Personal Recollections

This section is for personal accounts of history as the people who were there remember it. Please share your personal recollections of sets, contests, or any event you remember. Be a witness to history. Please include dates if possible, at least approximate timeframes please. Click here to submit your memory.


The photo above is the Knights of Columbus hall where the legendary Keyman's club was at.


Budland was in the basement of the Pershing Hotel at 64th & Cottage Grove.

Here are some of Dan Land's video interviews from YouTube on the dance:
Boppin' to Steppin'

 

Historic Places

 

Steppin' Pattern or Count

 

Freestyle

 

Ghouster or Ivy League

 

From Willie Bell (Steppin History Stories Facebook Group)

I remember when I first started steppin back in the late 60s when it was called boppin....I was a young teenager at the time so the places that I could go were very limited.....My parents were old fashioned and I was not able to run the streets freely, lol...

If there was an basement, apartment,or house party I could usually go to those ' s because they started within my time fame and the cost of admission was your waist sizes (waist line party)... This is a little history for the younger generation of steppers... I must say when I refer to the younger steppers I mean no disrespect... Just trying to get you to vision this in your mind and feel as if you were there with me... It was a different time and era but that's all it was...

The same way this dance has grabbed you today is the same way it grabbed me all those decades ago... But with all that said what sticks out the most to me as I reminisce is a party that was given once a year in an high school gymnasium... This was in my opinion the biggest party for teenagers of the year... It was given at CVS vocational high shool by none other then the COOL GENT HERB KENT.... Man when I tell you that it was big I mean BIG!!!! The first year when I got tickets I couldn't get in... The place had us lined up all around the school and they only let so many people in because of the chicago fire code.

So the next year and from then on my brother Sammie and myself had a plan, lol....WE would get there about 2 hours before the party started and get on the shoulder where the door would swing open and climb over the open door and jump down and get in, lmbo....It might sound like a bit much now, but we did what we had to do at the time, hahaha....When everyone told there stories about how great the party was we could share that experience with them because we were there too...

That was Herb Kent when we were teenagers but we also share another great time with this iconic legendary DJ....The 70's group members were the last generation of steppers to dance at club that our parents and grandparents dance at... The Budland... Most of us lived to go to the Budland to dance with the music from the cooool gent and occasionally listen to him and Larry Jo signifying against each other, lol... Let me tell you Herb Kent was hilarious, lol... Where else could you go and have the time of your life at that time but the Budland....

I had the blessing to be in St Louis at Stepaganza when he received yet another awarded and got the chance to talk to him... Let me tell you that was one conversation that will be in my memory for ever... I thank him him for letting me ride along with him on his train none stop to STEPPERSVILLE. 70'S group 4 life!

Kathy Wiggins Story

My 1st entry for my Stepping history. I was born on the North side of Chicago; I lived in the Cabrini Green projects (when I was a baby). We later moved to the Southside (when I was an adolescent). I began Stepping on the Southside of Chicago, when I was about 14-15 years, between 1974-1975.

I learned to Step at basement parties and High School Sock Hops. I began to hone the art of Stepping at various skating rinks (Markham, the Rink) and clubs like the Garage, the Fort, Perv's House and the Sheba, just to name a few. I won my first Stepping contest dancing with Womack, I was so nervous. But, it was at the Dungeon (aka Palidum South) where my Stepping skills evolved and I begin to develop my own signature style.

It was here at the Dungeon that I observed some of the sharpest, coldest and most talented Steppers God ever created. And it was here that I gained a great appreciation for the phenomenon of Stepping. I believe it was here that I was initiated into the culture and family of Stepping.

Back in the day they called me "Tabu". (named after the legend Taboo (Calvin) one of the greatest male Steppers ever to grace a dance floor). I believe it was DJ Sam Chatman that began calling me Tabu, during a Stepping contest. But that was over 35 years (lol).

Stepping saved me from the harsh and cold streets of Chicago. It gave this little brown girl a place to do what I love, and that is dance. It gave me an outlet for fun with friends and a place of refuge, to dance and forget about the world for a few hours. In 1983 I joined the Air Force, so I was off the Stepping scene for a while. But, I never stopped dancing. Whether in the states or overseas, I had my Stepping music with me, because Stepping is not just a dance, it's a culture, it's a part of me and it's in my heart.

I retired from the military in 2007. Many thanks and much love to Sue Sue Susan Watson, Jannice Robertson and Kim Bowie for reconnecting me with my Chicago Stepping family. Thanks for listening. Kathy Wiggins

Kim Bowie's story

I was born and raised in the Wentworth Garden project in Chicago, I attended Robert S. Abbott Elementary School where I first witnessed the dance at Friday night social center that was in 1968 when it was called bopping, I was watching my sister Rogina who taught me the basics of bopping when I was 11 years old.

I really learned to master the dance at Abbott School Social Center when all the guys and girls came from all the projects to dance and it was a lot of competition I saw. In 1974 I won the first man on man contest with my boy Taboo at Circle Campus.

My first real set that I went to was at the Time Square a.k.a. the Old Packing House, from there I started dancing on Soul Train with my first ever partner LaDonna Scott. I would go from project to project when they would give the steppers quarter parties where I used to get chased home from dancing so good.

The first big set I went to was at the Ridgeland Club where the legendary William Barnett gave the best steppers sets in Chicago. That's when I blew up (in the stepping game) and from there came the Dungeon with the legendary Cousin Danny, in my early years of stepping.

I competed in numerous steppers contest I won but it is too many to count, I also competed in several Chicago World Largest Steppers competitions, but the one that stood out the most was 1996 when me and my partner Big Freda danced, it was controversial, even though we received a standing ovation and chants from the crowd calling our number we did not win but we came back in 1998 with success, we would leave no doubt in the judges mind in this contest, we won 1st place in the original style category.

I would like to name and honor some of the coldest guys and ladies in my era who made my success in stepping possible and I am going to start with the guys, first I want to honor my friend George Macaroni (RIP) who won second place in 1998 in the original category, Tommy McBride aka Tommy T (RIP), Charlie Brown (RIP), Lil Alfred (RIP), Lil Minus (RIP), Roscoe Elzey (RIP), my main man Lil Mike (RIP), Romeo, Donny Ray and Lil Taboo.

Now for the coldest ladies in my era they are Karen Perkins (RIP), Lil Althea (RIP), Big Biggie (RIP), Carlene ,Damita and my main girl Janice, I really can go on and on but I don't want to write a book, because stepping is an art and this legendary dance is so original that it can not be duplicated, I am known for my unique style, footwork, and ability to put that English on you with my hand movement.

Tom Slick from north side of Chicago original stepper from Cabrini Green projects,
Now living in London England U.K
I miss the real steppers night in Chicago.
Chicago is the great city for master steppers from the past.
There will never be steppers like Lil Alfred H- Westside, Craig high school, 50 Cent, Hamilton House, The Southside Master steppers, Near north side Kings of Cabrini Green St Joseph's Sam Chatman know this, Cooley High, The Basement Cabrini Green.

109th St. Cousin Danny, Sam Chatman, Herb Kent V-103, The Dungeon, Terrible Ted, The Keyman's Club Westside, Lil Mike, Fred at the Front, Crazy Larry.

Thank You All for the love of stepping
Chicago is the greatest heart of stepping in the U.S.
But we had very little support in that time; to help us come up from the ghetto to help our youth's to understand the past.
Posted on SteppersUSA.Com 5/12/2013

 
Parts 1 & 2 Published on Nov 19, 2012 on YouTube from a show on a Chicago channel called "In The Kitchen". It was hosted by DJ Lala Rogers and produced by Rosetta Voss. The guests on the panel are: DJ Famous Amos, executive editor and publisher of The Chicago Steppin Guide, http://chicagosteppinguideonline.com , KP, steppin' instructor - DJ King George of the 24-hour internet radio station www.Clubsteppin.com  - and steppin instructor KP.
December 8, 2001
Video donated by Walter Logan of 5th City Steppers set
 

Here's a list of Chicago Steppers clubs past and present (Listed alphabetically)(124 Locations):


If you don't see a Chicago steppers club listed please Contact US

The video above is a taped recollection by Calvin (Taboo) Jarrett. It was taped at the 21st annual world's largest steppers contest site in Tinley Park IL 9/17/2011

Era Referenced: 1980's
Stepping - A Dance and Lifestyle

The beauty of Stepping as I recall it -- was how people on the scene -- dressed to impress from the floor up! Where a stepper could maintain his spot 2 feet wide and 2 feet long dancing rhythmically, romantically, and stylistically with a woman. Where two individuals became one. I followed the lead of many great jocks, Willie Cox, Ernest L, Bill Humphries, Sam Chatman, Luther Gage, Kenny B., I inspired others who followed me on wheels of steel. I spun for some social clubs too. Spinning at places North of Madison Avenue at "Karl Satin Doll" for the Four of Us. I opened Heroes, then the Clique with the Connection for the 1st Sunday monthly Set and was across the street at Mr. Ricky's with the Rat Pack on Wednesdays and the Thursday after work set. I had a base at Nikko's, The Matador, The Fifty Yard Line, The Other Place, and the Godfather just to name a few in mid 80's I bursted on scene and today some remember me as the Legendary Reggie Miles

Reggie Miles

Era Referenced: 1980's

1983 footage of original steppers at The Beverly House in Chicago. This weekly set was sponsored by Sam Chatman and other guest DJs. In this footage you will see clips of the late, great George “Macaroni”, Darryl Robert’s Birthday dance, man on man dancing, and a very young looking Tracy Ya hir (CD Guy) during the “gentleman’s toast” towards the end.

