Happy New Year!!!
In a previous blog entitled ‘The Brain Science of Steppin’’, I dealt with the pseudo-scientific and physiological experiences we encounter as we do this dance that we love. I wanted to follow up that blog with a few observations of what I see us doing behaviorally in the Steppin community at-large that hinder our ability to maximize our dance experiences and in some ways limit the potential for the collective growth of the dance itself. I’ve been thinking about this topic for some time now, but how to articulate my perspective on this subject had escaped me until this past weekend.
By sharing this insight, my hope is that as a community we become fully aware of the awesome power of our shared experiences and how those experiences can assist us in bringing about the change we sorely need to unify our communities. And at the end of this discussion, the primary take-away should be this: Change and the desire to see change, begins with you! If you want to see change, YOU must BE that change. Let’s start with a little context for understanding the primary reason that I’m writing about this particular subject today.
A Newbie’s Steppin’ Euphoria
When I first came into this dance, I was like so many other people I’ve seen come and go in Steppin’. My initial introduction to the dance was one of the most exciting experiences I’ve ever had in my life: the music, the environment, the people, the culture…it was a lot to take in and I wanted all of it! I remember having such a sense of euphoria associated with learning the dance and experiencing the culture of Steppin’ as I attended sets in Chicago and around the country. I wanted as much exposure to the dance as I could get and I also wanted others, my students in particular, to experience it all as well.
I traveled extensively during the first ten years of my Steppin’ educational tenure. As I traveled the country, I came to know a great many people and groups associated with the dance. The love for the dance allowed me to relate to all of them like family and it felt good to be able to do so. Never at any time did I expect anything to negatively impact the dance families across the country that I’d come to know, love and appreciate. I thought everyone felt the same as I did about the dance and the kind of fellowship we derived from it. I sincerely thought we appreciated the dance and each other. I thought we valued the ability of the dance to bring us together in the spirit of fellowship and love. The deeper my exploration and understanding of the dance became however, the more problems I witnessed in our Steppin’ community.
The Not-So-Beloved Dance Community
Not that long ago, if you asked me about a particular city in the country, I could generally tell you who danced there and what the culture of the dance in that city was like because I had probably been there. Initially it felt like family everywhere I went and it seemed as if the fun would never end. Today, however, that sense of family seems more elusive than ever and I wanted to know why. As I traveled from city to city inquiring as to what happened to the eager, determined and optimistic folks who began the Chicago Steppin’ movement in those cities, the response was usually the same: “Those people don’t come out anymore” or “things just aren’t the same here anymore.”
My next question was usually “Why do you think that is?” and the response, from one city to another, regardless of geography, was also essentially the same. Respondents would say things like “It’s too cliquish, too political, too immature or just plain too messy”, referring to the local dance organizations. Many seemed to not care for what they call the “hating” of some dancers by others. Some were turned off by the focus on making money instead of the love, appreciation and respect for the dance. Others had disdain for the egos of some of the better dancers as well as the instruction they received (or the lack thereof) from some of them. Some respondents seemed to have resentment towards specific instructors in particular – those who seemed to lack the proficiency, professionalism and focus to help them elevate their dance – and much of that resentment stemmed from their own personal experiences.
With time being such a precious commodity, with all of these ills seemingly plaguing us as a dance community, with each loss of a loved member of the Steppin’ community through personal choice, illness or accident that we endure month after month and year after year, I found myself asking why I was still dancing given the magnitude of the problem nationwide.
Understand, Then De-program
Over time I’ve come to understand that some of the maladaptive behaviors we experience in our dance community are not exclusive to our community. Other dance communities seem to have many of the same issues and problems as we do. Many issues that impact our community and lead to maladaptive behaviors however, stem from a totally different set of variables. Some variables are beyond our control and are baked into the fabric of American society (that’s a different discussion entirely). Because I now have a better understanding of some of the variables which can drive or influence our behaviors, my tolerance for dealing with them has mellowed a bit. Once you’ve been enlightened however, you no longer get a pass from me.
