Saturday, September 11, 2010

Let’s Talk Stepper Sharp!

By Tracey Bivens (Imasteppa)
Saturday, September 11, 2010

A lot of pluggers get put onto tables at steppers sets and people often see the words “Stepper Sharp” on them and they simply dismiss it as “come dressed ready to dance.”

A decade of going to sets in Chicago on the west and south sides of town has afforded me the opportunity to witness an interesting array of clothing that came through the door on many nights. While I admit that in the late 90s people were looking like they were straight out of black ploitation movies from the 70s i.e. “Uptown Saturday Night” and “The Mack” much of this genre attire is still being worn and accepted in Chicago steppin communities to this day.

Having said that, I will throw out MY definition of what it means to be Stepper’s Sharp. Coming to an event dressed as though you spent a serious minute selecting your outfit from the top to the bottom. Your shoes match your top, your pants match your jewelry, your nails are manicured (men and women), you may possibly have on cowboy boots to enable better spins, your sweat towel may possibly be monogrammed, outfits are rarely seen twice in a year’s time, etc. You are “clean” meaning that you are well coiffured and your hair and or mustache/beard/nose hair is well groomed. You don’t look like you are going fishing or to the grocery store. You are dressed to impress! If you go to a seamstress or tailor and have an outfit specifically designed for you or your mate this is also considered Stepper Sharp. My ex-husband, who is from Chicago, used to take me to some of the most popular stepper gear stores in Chicago that were filled with bright pastel colors, baggy pant suits and goo gobs of mini skirt suits for the women. His explanation about the miniskirts would center on the fact that when the pimps used to bring their…er…ah…mates to the club, they were coming as they lived and dressed every day. These women were not trying to out footwork the men in those days but they simply followed and their only job was to show off their legs...that’s all. This was in the 70s and 80s and if anyone has ever been to a players ball or seen “Pimps Up, Hoes Down” you can verify this for yourself.

Is there a necessity to once again mimic the culture of Chicago steppin if you are an out of towner? Well, if you want to authentically represent the dance shouldn’t the culture be represented with it as well? Beginning with the dance itself, the music, the venues, etc. I think that too often, out of towners “half step” with this process. We say we are steppers but in order for us to be considered steppers we have to play the part in all aspects. Although other dances don’t have the same culture and history attached to it, steppin seems to demand it. Ballroomers WILL dress up for big parties and Sunday sets but you will not see self-created outfits worn by couples like you do in Chicago. Think about it. If you represent a job, you are representing the image of that company. You will never see a fireman putting out a fire in a jogging suit because he wants to make sure that everyone who sees him knows what he is and what he stands for.

Some might ask, “What if I want to define my own system of representing ‘Stepper Sharp’?” Well, to each his own, but the next time a conversation comes up about why your city may not seem to encompass the authentic Chicago steppin’ culture, then you’ll more than likely know the reasons why.

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