Have you noticed that there are several national Steppin' events that include the words "Shades of" as part of the Event Title/Theme. I began wondering, "Why?", as we made our trek across the Mohave Desert floor, enroute to the Las Vegas, to attend the Annual Shades of Green event, in North Las Vegas, NV.
During our trip, we observed the typical "brown colors" of the desert and several other landmarks along the way (i.e. Historical Highway Route 66, Zzyzx Road, and the Ivanpah Solar Power Facility near Primm, Nevada.) that don't seem to be related to Steppin'. However, we do know that Old Route 66 (as Nat King Cole sang it, "...get your kicks on Route 66...") features a "Chicago-Los Angeles" connection that starts on Lakeshore Drive in Chicago, goes thru St. Louis, MO, and 6 other states, before it ends at the top of the cliffs on Ocean Avenue (Santa Monica) overlooking the Pacific Ocean in Los Angeles, CA. But, again, "Why 'Shades of Green'?"
Driving thru the Mohave Desert (which includes "Death Valley") doesn't tend to inspire thoughts about anything "Green" - so I asked DJ, Promoter, and CEO of Godcore Productions, Adrian Khalid King, "Why Shades of Green"? His answers expose the fact that "Steppin in Shades of Green" is an event that is inextricably bound to concerns about the growth and improvement of a Steppin' community.
Why "Shades of Green"? Promoter Khalid King states that it's because "the color green represents transformation, unity, and growth." He went on to explain that his organization has a core philosophy/belief that "there is a power in the core of every human being and that thru a "worship" (of sorts), you can become successful at a pure and faster pace." Consequently, the organization puts an emphasis on spirituality into their dance promotions and their music. Khalid King went on to explain that he seeks to insure that his events and productions carry a good spirit AND creates a good spirit among his guests.
During a Sunday morning "hotel lobby" interview about the event, I learned a lot more about him and his concerns about the dance and his community. It doesn't take long before you get to understand that Mr. King is a man with a mission that extends beyond his individual experience. He began his Steppin' journey during February, 2010, after watching his sister (Tanya) and her husband (Robert). Tanya and Robert Smith are veteran Steppers from Victorville, CA, and are promoters of the dance, thru their organization "High Desert Steppers". See 2014 Stepping In Shades Of Green Las Vegas Photos
He went on to explain that he fell in love with the dance, because of its smoothness. And, while he confesses a love for "the strategies of completing combinations", he stresses a deeper importance in the lead-follow connection between men and women. He and his wife, Michelle, are experiencing that connection in the dance � and, now, in the business of Steppin'. On top of all of this, he appears to be well-grounded and appreciative for his personal experience with the dance. He even remembers the first Steppin' event that he attended. It was produced by one of the most active Steppin' organizations in the Las Vegas area (Them Steppin' Kats, President Dwight Farmer). Further, he credits Steady Steppers (Brian "Butta" Williams) of Las Vegas for teaching him the basics of the dance.
I became intrigued about his emphasis on "community service". As he explains his motivations and rewards, you will quickly learn that he is not naieve about the financial realities of Steppin' promotions at this time, and in his community. As he put it, "You don't go into this thinking 'how much money am I going to make? It's more like, you're asking yourself, 'how much can I afford to lose."
With that daunting revelation, I wanted to know why he spends his time and money promoting Steppin. He answered the question by explaining that the Shades of Green event started at their local club, the "Red Label Lounge", and grew to the Palms Hotel and Casino, before moving to the current venue, the Aliente Hotel & Casino. He beams as he discusses many of the rewarding moments from the event, including the "times when Steppers were able to sit and break bread with each other". But I got a very moving impression from a snippet of something that happened at the event. He told me about his pleasure of being able to dance with his mother and his 17 year old daughter � at the event. Although his mother is blind, he and his family (collectively) taught their mother to Step, by the 8-Count method.
He also talks about his hopes and dreams that "Shades of Green" will take on the characteristics of a national event (...get this part...) and "for it to represent my city well". He reflects and speaks a word of caution about a lesson he has learned; "When you show great character in and outside the community, you can always live and defend your truth. Because, when joy covers many, chaos will always try to get attention." Based on this, he diligently works to create events and opportunities that "put spirituality in our dance promotions and music."