Era Referenced 1962
The Chicago Style Walk
By Andrew Antonio Allen

"We walk around in a ring an suppose. But, the secret sits in the middle and knowz." - Robert Frost

Back in the day, the Walk Dance had it's camouflage existence, as comedy walks and high kicking steps. The really passionate Cakewalk was hidden away in the privacy of Afro American houses. The intimate walk 'round reappears centuries later, in the graceful Chicago Style Walk. We stand 'round the edge of the dance floor and watch the couples circling ever so slowly, as they walk solemnly in a circle. Staring at the hypnotic look on the dancers faces, convey a mystic atmosphere. The sweeping sound of the music takes the dancers emotions away. They move alluring, as their feet are slightly lifted. Their faces shine with a solemn glowing expression for the gliding steps, as if some mystical force keeps the flowing couples in harmony to the stream of music. Men and women perform the Walk Dance with such elegance and grace its performance always commands dignity and respect.
They go in a deliberate procession as if to recreate some long lost ritual from some long lost distant past. The cool sway of their bodies becomes a musical meter with the precision of a fine tuned watch. In their passage see the beauty of dance art in it's highest form. Ladies and gentlemen phrasing their accents to the timing of a drum-beat. They flow to the music like the graceful flow of a river. The suave gentlemen move slowly foreword in solemn movement of resolve. While the ladies retreat in elegant motions of sophistication. And we ponder and wonder with surprise. And we stand there not knowing what to ask, yet asking ourselves, "What does that mean? Even those unfamiliar with the dance will have to pause and ponder for its performances command attention. We gaze into a dance ceremony that only our rhythm remembers in our soul.

Thousands of years ago, African people believed that sound created the universe and dance gave it order. These dancers walk counter-clockwise to imitate the movement and direction of the stars. Egyptian dancers walk in a circle, paused-a-moment and made signs of the zodiac with their hands. They walk dance to synchronizes their bodies in motion with the motion of the universe. In the unbroken circle the dancers feel the presence of cosmic energy. To walk dance symbolizes "the harmony of nature amongst the chaos in the stars."

The Walk Dance came to the shores of DancelandUSA as a West African Circle Dance. The Walk 'Round Dance was held as a religious ceremony. This dance took on a spiritual nature and became known as the Ringshout Dance. To dance in a circle (ring). To sing (shout). Chanting voices, clappin' hands or slappin' the body and stompin', produced the accompanying rhythms of the dance. From this dance came the treasured ol' Gospel hymns. Afro American merged with the Court of Versailles the dance became a couple's social dance. The ladies and gentlemen dress in their fineries. With all its jesters of pomp and circumstances; the highbrowed struts, the elegant curtsies and flamboyant bows as they move.
Because, Afro Americans for the prize of a cake the dance was named the Cakewalk dance. In competition, the dancers walk 'round in a promenade or march-like step for the judges and the audience. The dancers with the most complex and unusual steps won the cake. The Cakewalk Dance became the first popular dance in America. By the time it hit the minstrel stage there were a variety of Cakewalks. On the minstrel stage became the grand finale on the chittlin' circuit. Later, the Walk 'Round Dance was introduced to America in Broadway shows and Hollywood musicals. Today, the church congregations exhibit essence of the Ringshout in songs, when the choir sways side to side or the choir lines-up in a procession and march down the aisle.

As a Teenager, I remember how the music and the dance delighted and enchanted us. We travelled throughout the city, any place had a jukebox or record player was playing, to get our dance on. Yet, It never occurred to me, why? Until, one evening I showed up at all alone, at Herb Kent's Friday night dance party held at St. Phillips High School. I had searched fro my 'ace-coom-booms' (best friends) Lumpy, Jim, Boston and Boxdell and sometimes, Haywood, all that day.
They hadn't been at our usual hangouts. So, I went home and got ready for the set feeling sure I'd see them that evening. As I walked into the large gymnasium it was packed with hundreds of teenagers. The entire basketball court sized dance floor was packed. As soon as I entered, I immediately started looking for them. I creamed around the dance floor weaving through the people dancing and wallflowers standing. For a minute, I began anxiously pushing my way, through the crowd. I just had to find my road dogs. For a while, I stood in one-stop and stared into the faces of the circling dancers as they walked past. I circled the place 4 or 5 times until I was exhausted. So I looked up and saw the darkly lit balcony. So I could get a better view of the dance floor. I thought a good vantage point, above the crowd; I could not miss sighting them from up there. Alone I quietly moved into the balcony. My tired feet announced themselves when I reached that top of the balcony steps.
When I started peering over the balcony railing for Jim n' nem the gym lights suddenly went off. The room for a few seconds went totally black. When the dim lights slowly came back up Herb Kent was standing center stage in the bright spot light. He announced, "Here tonight! Donald Jenkins and the Delighters... singing their latest hit song, 'Elephant Walk'!! They came out on stage looking cool in their slick shark skin suits. As soon as the music came on hundreds of teens began walkin' slowly around the dance floor. Later, little did I know the dance, to some, would take on the name of the popular song, 'The Elephant Walk.'

The boys and girls on the dance floor had become a flowing sea of bodies riding on the flow of music. The Walk is purely a romantic dance. While the music made the couples dance smooth and dignified in style giving them a musical personality, as they travel gracefully around, it was a rhythmic tidal wave of faces that had me spellbound and stuck to that balcony railing. I stood there enchanted by a vortex of elegant movement and enchanting music below my feet. The couples in the center danced their Slow Drag Dance, moving ever so slowly, around and around on themselves. Giving the circle a center of permanence. The Cool Walk Dance of sophistication and poise, took up the bulk of the circle. Those dancers mid way in the revolving disc danced in a ceremonious Cool Walk,, without lifting their feet, but slightly from the floor. Harmonious to the music, they maintained their position mid way in the circle. The beat and swaying motion gave a coolness that mesmerized me as I watched them. On the outer edge of the dance floor making the rotation faster on the outside came the Skip Walk Dance; a kind of Foxtrot that gave the rotating disc its feeling of a spinning motion. Dancing smoothly, flowing on the sound of the music. Then on the outside came the Gouster's; the guys with their pleated baggy pants, wide brim hats and 'ol man comfort shoes. The Gouster girls in their pleated skirts and suspenders, white socks and Buster Brown shoes. The Gousters came whirling the outer edge of the circle with their faster skip movements. "Quick! Quick! Slow-quick! Quick! Slow." Sometimes trotting their path, allowing the disc a spinning motion. A red spotlight reflected off of the ballroom globe that hung from the ceiling. The red light shined down onto the dancers like the spokes of a wagon wheel, appearing to lead the dancers leisurely moving them round and around the floor. Wonderful beautiful faces, "Let it flow baby!" to the music in time. I was totally awe struck. It was truly wonderful to my senses. Now, it all came together as a giant wagon wheel rotating to the hypnotic song "crazy melody, always haunting to me, Elephant Walk." Circling in time to mystical rhythms that endured a lost history in time. At that moment I said to my self; "How beautiful they are!" When the music faded and the lights came up it took a minute or two for me to snap out of the hypnotic trance the dance had induced. And our dancing has never been the same for me since. Later, I would learn some ancient ceremony had come to life before my eyes. It was so amazing to me to see a hidden splendor of Afro American culture displayed in the heart of our community. To see them in their finest moment of artistic beauty blending dance and music. Since that amazing encounter of dance for me, has become a steppers way of life.

