that provided my “get right or get gone” moment for learning the dance – and that night I told him so. He had witnessed me several times in the past doing the ol’ two-step and calling it Steppin’. I remember every time that he came to town and put his thing down on the dance floor and I wouldn’t want to dance at all after he finished dancing (and to be honest, I thought I was the man before he showed up). I never remember a time in my dance life, before or since, where I felt as inadequate as an urban social dancer as I did then.
I vividly remember the very last time we saw one another in a dance environment. It was the fall of 2004 at the Madame Walker Historic Casino Ballroom in Indianapolis. He showed up in his well-tailored cream colored suit – certified board of health clean – stepper sharp, down to the shoes. His look was polished in that suit, well-heeled, as they say. His partner was drop-dead gorgeous and she could dance her behind off. He took to the floor to dance to the classic stepper cut “At Last” by Glenn Jones. As he circled the perimeter of the floor in a counter-clockwise direction he began happily singing the verses of the song, not missing a beat or step, and the two of them moved about the floor with finesse, style and grace. This cat was super, duper smooth to me…SUPER SMOOTH!! He wasn’t working hard, he had this graceful, rhythmic flow going with his partner, and he was interpreting the music with her body as he moved about the floor. It was at that moment that I knew exactly “HOW” I wanted to look in the dance and I’ve been on a quest to do so ever since.
After we were both done dancing that particular song Friday night, we walked back to where he was seated with his beautiful significant other. I told him how great it was to see him again, and I reminisced with the two of them about my dance journey since 2002 and how this guy “knew me when”. He told me that he had been watching me most of the night and said that he told his girl that he knew me. He commended me on my dance, gave me extremely high praise and complimented me on how my style was unique to me and how great it looked to him. He told me how impressed and proud he was of my growth and development in the dance. I tried to brush off the compliment as nothing, or at best trivial (because I’m still a fan of his) but he wasn’t having it. He reiterated what he said and expounded further by saying that he’s seen many a guy who doesn’t have their own identity in the dance and that many guys haven’t found a way to be themselves as steppers. He then went on to say that he could identify the influence of other steppers on the dance styles of different guys and could identify by name the accomplished stepper they learned from or who they were emulating. “That isn’t the case with you”, he said, “because you clearly have your own style…you’re comfortable with who you are, you’re enjoying the music, you’re having fun, and I can see it in your face and your body language. You got it brother, you got it, and I’m just glad to be here sitting and watching you, remembering where you came from”.
Well…needless to say, I was good for the rest of the night. I’d received all the validation I needed in recognition of the time and effort I’ve put into being me in this dance that I love so much. It meant so much to me to hear that coming from a “gentleman” of the dance, someone that I knew personally, someone who told me at the very outset of my adoption and learning process that if I stuck with it I’d get it. I’m happy to be in my own Steppin’ skin. That’s not to say that I don’t want to evolve and that I don’t want more for me in the dance because I do. There’s way, way too much more out there to take in. For now though, I’m in a very good place and I like it.
I’m sharing this story with you not because I’m feeling full of myself, but because I want to encourage you to stay on your journey of becoming an accomplished stepper. Decide how you want to convey the dance to the world. Let your own personality shine through in the dance. Dare to be different! Love yourself more than you ever have and let that shine through as you dance. There are people who stand out in the dance for one simple reason: they found their fit and became comfortable with it. They learned from others, but never sacrificed who they were to look like someone else. If we’re all different as people, and I can assure you that we are, there’s nothing wrong with those differences also being reflected in our styles of dance.
As an interesting side note, since I began Steppin’ I’ve never aspired to enter the World’s Largest Steppers Contest (WLSC). It has never been on my radar, ever. I commend those who do, but it has never been for me. I remember being at a set in Chicago once and a good female friend of mine, and a very accomplished stepper, told me that she felt that I needed to enter the contest. I asked her why. She said: “So other people can see your style of dance…I think people need to see your style of dance”. At that time I had one video on the internet and it was pretty early in its release and the feedback from it was very positive for the most part. I asked my friend how many people she thought attended the WLSC. She provided a number, although I can’t recall what it was. I said, “Ok, how many people do you think have access to the internet? And why limit the number of people who see my style when I can share it with the world in one click?” She laughed and said “I see your point”. That’s where my thinking has been ever since. I don’t need to compete (I’m a sore loser anyway) and I prefer to keep being me. I’ll leave the WLSC to those that have a penchant for the competition. I’m good where I am for now.
I want to encourage you to find yourself, then, “BE” yourself if you haven’t done so already. It matters not what others think because they will think what they want to think anyway, so you have nothing to lose. As long as what you’re bringing to the dance makes you happy, as long as it provides a sense of purpose and positivity and helps us move the needle further towards the overall respect, admiration and appreciation for Steppin’, keep doing you! And while it may take a while for your personal style and dance persona to come together, believe me when I tell you that eventually they will. When they do, you’ll shine and there won’t be much more you have to say…all you need to do then is dance.
Keep getting what you need to become the person/dancer you want to become. And “with all thy getting, get understanding”. Know what the driving forces are that compel you to learn this dance. Know how they influence the decisions you make around what you’re learning, who you’re learning from and how much of “YOU” you’re willing to sacrifice to learn the dance. Don’t become a clone of someone else. Establish your own personal relationship with this thing called Steppin’ and let it come from an internal place of happiness, contentment, and confidence. Know thyself so that you can be yourself! I want to see you make it, because you deserve it and the dance deserves you. We need you on the team. I need you on the team. Get your gear on and let’s get to work…it’s time to get in the game! I’ll see you on the wood when you’re ready. Until then, keep calm and keep steppin’!!
What things can you do to establish your own dance persona? How can you stand out from the rest and contribute to the dance that we know and love? What things can you do to stay inspired and continue to develop in the dance? Leave a comment below. Feel free to share this blog post with others if you feel inspired to do so.