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Dancing Into History

Posted Sep 18 2007

While Detroit is known for its music legacy, including Motown and jazz, what is often forgotten about is the city’s rich dance heritage. Undoubtedly, Detroit is one of the dance capitals of the world with top-notch dancers in styles ranging from salsa to swing calling the area home. Yet beyond a few bootleg DVDs of shows such as The Scene, few outside of Midwest really appreciate what Detroit has to offer. Detroit’s sister city of Chicago has benefited greatly from R. Kelly featuring Chicago-style stepping in his music videos while more youth-oriented dances such as L.A.’ crumping gained fans through Hollywood. Taking a lead on making sure that Detroit isn’t forgotten in the annals of history is Kevin “Flash” Collins. With more than 30 years of experience all over the country, as well as being winner of numerous competitions, Kevin has no shortage of energy or confidence, yet respects those who paved the way for him. Anyone who’s spent time around Kevin knows that he has stories for days. He was a bit more subdued for this particular discussion, but the words documented here are hopefully only the beginning of more to come from him and others in Detroit’s ever-flourishing scene.

To start off, what should people know about Detroit dance history?
The Detroit scene has been shut out. It’s not been talked about. There are many styles; it’s very diverse, even on the same song. It’s not the most diverse in terms of people and ethnicity, but definitely in dancing.

Can you briefly describe some of the dances that you do, for those who may not be as familiar with some of these styles.
I do a lot of styles, including salsa, but my main ones are:

(Detroit) ballroom, also known as the Detroit Cha Cha; which is based on the cha cha calypso. You dance to R&B by artists such as Roy Ayers, Marvin Gaye, Aretha Franklin, and the Temptations.

Bop, which is a form of swing, particularly the Lindy. You can dance to fast R&B.

Latin hustle, which is a New York hustle. You often dance to disco or house.

Chop, which is a form of tango. It’s a slower paced dance, usually to more romantic R&B.

Other cities seem to be more segregated when it comes to dancing. Why do Detroit dancers tend to be more diverse?
I’m not 100% sure, but people have always been exposed to different styles. Even when talking to the old school guys, they said that the best dancers did many styles. Back in the day there wasn’t a lot to do. There weren’t video games and stuff. They would dance to entertain themselves. Dancing was the norm.

When did you start dancing and what got you interested in it to begin with?
I started in early ‘70s, when I was about 14 or 15. I got into it from watching my older brothers dancing in “quarter parties.” I was peeking in windows and I wanted to be a part of that. I never wanted to be in trouble. I wanted to be a part of what my brothers and father did. It’s been totally positive; especially in the schools, when I saw the impact on the kids. It’s always been positive, but I didn’t realize at the time. I want the kids to see that there’s something out there besides the streets; that they need to get an education. I would’ve loved to have had someone push me when I was a kid, like I push them.

From your perspective, how has the scene in Detroit changed over the years?
In the seventies there were more dancers. The ballroom scene was massive in the sixties and seventies. Detroit had more places to dance, period.  In the eighties, it was around ’81 or ’82, when techno and other sounds came in. The couple dancing went more underground. The older folks kept it going, but the younger folks went into poppin’ and lockin’ and stuff like that.

In ’92 and ’93 it started come back. I can only speak from personal experience. I started going to UBQs, Reggies’, the Moulin Rouge, and places like that. Most of those places are now closed down. I was one of the younger guys going. I got addicted to it as I had become bored at the other types of clubs. I noticed the connections between styles of dancing. If you were doing routines it helped you break down and understand the moves of couple dancing.

How would you describe the scene in Detroit now?
It’s growing back. It’s never going to be as big as it was back then. But, younger people are learning how to do it again. We teach at the schools so it’s growing by leaps and bounds in that age group.

Who were some of the older guys that you learned from?
Nate, Eddie, who’s passed, Wendell Stone, Sugar Dorsey, Ray Dorsey, a guy named James, a guy named Paige, Dittney, Miles “The Madison Man” Adolf, Tyrone Bradley (image on right), Capus (who’s now living in L.A.), Clarence Harris, and of course, my brothers, father, and other family members. I talked to a lot of those guys about the history of dance in Detroit.