 

Era's Referenced: 1960's, 1970's 1980's, 1990's, 2000's
Personal Recollection

Growing up in St. Louis in the 60's and 70's, I was always fascinated by this couples dance called "The Bop". I would go to basement house parties where people would dance, but sooner or later, someone would break out with the Bop... and it was so smooth to watch two people gliding across the floor. The Bop was very popular in St. Louis and I wanted to learn it so badly but I never had any older relatives or friends to teach it to me. Years passed. But I always liked watching couple dancing, even to the point of watching white folks Ballroom competition dancing on TV.

One particular weekend after building a career, family, and moving to Atlanta, I went out to a local club and watched a couple get in the midst of all these Hip Hoppers .. and do what I thought was the Bop. Right then I made a promise to myself to learn this dance. The very next day I looked on the internet for "Bopping" (back then I never heard of Chicago Steppin), and just randomly selected a instructor, Cheryl "Sugarfoot" Powe.... and haven't looked back. Through attending her class every Saturday at the YMCA I eventually learned "Chicago Steppin" which came evolved from The Bop. The dance consumed me, I couldn't get enough of it! I can honestly say I have had more fun since learning this dance than at any other time. It has added a dimension to my life that was missing. I have met great people and friends and has even given me a bit of "flavor" to my life style! I now want to learn other forms of dance mainly Walking and Detroit Ballroom. My only regret... not taking this dance up sooner! Peace.

Stan Johnson

Era's Referenced: 1960's, 1970's
Steppin' has a History!

As I remember it: The year was 1968, I was 23, my dad the late Ray Lacy decided to take me out one Friday night. He took me to a lounge down in a basement on or about 62nd & Cottage Grove, the place "Budland". Dad was known as a Gouster Bopper, loose pants i.e zute suit, watch chain hooked on the side, Fadora Hats the whole nine yards. He was so cool, dressed to impress was truly his game. The male dancers my dad loved to watch back in the day were people like Sammy Davis Jr., The Nicholas Brothers and even Fred Astaire.

Dad taught me how to tone down the Bop, bring it down he said, tighten your steps, stay in front of me no matter where I lead you, hold your head up don't look at your feet, show confidence, get some attitude, don't kick your feet just step into it, don't need to smile and the woman must always be the one to conform to their partner. Your job, he said, is to make your partner look good! It's a 50/50 dance! Want to dance like me? Watch little girl and learn. That's exactly what I did. Back then, there was no name "Steppin" there was no count such as a 8, 6, or 4 you learned by watching the floor & practice.

To this day, most of the above rules are still in play, only a few were lost in translation. However, I still remember them all.

About Watching: dad called it (Stealing a Move) if you liked a move go home and practice it, make it your own. The more you did it the better you got. I fell in love with the dance. Dad always told me, this is a thinking man's dance (footwork) was the key, it wasn't meant, in the beginning for everyone. The dancers back then were like a click. However, the more we did it outside of Budland, The Grand Ballroom, The Pershing, The Zombie Club, Glass House, Guys & Gals, later Ms. Bonnie's & The President's Lounge the more people wanted to learn it.

A few of our DJ's: Herb Kent, Sam Chatman, Butter Ball, Richard Pagee, the late Jimmy Lee & more. The songs we danced to: Old Skool Smooth: Temptations, Impressions, Gladys Knight & the Pips, 4 Tops, Flamingos, etc. whether slow or fast we could do that dance to it.

Something else that was lost in translation: Dad taught me "Off Boppin'' where you can take a fast song and slow your steps down to a off beat (half count). Now that was something to watch it was absolutely the smoothest, coolest Bop you ever want to see. All the spinnin' and turnin' the woman has to do and what Steppin' has evolved into today, it's okay however, when I see it I can't help but look back and wonder what ever happened to the 50/50 dance. Where's the man's footwork? The woman is truly working and the man is stepping around her with his hand extended in the air signaling her to turn and turn and spin. Personally I feel its turned into 70% woman and 30% man with the man getting all the credit.

Any of today's Chicago's Heavy Hitters that say they learned via counting are not the original heavy hitters, they came later along with High Steppin' & Freestyle (the next generation of steppers late 70's & 80's) this is the generation that gave the dance the name "Steppin". Note: Not to say by any means the High Steppers or Freestylers learned via counting. I believe counting came along later to help the people who couldn't pick up the dance by just watching. Remember dad said, " the dance originally wasn't meant for everybody".

Icon's: like Charlie Green, Yvonne Green, Dimples, Stony Jackson, Yvonne B. Paramore, Ty Skippy, Chipper and many others with exception to Black Mary are rarely mentioned today. Markie Bee, to this day for me, there ain't nothin' like Old Skool Steppin'! It was the best of the best it was just plain elegant, classy, cool and smooth! I am a true promoter of "Keeping Chicago Old Skool Steppin' Alive"! My dad's legacy lives on in me and all who I have taught.

Evaughn Muldrew

Era's Referenced: 1960's, 1970's

I love to step, I've been stepping since I was about 9 or 10. I was taught by relatives. As I got of age I went to the Dungeon, Burning Spear, Mr. G's (on the west side then), Sheba (before it was Mr. G's), Illusions, Cotton Club, Chic Ricks, Strickly Business, The Garage, Sam Chapman's parties at Chicago State University, The Fantasy (Casper use to perform on skates), East Of The Ryan (every time they close and reopen), El-Matador (before they were the 50 Yard Line on 75th), The Skyway, Sandpipers, Glasshouse, The Other Place and many, many more.

The new school stepping is cool and the real steppers out there look good doing their thing so smoothly/footwork and all but I just don't know where the counting comes from. Where was that originated and incorporated into stepping. It's not in bopping and stepping was birthed from bopping.

I've learned from the new schooler's how old schooler's incorporporate the old school moves in with some of the new school moves. I do both old and new I also enjoy watching others do it. Stepping is the smoothest dance on the map.

Stepping came from Chicago and now it's navigating all over the United States, which is a beautiful thing. I give credit to all you real steppers out there old/new/both old and new. Keep doing your thing. I'm going to keep doing mine (Thanks to Mr. Steppin Professor and you are one of the smoothest out there).

Ms Queen from Chicago

Era Referenced: 1950's:
Where my feet came from
comments: I grew up in Stateway Gardens 3517 South federal (1957) that's were I got my feet from (learned how to bop) when I saw the older kids "gettin down" I had to learn so I started having sets in our apartment, the guys were eager to teach, I learned to bop, stride (my personal favorite) dance off-time (bopping to slow music) we did cha-cha, mambo cha-cha, the pershing bop, the 47th street strut, the roach, the twine (I learned from Fred Walker (twine-master) I can't recall may more. We would bop under the breezeway in Stateway, then when the little kids went upstairs the little kid's playground would become our bopping set. In those days we went to parties in other projects such as the Harold Ickies on 22nd state, where my cousins lived, the Dearborn Homes at 26 and State, Ida B wells always had sets, Wentworth Gardens 35th Wentworth, summer Friday's was the back of Raymond School we were allowed to use the record player from 6pm-10pm our friends who didn't live in the projects like the Reed's the Brazil's to name the most well known ones. Soon I graduated to the Pep's 47th and St. Lawrence or Champlain. This dance hall was famous when my parents were young they met there, my Mom and her sister came from the West-side to party there. I wish it was still there it was sort of an honorary rites of passage for me. When we didn't have music the guy's who had talent would entertain us in the hallways, on the street corners during lunch at school anywhere they got an audience. Some of these guy's from Stateway in my building went on to become the "Lost Generation, "Lee Charles" was another singer; there was soooo much talent in all neighborhoods. I'm so proud to be from Stateway Gardens the projects is where I learned about Life. When I returned to bopping I learned from my younger sisters that it was now "steppin" I learned to step and started going to stepper's set 1980's, I met my now husband of 21 yrs at Mr. Rickey's he was one of the house DJ's (OJ) now my grown children who made fun of our steppin and calls it "the ole people dance" are now steppin. I go out steppin every once in a while with my husband, but now I will go out more often. I want to thank-you for giving this historic dance it's props, whether you call it jitterbug, bopping, steppin, we all do what we know how to do and will grow old doing "Our Thang" God Bless an Good Health. Monica

Era Referenced: 1960's - 1970's
BOPPIN AND STEPPIN
The Chicago Bop was the craze in all the high schools. I know, I helped take it the next level. We had dance contests throughout Chicago, at the Engineering building downtown, the Sunset Ballroom, the Concept Ballroom, The Chaparral, City College, IIT, Altgeld Gardens all the high schools such as Lindblom Tech, Dunbar, Fenger, Calumet, Harper, Simeon, CVS and many more. We innovated the dance week by week, inventing moves and turns that equaled or exceeded ANY ballroom dancing done to this day. The stuff they re talking about now concerning 6 COUNT and 8 COUNT is no big deal and nothing new... WE HAD PEOPLE DOING 12 COUNT! The objective in this case was to get as many foot movements into beat pattern as possible. Exactly like the note in a music bar... You can have 8 eighth notes, 4 quarter notes 2 half notes etc. Bottom line is that when the bar of music ends, you are on beat!