The next time you see a promotional flyer for a Steppin' event, perhaps you will pause to consider whether, or not, your attendance helps to support the values you live by and the promotion of our art form -Steppin'. I like to believe that my resources are spent supporting my personal values and the expansion of our art, rather than supporting somebody's hustle. I'm glad to know more about "Why" he promotes "Shades of Green" and I have every hope that he and his community can transform Steppin' into a thriving community. Las Vegas Steppers have a reputation for being a fun bunch and very enjoyable community. Some of the men (I'll only mention one name: Arthur Moor) are usually on the floor when the DJ starts, dance with every everybody they can get to, and doesn't seem to stop until the DJ is unplugging and packing up their equipment. Ladies tend to like that.
In conclusion, Congratulations to Godcore Productions and Mr. King for "Steppin' in Shades of Green" - a great and growing Steppin' experience in North Las Vegas. While "Kermit the Frog" proclaimed that "It's not easy being Green" those who know the "community value" and difference between a $5 Steppers Set and a $50+ Steppin' Event, appreciate thoughtful work. The transformative spirit of community service is a proverbial seed (in fertile ground) that can (with good nourishment) reap abundance. The efforts and example of Khalid King and the Las Vegas Steppin' Community inspires a greater sense of appreciation for what was done and is being done to promote Steppin' on the West Coast and around the world.
The Chalk Line Walk as it was originally known became popular around 1850 in the Southern Plantations. It originated in Florida by the African-American slaves who got the basic idea from the Seminole Indians (couples walking solemnly). Many of the special movements of the cake-walk, the bending back of the body, and the dropping of the hands at the wrists, amongst others, were a distinct feature in certain tribes of the African Kaffir dances. The cakewalk, as done in Africa, was performed during a rest period in a dance. It was inserted as improvisational "breaks" that allowed couples to separate at various points so that they could have freedom of movement. This breaking pattern, or breaking of the beat from Kongo region is something a person does in order to "break" into the world of the ancestors. In Haiti, during the possession state, there is a drum break which is essentially the same thing.
The Breakdown and Walk Around a Minstrel parody later to be named the Cakewalk was one of the main sources of the Chalk Line Walk.These "Walkers" as they were called, would walk a straight line and balance buckets of water on their heads. Over time the dance evolved into a exaggerated parody of the white, upper class ballroom figures who would imitate the mannerisms of the "Big House" (masters house) with such dignified walking, bowing low, waving canes, doffing hats, and high kicking grand promenade.
By the 1890's, the Cakewalk was the hottest thing around and Charles Johnson & Dora Dean are said to have introduced the Cakewalk in 1893. However in 1889 The Creole Show would feature the Cakewalk and in 1892 the first Cakewalk contest was held in a New York ballroom). Williams and Walker Inspired a Cakewalk in the play "Clorindy" origin of the Cakewalk. The Cakewalk sheet music would also list the March and Two-Step as dance options to the song so white audiences would be interested in buying it even if they did not know the Cakewalk. It was first introduced upon the Broadway stage by Dave Genaro. The Idea of the Cakewalk was that of a couple promenading in a dignified manner, high stepping and kicking, mimicking high society. Some of the better plantation owners would bake a cake on Sundays and invite the neighbors over and have a contest of the slaves, different prizes were given but originally it was a cake and whoever won would get the cake...thus the term "That Takes The Cake!" and the name "Cakewalk" was now set. The Minstrel shows of the time would paint their faces black and at the end of the show would do a "Grand Finale," which often times was the Cakewalk.
The competition dancers were called "Walkers" and these dance contests grew very big, such as the National Cakewalk Jubilee in New York City as well as others, where the champions would receive gold belts and diamond rings. There were two categories of contests:
the "Grand Straight Cakewalk" ( regular type) and
the "Fancy Cakewalk", (Dressed up type)
the doors would open at 7:00p.m., contest at 11:00p.m., and dancing would continue till 5:00am. These Cakewalk dance contests eventually would be held in big cities as Tin-Pan Alley would make a fortune off of the dance and the Rag- time music they would produce.
