Dancing Into History
Posted Sep 18 2007
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:
Bop, which is a form of swing, particularly the Lindy. You can dance to fast R&B.
Latin hustle, which is a
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:
17500 Northland Park Court
(1 block east of Southfield Freeway, 1 block north of 8 Mile Road)
Yorkshire Dance Studio
16541 E. Warren
(between East Outer Drive and Cadiuex)
Tues. 6:30-Latin hustle
W. 7 Mile and Stahelin
Sun. 2:00- Latin Hustle
Sun. 3:00 – Bop
Sun. 4:00 – Chop