Of note was the fact that at that time, many dancers wore tailor made suits (Silk and Wool was the preferred fabric) from the likes of B&B Woolens and many other tailors. The styles were as varied as the moves. Some of the top dancers and innovators of the BOP which is now known as Steppin included''' Sylvester Baker, Dwight Hodges, Carl (Last name unknown) and the Social Groups Known as THE FELLAS and another called SUPER SMOOTH INCORPORATED. Probably the best innovators and some of the very finest dancers of the time (late 60 s to early 70 s) were Jack "HUD" Hudson, Lawrence "LARD" Gore and Anthony "FUNNY" Bailey. They were true MASTERS of the CHICAGO BOP. They established the Chicago Bop (Steppin) as an ART FORM. Their innovation and precision carried them to the top of all the dances at the places mentioned above and many more. Crowds would wait for them to start dancing because they knew they would be in for a show! Especially on a long jam like Quincy Jones' "KILLER JOE" or a super up-tempo song like "MORE TODAY THAN YESTERDAY" by Spiral Staircase. Splits, Turns, Over the arm leg kicks, syncopated steps, off beat steps where you still made the crossover in perfect timing. (see 6 count/8 count above) Amazing. Smooth, graceful with ultimate finesse. Straight up Chicago! There were thousands of people doing the BOP/Steppin. There was probably 100 - 200 more young men and women in the city, especially the South side and the West Side who were at the top of the game to the point of being innovators also. In the early 70's Soul Train, which started in Chicago, had a few episodes in which you will see the dancers performing the Chicago Bop (Steppin). By 1973 - 75 Disco became the craze and momentarily overtook the Bop/Steppin. However, the younger teenagers learned the moves from their older brothers and sisters and brought the dance back to prominence. If anyone has movies of these original movies, please contact me at BestEffects@aol.com .

Anyone who would like to know more about the Beginning of the Chicago Bop which is now called Chicago Steppin, feel free to contact me at the above email address. I know the above to be a fact because I was there. I'm Jack "HUD" Hudson an innovator of the Chicago Bop / Steppin

Bopping in the Public Housing
comments: It was 1979 and my mother moved my siblings and I to Washington Park Homes, on 41st and Lake Park. As we walked towards the gangway we saw to guys dancing together, and performing fancy footwork to "Pass The Peas" by the "JBs". I thought it was amazing and my sisters and I would mimic that style of dance whenever we had a chance. It was known to us as bopping. My cousins, Aunts and Uncles followed suit and we grew up skating and bopping. My mom would say, that if you can skate, then you could bop, BOPPERS ARE SKATERS And SKATERS ARE BOPPERS...When that gave a 50 cents set in the jets, we go just to watch the guys bop....I can remember, Smokey Robinson, "Quite Storm" was playing and two guys got up and started, bopping.....and "threw down" right at the bridge of the song...it was sooooo smooth!!! I fell in love with stepping that day!!! Andrea

Era Referenced: 1960's and 1970's

In the late 60's,I couldn't wait to learn this thing only the gang bangers were doing, Called "The Disciple Bop. It was on after that. I grew up in Englewood and Woodlawn. Went to CVS high school, from there it was The Y on 61st and Drexel ,and Circle Campus. The El Panama and The RoadRunner, Then the guys that are stepping Kings now were doing the Spank" and all that fast dancing stuff. Later on they started calling it steppin. Its one of the smoothest forms of dance I've ever seen, besides Latin dancing, and Ballroom dancing. I never knew what a six count or eight count was, we just learned the basics, and added on from that. I not taking away anything from New School steppin, Why! because for some strange reason ,Steppin is finally getting the recognition Its always deserved. To Old school and New School steppers, God Bless You All. and Keep on Steppin. Natalie.
P.S. God Bless My Best Friend George "Macaroni" Garnes and R.I.P. I love You.

Era referenced: 1970's By Rick


On a subject , no one is wrong. My experience goes back to when my brother and our boys stepped with each other in the basement. It was fast and hard that's why we rarely danced with girls. We just learned our craft by trying new things and making mistakes. Once we got a little older we refined what we did and got smooth & graceful... now making our girlfriends a part of the mix. Now after becoming mature adults it's all about style and grace, and having a good time.

Era Referenced: 1970's

I was 9yrs old when my dad taught me the 2 step bob to jazz. Growing up in Robert Taylor projects we did a one, two, cross, cross step and that took us to Time Square on Sundays.....as time went by the bop was tweaked time and time again but you never lost that basic step not even today....I am old school and very proud to be a part of the evolution.

Era Referenced: 1970's

Dian Davney
The Dungeon and the 70's

I was Bopping coming out of grade school going into high school the year was 1970. I grew up on the south side of Chicago (79th Ridgeland). A group of us teenagers started dancing in the candy store on the block. We would put our money in the juke box and step. My first dancing partner was Mr. Donnie Davis we were the two shortest ones on the block dancing, so we just sort of paired up. We all went to the house parties and school hops and did the fast dances also, but there was nothing like bopping or stepping. Back then stepping had a g on the end of the word. We started going out of the neighborhood to other places. The Midland hotel was the ultimate experience for me; I was basically a wallflower the girl the guys would get to practice with. The one place I remember was the The Dungeon, back then it was the place to go for young adults that could not get into the the clubs. We would get on the 78th street bus to the Dan Ryan El and take that to 95th and transfer to the Michigan bus. . My girlfriends would take the El from the Westside to get there. Now tell me we did not want to step. Back then we did not have a car if you were lucky to get a car you would have everyone trying to ride with you. We went out in groups back then. Mr. Sam Chatman along with Cousin Danny and Terrible Ted were the DJ we followed. We would line up on the steps going into the basement to go in to dance. They did not sell alcohol because we were not of age to drink. We would be down there dancing and sweating, the walls and floor would be sweating also. Sam was the DJ that played stepping music while everybody else was into disco, so we followed Sam. Wherever he went, we followed Sam would have big poster like the ones you see for street cleaning plaster all over the city advertising his sets.
My favorite person to watch on the dance floor was Linda Foster and Little Tommy, and Slim and Nicky. Linda was such a dancer that when she was on the floor doing double and triple spins and turns you just had to sit back and watch because not many ladies back then could dance like she did. Slim had fast feet and he and Nicky would really put on a show on the floor. There was also Raymond and Baby 2. My husband likes to watch Michael keys and Michael Madden dance back then. I met my husband and my three girlfriends Linda, Mary, Pat (formerly the Foxetts) back then and we still continue to go out stepping with each other.
There are so many places that we went to too step, like the Ridgeland Club on 73rd Ridgeland, the Budland on 64th Cottage Grove, The Roadrunner 75th off exchange, the East of the Ryan on 79th street but back then it was the Colonial House, then Perv's House and now the East of the Ryan, the Copper Box 1on 89th Ashland and the Copperbox 2 on 116th Halsted which into the 69club. The Keymans club on the Westside, the Safari room the High Chaparral on 78th Stony Island, the Concept Ballroom on 79th Halsted, who can forget Loyola and Circle campus parties. These are just some of the places we remember the more we talk about them the more names we remember.
When we started bopping in the 70,s we danced at sets with Alice of the Dancetts, Black Mary, Lonnie Clark, Clinton Gent, Ronnie Paul, Jackson at the Budland. These people were bopping when we came in and changed bopping to stepping. They never stopped doing the way the dance and continue to dance the same way now. I am glad I started stepping at a young age (teenager). We did not learn from counting we learned from doing the dance, like at the candy store. We went from steppin fast in the 70 s to stepping smooth in the 80 s. Those of us that started dancing back in the 70 s and are still dancing now know that steppers stay in the middle of the floor and walkers on the outside. We know that any walking song that comes on we can slow bop or slow step or walk around the floor, I think we came dance like that because of the music that we came up dancing to the people we danced with and dancing to the music no counting steps. I had a chance of going to my friend class (Donnie Davis) in 1998 because I wanted to learn more turns, he taught a 6 count, and I always danced without counting. I also had the pleasure of going to Claudel s class. He and Swan gave me more confidence. Thank you Guys. So it s been over 30 years I still hang with the same 3 girlfriend, same husband and we still step.
Dungeoneer-Dian Davney

Marvin Wooten (Columbus, GA):

'member the steppers club "The Dungeon" used to be located on 110th and Michigan Ave. actually, between 110th place and 111th Street on Michigan Ave. That place was popping with steppers. I used to go there back in the early 70's, say between Oct '73 and the summer of '75. There was this one couple there....man they could "turn it out!" Sorry I don't remember the names, but I seen one move that I've never seen since. I myself, learned to step on the "block", we used to step to AWB-School Boy Crush, David Bowie-Fame and Kool & The Gang-Summer Madness, to name a few...! Man those were the days. Thanks for letting me share my memories.