When you know better, you should do better. I’m on a campaign now to enlighten and elevate our dance community because I believe that our dance deserves to share the spotlight with other social dances as a part of American culture. After all, isn’t Black culture American culture? Just stop and think about it for a second. What would America be without the culture that Black America brings to it? Think about that! And what dance is more culturally prevalent and predominant across the urban landscape than Chicago Steppin’? I can think of no other dance that you can really make the case for in this regard. Chicago Steppin’ then, should stand as yet one more significant cultural contribution to the artistic fabric of America emanating from the Black Experience.
Speaking From Personal Experience
I’m in the perfect position to speak to the woes of the Steppin’ community here in Indianapolis specifically, because in some ways I contributed to it. I loved the dance and wanted others in the city to learn the dance, but as I look back on my approach to propagating the dance, particularly in my early years, my overall behavior (by this I mean my lack of tolerance for those who weren’t as serious as I was when it came to learning the dance) contributed to the decline in the involvement of good people who loved the dance and shared my passion for it.
After an almost ten-year span of teaching, I removed myself from the local dance community (mostly for valid business reasons), disappointed about the direction the dance was going in my city, but having no clear direction as to what I would do moving forward. What I failed to realize was that when I walked away there was still a solid core of local students who loved the dance as much as I did and they were willing to stick it out with me as long as I was willing to toil and grow the base of serious steppers in Indy. They shared my passion for the dance and they fully supported any endeavor of mine to elevate and promote the Steppin’ scene in Indy.
In my shortsightedness, my disappointment in the lack of consistent class participation, my perceived lack of appreciation for what I was offering and the struggle to consistently provide a decent venue for class instruction, I just walked away from them. I know this hurt and disappointed many of them, but they never let me know it publicly. I can see many of their smiling, happy faces as I’m writing this blog and at times I miss them dearly. I keep in touch with some of them and to this day they tell me that they still love me…what a blessing!
You Can Have Your Family Back…You Can Go Home Again
If you want to get your family back, if you want to restore some degree of wholeness to your community’s Steppin’ existence and if you want to restore the respect, admiration and appreciation for the dance that you’ve come to love, YOU can make it happen. Holding yourself accountable for some of the problems which resulted in the loss of relationship with your dance community and taking the initiative to help bring about its healing begins with you. The energy and effort required to overcome the perceived obstacles to dance community restoration begins with you.
Paramount to the restoration process in the community is the understanding that forgiveness is required before anything of real substance can begin. Also understand that forgiveness from the community starts first with you forgiving yourself. Don’t beat yourself up about a past that you cannot change. What’s most important is that you learned from your past experiences and the wisdom you gleaned from it will make you more determined to succeed in your new mission of healing. Know that moving on with vigor and a renewed sense of purpose begins with you. YOU MUST BE THE CHANGE YOU WANT TO SEE!
Don’t Talk About It, “BE” About It
I’ve begun the process of changing things for me here in Indy and I have to admit it feels pretty good. The response to my effort has been very rewarding and I’m hopeful again for the potential that the Indianapolis Steppin’ community can become one of the most cohesive in the country. As Artistic Motions continues to expand its local, regional and national presence, we’re going to do our best to make it happen. The city of Indianapolis deserves our best effort, the dance community deserves it and most importantly, the dance that we love deserves it!
Let me also say that I’m not naïve enough to believe that everyone will participate in the process of bringing the community together. The naysayers and doubters are not our responsibility. Let them do their jobs to help fuel the fire of determination in those of us who choose to rise to the challenge. There are only two sides to any issue (problem/solution) and you know how the saying goes: “You’re either part of the problem or you’re part of the solution”.
As you read this post and consider your own dance community, ask yourself the following questions: Why do you dance? What are you building? Is it sustainable and will it last? Who is it for and how does it help others? The answers to these questions may help to provide guidance and assist in creating a workable, viable plan for your dance community. Make 2019 the year of restoration and rebuilding in your dance community!
Feel free to share your own perspective or simply leave a comment below. More importantly, please share the ways in which you’re helping to bring your dance community together. Thanks for taking the time to read this post. I appreciate your support. I’ll see you on the wood!