The Cakewalk was the first American dance to cross over from black to white society as well as from the stage (Minstrel shows) to ballroom. The Cakewalk would be the window for other African-American dances to enter white society in the future. The Cakewalk eventually died in the 1920's, but there were still traces of the Cakewalk in the newer, more modern forms of dance, even the Lindy hop had the Apache and the Cakewalk thrown in as can be seen in the "Shorty George" video clip in "At The Jazz Band Ball" Video.
In Ireland, There was a practice of offering a cake to the best Jig Dancer on the Sunday get togethers. These dancers would do a Penny Jig, which the dancer would pay the Fiddler a Penny after dancing, trying to win the cake. Qouting from Mrs. Lully's Book :"Although the fare of Sunday seldom rises beyond the accustomed potatoes and milk of the rest of the week, some few halfpence are always spared to purchase the pleasures which the Sunday cake bestows. This cake set upon a distaff is the signal of pleasure and becomes the reward of talent; it is sometimes carried off by the best dancer, sometimes by the archest wag of the company."
Local California Steppin’ Promoters (JB Platinum Productions) served up a Red-Hot event treat for the home crowd, on the day after the Fourth of July. The 2nd Annual event was entitled “A Night in Havana Steppers' Dinner” and it brought out Steppers in Red & White fashions, which captured the attention of many of the other patrons and staff of event venue. Steppers were eloquently, handsomely, and sharply clad, but even they would have been forced to take second place in a beauty contest that evening. The decorating team for the promoters transformed the settings of the Coco Palms Restaurant in Pomona, California into a steamy Cuban-esque atmosphere. And then Mother Nature served up a warm, humid evening that would have had anyone wondering if they had taken a flight to the island for an evening of Steppin’.
As the sun set and the shadows crept across the valleys and slopes of those curvaceous and famous rolling California hills, the handsomely decorated event transformed into a near-dream of scenery. As the darkness spread and the city lights sprinkled across those rolling hills, the moon danced around the edges of tall palm trees and the sounds of smooth jazz and other Steppin’ favorites pounded the air. There are times in life, when some of the elements come together, at the right time, and in the right way, to create very memorable and lasting impressions for those who have the fortunate awareness and opportunity to participate in them. This event was one of those occasions.
During an after dinner interview, I had the opportunity to interview Jeff Warnick and Brian“Steppin B” Patterson about their collaboration (aka JB Platinum Productions). Steppin’ B, humorously, credited Jeff’s mom with the “J” portion – and, then, credited his own mother with the “B” portion of the combined name “JB”. It was Jeff Warnick, however, who articulated the mission of this promotion team… to produce upscale Steppin’ events that capture the rare and unique outdoor settings of the California and West Coast Steppin’ communities. They certainly picked the right night and the right venue to make an unmistakably and impressive impact on their guests.
When Phamily Steppers’ hosts its 3rd Annual Steppers’ Awards & Celebration, JB Platinum’s“A Night in Havana” is nearly certain to be in the running for Promoter of the Year. There are a few weekly Steppers Sets, and there are even a few monthly Steppers Sets offered by local promoters. This year, however, there appears to be a growing number of Annual Steppers events in upscale locations. This genre of events is quickly growing on the west coast. Coincidentally, there will be some stiff competition coming up this weekend – from Nikki Heidelberg and the promoters at “Steppin It Up” as they present their “Hot Summer Night Party” at the famous Skirball Cultural Center. THEN…. both of these events face the Class of 2013 Promoters of the Year currently occupied by Oakland California’s Damone Hodges and “Steppers Only” in their production of “Shades of Brown”; followed by the Inland Empire’s Denise Barrow and “A Step Ahead Entertainment” in their presentation of “The 7th Annual Harlem Nights Steppers Ball”; and then, Los Angeles’ Garry Fields of “Gentleman G Entertainment” will present his “Black Friday Steppers’ Ball.” There is BIG entertainment on tap for West Coast Steppers, because as JB Platinum says “we got more on the way…”
JB Platinum Productions has served notice on previous winners of the Steppers’ Awards – they are serious in the game. The venue and the view were spectacular, a three-course meal (even a great salad), complimentary Champagne, DJ’s Shermaxx and DJ Mike (both are past Steppers Award Winners), and … this event sold out! Not an empty seat in the house and they were force to turn away some people at the gates to the event. I can’t imagine an equivalent venue setting, so I don’t expect a change of venue for next year. Caveat Emptor – next year, get your tickets early.