Natalie (Chicago):
"I have been steppin since 1970,when I started in the Englewood area of Chicago, It was no such count as 6 or 8 we just learned it, followed it and adlibbed from the basic step. There is nothing like it. it soothes my soul being on that dance floor."

Monica (Detroit):
"Good morning, I would like to piggyback off of what the young lady said in the (SteppersUSA.Com) newsletter about stepping in the 1970's. Although I am no longer living in Chicago I was born and raised there. I now reside in Detroit, Michigan.
I remember back in the mid-70's when the fellows used to step in the corner restaurants doing lunch break while I was in my early years of high school in Chicago. I do not recall stepping being a lane dance back then as was stated previously the brothers and sisters just stepped. Whatever they were doing they made it look so smooth. I just recently became interested in stepping again during a return home visit to Chicago. (My sister attends Donnie Davis class there) You know Detroit is known for the Hustle (Line-Dance) and Ballroom dancing. Although Chicago steppin has become a very hot dance here and it seems everyone is interested in learning the new style of steppin . I guess because I remember Chicago steppin from back in the day when I first returned to class and did what I thought was steppin, they thought I was out of order. But now that I think about it back in the day when I first encountered steppin there was no lane, no count. So I say us old-timers are not out of line. The new school of steppin has taken over. It's cool though. I'm enjoying learning. Back then there were no classes. I guess in order to market the dance there had to be a change. It's a good change and I'm enjoying it."

Old School Steppin/New School imitators 04/10/09 (From John aka ChiTownJab)

Greetings fellow steppers,

Reading the postings here really put a smile on my face and brought back some fond memories. I grew up on the west side of Chicago right there on 16Th & Hamlin in the 60's. We were there when Dr. Martin L. King moved right on the corner of 15Th and Hamlin.

Back then steppin was referred to as boppin. I remember struggling to learn the dance, it seemed that everyone had a different method of teaching the steps. The way that I learned was really incredible. One night I went to a set, stood like a wall flower for most of the night and watched this one couple, they were smooth as silk.

Later that night I went home, told my brother about the set and went to bed. Some how while sleeping I managed to recall the set in my dream. It was in total detail but in the dream, I switched places with the young man that I watched and he took my place standing on the wall. In the dream I did everything that he did. When I woke up the next morning, I jumped out of my bed and started steppin.

Steppin was first brought to TV via Soul Train, which I danced on twice 11/70. If you are lucky enough to find a episode of one of the shows while it was still being filmed here in Chicago at the Board of Trade's building on the 22ND floor in the "attic", I'd love to see it.

Don Cornelius was a total snob and cold as ice, Clinton Gent., was the man, he was warm and funny, he was the person who greeted us teens when we arrived at the show. We were stepping our ass's off and did free style dances "the cold duck" down the dance line.

If you can remember back to when your parents and grand parents danced, you can clearly see the dance "pattern-steppin", they called it swing dance back then. Steppin by today's standards is not true steppin in that the pattern is not true. Let me explain... See, true stepping would sit in the same place as the Cha c\Cha, and other couples dance.

There is a set pattern that is universal, and when you do spins and turns, the pattern is never broken. What these people do today is a fractured version of steppin, the pattern is constantly being broken. Notice when they try to teach you with a count, the count never really makes sense, "does it"? They count one thing but their feet actually does a different count. Steppin is like the black version of the Cha Cha, the Cha Cha is like the Spanish version of steppin, just watch closely and you'll agree, there are only a few steps that separate the two dances.

I went to many of the same places that Dian Davney mentioned, the Ridgeland Club on 73rd Ridgeland, the Budland on 64Th Cottage Grove, The Roadrunner 75Th off exchange, the East of the Ryan on 79Th street but back then it was the Colonial House, then Perrv s House and now the East of the Ryan, the Copper Box 1on 89Th Ashland and the Copperbox 2 on 116Th Halsted which into the 69club. The Keymans club on the West side, the safari room the High Chaparral on 78Th Stony Island, the Concept Ballroom on 79Th Halsted, Percel hall on Washington, who can forget Loyola and Circle campus parties.

Those who know what I'm talking about would agree, there are four sides of this great city west, south, north, east. All sides stepped, we use to compete, the only difference is that the styles of each side of the city was different but the pattern was never broken. What I mean is this for example, west siders took the pattern forward, north siders did the same steps but they took the pattern side to side. You could watch someone step and tell what side of the city they came from. Same number of steps, same count, just different directions, so if you were doing the pattern correctly then you could dance with anyone no matter what side of the city they came from.

No disrespect meant but todays steppin is phony as hell no question about it. If you aren't old school steppin then you aren't really steppin. You are merely mimicking the dance, it's just like ballroom dancing, which means that there are certain rules applied other wise you were not doing the dance.

Back in the day our style of dress was Gouster and Ivy League. I was into the Gouster look, baggie pants with pleats, knit shirts, Stacy Adams shoes, Dobbs hats, lol lol. From there we started going to Fox Brothers to have our clothes tailor made and we wore gators and snake & lizard skin shoes, Bosalina hats yawl know what I'm talk-in bout. Most of us young men dressed better then most adult males.

Herb Kent was, is, and will always be the man. He's the Godfather of stepper sets, funny thing is that Herb never learned to step, ask him, he'll tell you, he just played the jams and still does, he still has a big set every summer out south east at the golf course. Any Westinghouse Warrior grads here? Holla at me 66"/70".

Have you every heard the terms pimp-in and simp-in, do you know what they mean, ask somebody. If you were pimp-in, you were doing it for real, if you were simp-in, then you were faking at it, going thru the motions but not really doing it. Old school steppin would be pimp-in, new school steppin would be simp-in, they are just play-in at it. Just saying it like it is. Again

I'll try to make it very very plain, the Cha Cha is the same all over the world, if you're doing it according to the pattern, then you can Cha Cha with anyone all over the world, sticking to the true pattern is what makes it universal. The same holds true with real "old-school" steppin. I can do the same steps with my grand mother "swing dance", my mother "bop", or "step" with my wife and still be in step... The pattern is clear and defined.

Peace & Love Yawl,
John aka ChiTownJab

P.O.
You can find me and my crew at BlackMary's sets, holla.

Westside the best side (from Gerald Z)
comments: It was 1959 when I did the bop in public but I had been learning it for over a year. The bop and the stroll, called the Walk. Those were the main dances of my childhood.
A lot of Southsiders posted, I am from Marshall High School. I should have dressed Gouster with my body but all my friends were Ivy Leaguers.
I have been separated from my roots for over a decade I have never seen Stepping.
The R Kelly record does not sound promising.

