At the Taste Entertainment Center on Chicago’s South Side, rows of flashing lights wink on the dance floor and a cluster of shimmering disco balls twinkle above the heads of club-goers. The venue hosts a variety of events - its original name was Taste Disco - but on Friday nights the Taste is the place for steppin’ in Chicago.
Not to be confused with the rhythmic, percussive style popular with African American fraternities and sororities, Chicago Style Steppin’ is a smooth, down-tempo ballroom dancing style that came to prominence in the 1970s and retains its popularity here, but also in cities with large black populations like Detroit, Atlanta and Washington, D.C.
WBEZ’s Richard Steele has hosted a weekly stepper’s set at the Taste every Friday night for the last 15 years. People love steppin’ because “you get a chance to style and profile,” Steel says. Meaning, it’s a chance to get dressed up and show off your footwork. The men wear silk ties and three piece suits, the women wear tops that sparkle and gold lamé heels. “Nobody steps in flats,” Steele says.
Steppin’ also offers the chance to groove to classic tracks with a romantic streak, like Al Green’s Let’s Stay Together
or R. Kelly’s Step in the Name of Love
, songs that eschew the vulgarity of some contemporary hits. “That’s why we call it the after work set for grown folks,” Steel explains.
Although steppin’ today has a toehold mostly among baby boomers, some younger enthusiasts have gladly taken the torch. Take for example poet Lamar Jordan, 22, who grew up in the hip-hop generation but has old school steppers for parents. For him, the dance culture is synonymous with a kind of Chicago pride that becomes the point of entry for his poem We Step
:This ain't the typical hoe-down
you're accustomed to in your town,
this is Chi-Town.
The greatest city in the nation.
And steppin' is its physical representation.
Jordan is a former member of the Steimenauts, the award-winning spoken word team from Steinmetz High School whose intense, gut-wrenching final performance steals the show in the Louder Than a Bomb documentary film
. To round out our video series celebrating National Poetry month, we asked Jordan to perform We Step at the Taste. And he did, amidst a crowd of regulars cheering him on. You can watch Jordan’s performance, and see his dance moves, in the video above.
WBEZ is a presenting partner of Young Chicago Authors' Louder Than a Bomb Teen Poetry Slam Competition and Festival. Click here
for more information. Special thanks to Taste Entertainment Center and Richard Steele.