Note: I’ll delve into the role of women in the dance scene in future interviews!

Do you still keep in touch?
We’ll support their events and birthday parties. We try to dance and be around them. I try to video tape them and try to help keep their legacy alive.

On that vein, of keeping the legacy alive, how’d the Dance Fusion USA conference come about?
A friend of mine, Ali McHenry, moved to Houston. He invited me down to teach some advanced ballroom classes as he had already started teaching the basics. We decided to put Dance Fusion USA together to bring together the different styles and to share moves and dance histories.  There’ve been two so far. The first one was in Houston and the second one was in Cleveland. The second one was a little better, but I expected that. Each one will get better. We picked Cleveland as I teach there a lot. We tried to find a spot close to Detroit that do those dances and place that was easy to get to from those areas, as well as the East Coast.

What would you say has been one of the most surprising things in all years of dancing?
I think being able to organize multi-city events; the different styles and cultures, how everything is different from coast to coast. There’s different body language and arm language. They even count different. It’s the same move, but the count is different. For example, for bop, we say “kick, one, two” and other people say kick, ball, chain.”

What have been some of the most difficult and challenging things you’ve experienced?
Getting it over into the schools. Many teachers still think kids should focus on academics. Dancing requires counting and thinking. It builds camaraderie and the kids look out for each other. It helps develop social skills. I had to power past some of them to make it happen.

How would you describe your role or legacy in the Detroit dance scene?
To help bring popularity to these dances through classes and being out in the clubs. I watched older cats and picked up old school moves from sight. I started adding a younger, more urban flair.

What exactly does that mean?
Young people have a way of saying that partner dancing is old school; it’s for older people. They need to see high energy and more vibrancy.

 



For more info:
Check out: www.dancefusionusa.com

 

Or call 313-671-5269

 


As of August 2007 Kevin’s weekly class schedule is as follows:

As of August 2007 Kevin’s weekly class schedule is as follows:

 

 

 


17500 Northland Park Court

Southfield, MI

(1 block east of Southfield Freeway, 1 block north of 8 Mile Road)

Mon. 6:30-Ballroom

Mon. 7:30-Bop

Sat.1:00-Ballroom

Sat. 2:00-Bop

 
Yorkshire Dance Studio
Detroit, MI
16541 E. Warren
(between East Outer Drive and Cadiuex)

Tues. 6:30-Latin hustle

Tues. 7:30-Chop

 
Thurs. 6:30-Bop

Thurs. 7:30-Ballroom

Thurs. 6:30-Bop

 
Club Unique
W. 7 Mile and Stahelin

Sun. 2:00- Latin Hustle

Sun. 3:00 – Bop

Sun. 4:00 – Chop

Comments

1. Mariana Torres said at June 12, 2008 12:31 am:

To me detroit has a long time history when it comes down to dancing. They have been able to combine different cultures music, rythem an beat. Dancing back in the days was the best of fun. Their were no "video games" or other thing that we have now. So their means of fun was going out to the dance floor. Dancing became the start of new dance moves. In which evey generation moves to a different beat. Even tho the older generation thinks that our generation has no soul, or beat to the lyriks of the song. It has changed drastecly. Back then the music an dance had a meaning. I guess all in all when it comes to music an dancing to me its nice that it blends. Having different cultures combyning is good a thing. because it can bring our cultures together. Even if each generation has a different opinion of what music an dancing is. We just got to rememeber our history.

2. James B. Brown said at July 23, 2008 9:21 pm:

Looking for a DVD on Ballroom dancing and the Bop

3. Lillie said at May 10, 2010 11:07 pm:

Great article. Would be nice if you could do a follow-up article now that 3 years have passed.

4. Daniel said at May 17, 2010 11:32 pm:

Lillie, good point. I'll see what we can do as I'll see him a couple of times before the summer is up.

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