Exact date not Specified (1950's)
Recollections from "Bopdaddy, King of Bop" (Chicago)
Each generation feels called upon to fashion the dance to the prevailing musical trend. From Swing music came the Jitterbug Dance, from R&B (Rock n' Roll) came the Bop Dance. But, for all you Steppin historians Steppin went thru many changes of one generation before it reached the the stage we call Steppin.
Many country cousins got off the boat excitedly shouting, "teach us how to do the Chicago Bop (1955)!"
We danced to music like Rockin Robin. By the time white kids picked up on the Bop Dance (1957), The blackfolk developed a new Bop Dance called the Pershing Bop (1958-1959). Named after the famous Pershing Hotel on 64th & Cottage Grove and the dance place downstairs, in the basement was called Budland. *Originally, Cadillac Bob's Birdland (name changed in March to Budland)
Now, we move on to the Latin beat an it's influence on the music and the dance. Jazz and blues came together to form a music we begin callin 'em, Jamz.
At this time all the blues legends had played on the corner of Maxwell St. in Jew Town, for free. Eddie Harris came out with, Exodus to Jazz and we slowed our movements to what you today, call Smooth Steppin, we called the Cool Bop (1958-1960?) (south siders called Off-Time).
Oh, Yea! The Latin Beat produced that off-time. When Motown came on the scene the first Stepper's national anthem was, "My Baby Loves Me" by Martha and the Vandellas . Smokey, the Tempts, Mary Wells, Marvelettes give us some "the best music of our lives". A new step came from an unlikely source the county jail, we called this step the Jailhouse Bop (1959-1960). Today, you call it Freestyle, it is characterized by the swivelin of the heels.
We incorporated this move into our Gouster's Bop a fast paced step. Jamz like "Quicksand & LiveWire & Johnny Come Marchin' Home & Gotta Dance to Keep from Cryin' (Smokey Robinson) , etc... made it an excellence vehicle to revive semi-Jitterbug moves.
Now, we come to the Viet Nam War era, unconscientiously or conscientious the black community was beginning to feel the lose of our young black men in the Nam. We slowed the Bop down to a post WWII dance called half-step, we called it Slow Bop. In numbers black people were only 3% of America and 30% of soldiers in the Viet Nam. After the media and CIA lied black didn't look at the news until a black reporter name Max Robinson was brought on bound.
Well, gotta go.. I'll hit ya later and tell you a story almost impossible to believe.
When ya' Step all ya'llz fine
(Editor's Note: Dates are all approximate as this is a personal recollection from a person who lived in this era. If you have exact dates, or personal recollections to add, please Click Here to share that information.)
* Information from Chicago Defender archive.

Unsubstantiated Information: The Cakewalk originated in Africa. All the ol' dances are just re-creations of African themes. That includes Steppin as well. The Walk is a African Circle Dance it's movement is counter-clockwise. Why the dance moves counter-clockwise is that our ancestors determined that the universe moves in a counter-clockwise direction. The true meanings I will tell you later. But, take this in, the Steps of the Cakewalk are the steps that produce our spirituals in the Ringshout. Our freedom songs," The Lord Delivered Daniel" etc...The Cakewalk is the same steps you see the choir move to in church, as they sway side to side or move in a procession down the aisle. Yet, the Cakewalk was developed as a special event. The best of cakes were offered as the prize. To white folk the antics of the Negro was aggregated to a caricature of Sambo. Yet, the true dignity of black culture was hidden in the cabins of blackfolk. (Ex. Check out the cover of Donald Byrd's album with Flight Time on it) and you will see a photo of the intimate Cakewalk Dance that we do now. That photo was taken shortly after emancipation. The Walk has a symbol of power, when the DJ. announces Steppers on the inside Walkers on the outside that is so the circle cannot be broken. The power is in the circle. Submitted By: Bopdaddy King of Bop

Calienda, Origin of the Cakewalk
The abuse of Afro-American history is legend. The Cakewalk stereotyped black life farther on the minstrel stage and is still considered the normal existence of black people. Gin drinkin. razor tuttin', child like behavior, without sexual restrict. Out in the cotton pickin field is where hoecakes were made, for lunch, cooked on the flat side of a gardening hoe, a small pancake made from cornmeal. At the Cakewalk Contest the best cakes where awarded. (It was like a $1,000 at the World's Largest. White America (w-----dia) has never dignified black culture enough. We as a people must make this effort to give us back our true Afro beauty. As long as America can find us on TV and laugh, just like Amos n' Andy it's fine. But, to define the beauty of ourselves and the beauty of our culture is to hot to handle. Because in this beauty we see, in Steppin' and Walkin' we may find that spark of unity we search our hearts for daily. But, as I mentioned earlier the romantic aspect of the Cakewalk had been undercover, because it could not have survived any other way. The Cakewalk was called the Calienda, in the 1700's. Taken from the Dances of Versailles; the French Promenade (walking side by side) and later, the Waltz (in closed position). But, before then Egyptians walked, to African drums, around in a counter-clockwise circle and made the signs of the zodiac with their hands. As I mentioned earlier, the circle has power, a gift of the ancestors, and the true meaning of the Walk symbolizes, "Harmony in nature amongst the chaos in the stars". The battle of the sexes rages on, yet, on the Stepper's dance floor do men and women have a mutual relationship with the music. Steppers are finally in harmony with the rhythm of Life. For your dance, Love Bopdaddy Submitted By: Bopdaddy King of Bop

The Ringshout and "set de' flo"
The Ringshout is African in origin. The Ring means circle and the Shout means to sing. So it looks like Ringshout means 'singing circle'. And the 2nd generation Africans sang in a circular procession while clapping and stompin the ground with bare feet. And according to observers the thud of hundreds of bare feet striking the earth could be heard for miles, in the night air. The African drum was literally thrown into the sea. The African drum was outlawed in all states but Louisiana. AfroAmerican developed syncopated rhythms to imitated the drum. The Ringshout was a group dance, that moved in a counter-clockwise direction, symbolizing the direction of the universe and from it came our most prized possessions the captive songs (Ol' Negro Spirituals). The deeply rooted sacred songs that gave a tortured people hope. They were called 'moanin' music'. These were carefully constructed Bible stories, sometimes when sung each one, modified told a different story. Sometimes, they were sung like "All My Children" on TV and of gossip. When sung again, it might have told Aunt Phillis or Uncle Joe to get ready for the chariot meaning the underground railroad, Harriet Tubman was "comin to pick you up to take you north." It told them what time, what place, and whether to bring a coat or not. And at the same time it gave 'em a savior. How else do you think they sent the message? And their captors could be standing right there and didn't know jack. In Africa, they put yo' business on the drum. In Virginia, they put yo' business on the banjo. In the deep south they put it in the songs of the Ringshout. The Stepper's DJ like Mello Kris put it on 'The Box' in a sense he is that master drum of the tribe. The Stepper's Beat is ancient an to prove my point Bopdaddy can Step to music of Coltrane to DoWops, in time. Bebop is much more difficult. And that's the music what they named the Bop Dance after. Love all ya'll steppers, Bopdaddy

The Gouster (A Personal recollection from Bopdaddy)
The radio legend Herb Kent, the Kool Gent helped push the concept, of Gouster and Ivy Leaguer. The Gouster phenomenon was much like the Flappers of the 20's and the Zoot Suiters or Jitterbugs of the 30's & 40's. Herb's radio show helped broaden and gave essence to the pop culture that was created. Herb's weekend Sets, at the Catholic Schools, gave Gousters a platform to dance their Gousters Bop (a fast paced ten-step dance). Each week a true Gouster went thru the ritual of preparing for the Set. The Gousters baggy pants had to have a crease so sharp you could cut butter with 'em. The Gousters clean white shirt, worn with suspenders, were so heavily starched it could stand-up by itself. Some shirts were colorful and they had extra long collars and coordinated with their outfit. Sometimes, Gousters spent half the night spit-shinin' their shoes until they shined to a mirror finish. You could see the stars at night twiklin' in yo' shoe. The hats of the Gousters Stetson and Barcellino and waxed beavers, with the gangster cross folded in. But, the real trademark of the Gouster was his Barracuda trench coat (like a baggy, belted London Fog except it came in any color, even iridescent. Our signature songs were, "Lookin for a Love" by the Contours, "Dear Lady Twist" by Gary U.S. Bonds. Plus, the signature dance was the 47th St. Strut. Yet, the dance they developed was the Gousters Bop. There was a step that came from an unlikely source the county jail and they called it the Jailhouse Bop. (it is characterized by the swivelin of the heels). Today, it's movement are called Freestyle. Also, the Gouster Gals had their own dress code as well. The Gouster phenomenon lasted 1961 - 1967. It's foreal- Bopdaddy

Era Referenced 1990's

Personal Recollection  Steppin' at Club 7 By Dian Davney
I remember taping the first Stepping at Club Seven. We started at 5pm on a Friday and stopped tapping around 1am in the morning, We came back Saturday around 12 or 1 in the afternoon until around 5 that evening. I still have the episodes taped from that show. They put together about 5 shows from the original tapes. The original host was a comedian named BOB Mcdonald who first said "Stepping was a Way of Life". I think this was in 1995. There was a lot of old school dancers and new school who were just being to dance. Those are my memories.
Dian

Era Referenced Late 1990's and early 2000's

Editors Note* This article has been circulating the internet for quite a while. I'm not sure who to attribute it to but it's a good read and I personally know or have met many of the individuals mentioned in the article. Markie Bee

They say Chicago winds blow as cold as a pimp's heart, and if you've been in the Windy City, you know this can be true. But the question is, do those cold winds contribute to the deep sense of cool that permeates Chicago's predominately black South and West Sides? You only need to drift into one of the neighborhood bars or lounges, where the phenomenon called steppin' takes place, to know that it doesn't get any cooler than this. .

It's 10 p.m. on a Saturday night, and as I approach the Hyatt Regency on Wacker Drive in downtown Chicago, I can tell something major is going on, Cars pull up, and flashily attired black folks of all ages hop out as valets hurriedly jump in and zip off. A long white stretch slides up, and three fine sisters and a brother, all decked out in fur, emerge as the chauffeur snaps their picture with a disposable camera. Everyone is heading down the escalator to the grand ballroom, where a very long line is growing with those eager to get into tonight's big event: V1O3'S Steppers Ball. .

Hundreds of couples are already gliding on the dance floor. The energy is celebratory and electric inside the ballroom, like a heavyweight fight is about to take place. People make their way to tables and position themselves for a good view. Herb Kent "the Cool Gent" and Ramonski Luv, popular local radio personalities and hosts of the event, welcome everyone and shout out familiar faces and stepp in' scene regulars, like George Daniels from the legendary George's Music Room and Helen Wooten-Keller. .

Local celebrities and playas made famous in HBO's Pimps Up, Ho 's Down and the Hughes brothers' American Pimp documentaries stroll by, decked out for a peacock's parade in neoncolored suits and matching minks and hats. Legendary pimp turned preacher Bishop Don "Magic" Juan comes over to me holding a fishbowl-sized goblet covered with hundreds of sparkling rhinestones. He explains that he's one of the old-school steppers in Chicago and never misses an event.

One of his pimping cohorts, Scorpio, steps simultaneously with two girls dressed in bright red outfits that complement his fire-engine ensemble and lo-gallon mack-daddy hat. A half-dozen judges sit at a table like they're on the Supreme Court, scrutinizing the flamboyant contestants. Marzette Griffith, a former championship stepper, performs his local hit single, "Promise Me Your Love." Along with live performances by Syleena Johnson and R. Kelly, the dance floor is moving tonight to "dusties," old soul and R&B songs from artists like the Spinners and the Dramatics.

The music has to be the right tempo to execute the moves. Among the key ingredients to successful steppin' is a basic eightor six-count step that goes left right, left shuffle, repeat, and bounce to the opposite foot while turning your partner to and fro with the greatest of ease. The coolest moves are made by the men: intricate spins, twirls, and slip-and-slide footwork. Once you get the basics down, the next important ingredient is your "stepper's face." It's a holier-than-thou gaze that a dancer affixes to his grill, as if he's just asked for the Grey Poupon, but all they have is Gulden's.

up north trip
"Chicagoans at a party don't ask you if you want to dance," says Merry Green, a producer of the Steppers Ball. "They ask, 'Do you know how to step?'" On any given weekend, there are steppers sets in which couples ranging in age from their 20S to their 70S dance together on clouds of air, smooth as they wanna. Oldtimers can trace the moves back to historic black dances like the lindy hop and jitterbug of the' 40S and' 50S. But a dance called the bop that took offin the '60S and '70S is the direct ancestor of steppin'.

The bop was a "hand dance," a term used to describe movement that involves holding your partner's hands while executing turns, It was considered versatile enough to be done to a variety of mid- to up-tempo songs from maestros like James Brown, Wilson Pickett, the Impressions,Jackie Wilson, and Sam Cooke. As the '70S approached, bopping became known as steppin', and this new standard got smoother and quietly became a lifestyle.

Local mover, shaker, and self-styled impresario of the Chicago scene, Helen Wooten-Keller, takes me back to the early days. "I was the only female member of a group of promoters called the Professionals," says Wooten-Keller, a vivacious woman in her mid-50s, "There was a very hot scene in Chicago in the '70S. We gave the best functions back then. Players, hustlers, and regular Chicago folk came out to our parties, which went on for days." She escorts me down memory lane, as we look at countless photos from her personal collection. The stunning beauty poses with a who's who of black entertainers and Chi-town luminaries.

She points out several original steppers, like Black Mary, Charles McFerren, Ronald Pall, and Clinton Ghent. "In Chicago, being cool is just a part of who we've always been," says Wooten- Keller. "And steppin' is a great way to let others know." To understand the stepp in' scene, one must first realize that the black experience in Chicago begins with the great migration of hundreds of thousands of African-Americans from the rural South from around 1915 through the 1960s.

So many blacks migrated from the Deep South, including numerous jazz, soul, and blues legends, that Chicago is jokingly known as the capital of Mississippi. Along with the blues that they literally and figuratively brought with them, they came with a strong will to survive and make a better life. Here, some of the nation's best known black institutions sprouted, including The Chicago Deftndernewspaper and Johnson Publishing's Ebony and Jet magazines, which are still thriving.

More than any other northern American city, Chicago has preserved its Southern heritage. The deeper you go into the South and West Side ghettos, the more folks retain their country twang. Those living in the city's teeming black urban communities choose, for the most part, to keep their social activities in the 'hood. It's in these areas that steppers rule the roost.

the main men

"Mostly, the crowd will be sitting, but when they see you doing moves they like, then they'll start jumping up and screaming like the Holy Ghost has slapped them in church," says Royce Banks, 39, a 6'3", heavyset, mahogany-toned cat with a warm, likeable manner. Banks has been steppin' seriously since the early' 90S. In 1995, he was cast as one of the dancers in Steppin' at Club Seven, a short-lived, local steppin' TV show hosted by Herb Kent.

"I danced in about nine episodes, and people still watch the tapes of that show and approach me to this day," Banks says. "If you're good at steppin', you're treated in Chicago like a star, like you're R. Kelly or something." Banks then hits the dance floor, where he quickly starts his power steppin' routine, deftly spinning his partner and himself in, out, and under each other's arms.

To watch steppers simultaneously rise, grab partners, and sail into motion when the right song comes on is like seeing people walk on water. A dream-like, transcendental, rhythmic elegance prevails, and the cool stepper's attitude overtakes the room like the fall of night. A 65-year-old granddaddy player balances the hand of a cocoa-colored 32-year-old with a Serena Williams braided blond weave and booty to boot. He guides her through a series of spins and swerves that make her giggle with delight as cool papa barely blinks, effortlessly working the floor like a matador in the bullring.

Steppers in Chicago can be divided into two groups: the regulars and the professionals. The regulars are those who just love to attend steppers sets. The professionals find suitable partners and look to make a name and even a business for themselves. Current masters like Andre Blackwell from Dre & Company, place first, second, or third in big competitions, increasing the demand for the steppin' classes they teach around town.

Among professionals, the tall, dark, and handsome Pete Frazier, 44, is stepp in' personified and an anchor of the scene. A fast, smooth talker, Frazier refers to his trade as "the steppin' industry," and he lives by example. He's not only a championship professional stepper, but also a tailor and a promoter who, along with members of his crew, the Majestic Gents, throws an annual steppers' convention in Las Vegas.

Frazier wants to see steppin' taken as seriously as ballroom dancing. "This is a black art form that's been out since our mothers were kids," he says. "We want to expose the whole world to the flavor of steppin'."

Banks considers himself a member of the new breed of professional steppers and hopes to one day challenge the more established old guard. "Guys like Pete Frazier, George Macaroni, Steppin' Keith, and Ice Ray are good steppers," says Banks, "but it's time for some new brothers like me, Dre, and Unique Maurice to step up and take the lead."

style and grace

Banks and I are cruising on King Drive on the South Side of Chicago. The area's other name is Bronzeville, popularized by black newspapers in the 1930S and' 40s, to counter the term "ghetto." He pulls up in front of a shoe repair shop and dashes in to pick up a pair that's been freshly soled and shined for a competition. "The soles of your shoes must be leather," Banks says. "That's the only way you can pull off the spins and turns."

Proudly leading me into his newly renovated brownstone, he notes that gentrification has begun in this long-neglected area, but he's ahead of the game and looking to buy another house with his mother as soon as the money gets right. Banks pulls out several sharply tailored men's suits.

The jackets are cut a little long in true stepper style, but their muted, conservative hues make them suitable for his job as a technology consultant.
"People going to big steppin' events want to be 'cut up,'" says Frazier, using the stepper's vernacular for wearing tailor-made suits, "like they're going to the Academy Awards." The hot style for male steppers can range from these suits to the Great Gatsby-meets-Clark Gable look. "It's all about being zooted and booted," says Frazier.

For women, no one look seems to dominate. Women keep it casual for a regular stepping set; they wear tight jeans, slacks, or simple skirts with form fitting tops, and always high-heeled shoes. At bigger sets, the styles get sexier and wilder as the designer labels come out of the closet. Often, women will color coordinate with their male partners and get his-and-hers matching ensembles.

Clothing is also one of the principal ways South Side and West Side women play out their rivalries and class tensions. South Side women view those from the West-with their elaborately sculpted hairstyles that are sometimes dyed blond, piled high with curls, and then epoxied in place with styling gel-as too ghetto. The West Side women, in turn, dismiss their counterparts as uppity. But like most women everywhere, they all want to look fly and fashionable.

ladies first

Back at the Steppers Ball, Dawne Pollard, an attractive caramel colored, 31-year-old bank executive and steppin' scene devotee, drops the female side of the game in my ear as steppers swirl and twirl like soulful dervishes to a dusty by the Dramatics. Seriously committed to her local South Side church and choir, Pollard just couldn't do the hip hop scene because the thugged-out, women-as-sex-object ethic does not conform to her religious beliefs. "At a steppers set," she says, "whether you're dancing with a professional business person or a pimp pal of Don 'Magic' Juan, women are always treated with respect and courtesy."

I remark how the flyest moves seem to be reserved for the men. She agrees. "The women's role in stepp in' often is somewhat inferior," she says. According to Pollard, steppin' is more competitive for men than women. "The woman's job is to be led by the man and look good at it, but not to overshadow," she says. "Most women at a steppers set just want to be chosen. When you're around serious steppers, they are extremely selective and will only ask a woman to dance who they feel is a good stepper. Hence, a very fine sister can become a wilting wallflower if guys don't think she can get busy. When a woman is asked to dance, it's like an audition. She's been chosen to see how you move, to find out if, together, you can make magic on the dance floor."

I ask her to describe her most magical steppin' moment. She chuckles and begins to glow as she tells about a time when a steppers' class was holding a set. "Herb Kent was hosting, and finally, after waiting around for what seemed like hours, I was asked to dance." She goes on, "It was the right moment.

I had on a hot outfit, my mojo was working, the right song was playing-Carl Thomas's 'Summer Rain' -and my partner was just fabulous! Suddenly, I heard Herb Kent say on the mike, 'I'm going to ask everybody to clear the floor, and I'm going to give you folks an opportunity to observe some real steppers.' I was about to go sit down when he said, 'Let's everyone observe the lovely Dawne and Mr. Stan' -that's the guy I was steppin' with. Everybody sat down except us, and I felt like I was Ginger Rogers and he was Fred Astaire as we danced all around the room to my favorite steppin', song."

The fine art of a man touching and holding a woman's soft wann hands and body while dancing is a near-dead art, but it could come back strong. The sheer excitement of a woman symbolically giving herself to someone in the mock sexual-mating ritual that underlies much of social dancing is a beautiful way to move, and very sexy. But it can also be a little dangerous, especially for steppers who have both partners and girlfriends. "It can cause problems, says Banks.\
"When you dance with a woman, you have to be very careful how you hold her. If there's a lot of eye contact, that can mean something. Then you feel a difference in their hands. And if your girlfriend's in the room, she can sense something, and then it can get ugly." Nevertheless, the steppin' scene is filled with stories of the most unlikely couples finding true love on the dance floor..

cool it now

Oftentimes, words are tossed around so frequently we can easily forget, or never know, what they really mean. "Cool" is one of those words. The concept is documented as having been first used in the 15th century in what is now known as Nigeria.

In the 1993 book Cool Pose: The Dilemmas of Black Manhood in America, the authors, Richard Majors and Janet Mancini Billson, break down that cool "is a ritualized form of masculinity that entails behavior, scripts, physical posturing, impression management, and carefully crafted performances that deliver a single critical message: pride, strength, and control." In many ways, that is at the heart and soul of steppin', a demonstration that, in spite of all achieved and yet to be overcome, black folk can continually come up with innovative ways to rise to new heights of cool satisfaction.

There's a subconscious intent to remix and deconstruct ballroom dancing's traditional moves and attire to create a true postmodern, ghetto dance reconstruction. Among those who have made this dance a part of their lives, there's an understanding that steppin' is a supreme example of achievement in this art form, as well as an elegant way to proudly demonstrate one's blackness. I call it poetry in motion, so get to steppin'.

If you know who wrote this article, please send an email to us so we can give proper attribution to the author.

Era Referenced: 2002

East of the Ryan, October 2002. We made our way down one of the aisles to the dance floor attracting obvious stares. We were the only White folks in the entire club and it was our first visit. Our self-consciousness made us feel as if everyone couldn't wait for us to make asses of ourselves. That or maybe some act of over-dramatized minstrelsy or a Whitewashed version of Steppin'. We tried to stay out of the regulars' space on the dance floor, making our way to the right side of the dance floor toward the front of the room. The music was an up-tempo contemporary hip hop song; we started dancing and really got into it.
Our dancing felt good that night. We were moving well together, moving in the music, interpreting and working off each other, feeling as if we were right in the pocket of the music. But suddenly I heard a woman yelling from behind us. At first we were a little worried; we were not sure if the voice was directed at us, but it was loud and emotional. We turned slightly to see a woman in her early 40s several tables back from the dance floor, standing up, clapping, and yelling over the music, 'You go on!' This exclamation, much in the call-and-response ethic of the phrase 'Let's go to work', was a call of encouragement for dancers to dance their best. As she kept clapping, we suddenly realized that she was gesturing to us; she was acknowledging us as participants in the community rather than as exceptions to it.
This acknowledgement and encouragement boosted our confidence and spurred us to dance harder and execute some of the most complex and intricate moves we knew. As I turned Julie around me, I noticed now that we were the center of attention and the entire corner of the room was now watching us dance. As we kept dancing, we heard more shouts of encouragement: 'Get down' and 'Yeah! That's right.' Later, as we turned to leave the dance floor, there was a whole crowd of people looking at us, smiling and clapping – some looked half-amazed and some half-incredulous, as if they had never seen White people dance before, or at least certainly not Steppin' the way we were dancing. Obviously we were not demonstrating the expected social behavior of Whites that dominates our racial categories when we think of White people dancing.
As we passed through the aisle on the way back to our seats, the once seemingly indifferent crowd was now gregarious. People were looking us in the face and smiling. One woman put her hand up for a high five, while several men gave me reassuring head nods. When we finally reached our seats, the people around us, who before did not seem to notice us, immediately turned and started talking to Julie and me. I wondered, Why the change? Why the applause? What did they think about us? Almost instantly, in the mere minutes of dancing to several songs, we seemed to have gone from total outsiders to people who were welcomed and respected as regulars."
This is an excerpt from a paper named "Steppin’ out of Whiteness" by Black Hawk Hancock. The entire paper is available at http://eth.sagepub.com

Era Referenced: 2010

Old Skool Steppin'
I heard an ugly comment at a set one night in St. Louis, MO. "Old Skool is out, New Skool is in! If you can't do a triple turn you can't step! What do they do make up rules as they go along!
Our younger generation came up with New Skool Steppin' and its beautiful to watch. However, I came up with the Old Skool Steppers, a little too old for the many spins, turns, flips and dips. Old Skool Steppin' is the original. I was a Bopper first going to places like Budland, The Peps, Grand Ballroom, etc. That's where Steppin was born 1968! The Art of Steppin' was originally meant to be a smooth, cool, classy dance with style and attitude. Sexy for the ladies, head up, never looking at your feet, confidence! Back then it was all about footwork. The dance was just as much fun to watch as it was to do. Steppin' has a history to all you new skool steppers. Give Old Skool respect its your heritage. Steppin' is for all generations young & old. I've been Steppin' over 40 years and so very proud of the art I Love. Evaughn "a Chicago Old Skool Stepper in St. Louis"
Submitted By: Evaughn Muldrew

 

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