Strictly Basement

She’s on his leg.

Linda Turner, in a flowy, sleeveless aqua top and a short black skirt, glides over the dance floor in high heels. Riding Evern Thrower Jr.’s leg.

Thrower — everyone knows him as E.T. — guides her effortlessly.

The tall, silent man had spent most of the night sitting by himself at Pete’s Place, a Grandview nightclub where a doorman in a gray suit hands each lady a rose as she enters.

Wearing a blue-and-white shirt and a straw hat, Thrower had watched as DJ Cool played midtempo R&B classics. He’d clapped politely when, out on the black-and-white tiled dance floor, a silk-shirted guy known as Twinkletoes spun his partner — she wore a strapless black dress and spiky heels — in a slow catch-and-release so sexy that Twinkletoes shook his head in appreciation.

Thrower had sipped a wine cooler as the legendary Lawrence Johnson Jr. took over the floor with the cinematically named Jackie Brown. The two of them moved together like a shadow, stepping back and holding out their arms dramatically, then wrapping their legs together and slow-dancing, her hand on his moneymaker, before Johnson stepped away and grabbed at his crotch.

Thrower’s applause showed respect to the talented dancers, but there was little chance he was intimidated by what he saw. He continued waiting. DJ Cool played “Sex Machine,” and rows of single women filled the floor in a line dance, their lips pursed, their eyebrows funky serious as they rocked to the left, wiggled to the right and stepped back, James Brown goading them to get up … get up … get up. Up front was a smiling and jiggling De Barker, the most well-known woman on the club set.

When Linda Turner finally arrives after getting off work, it’s Thrower’s turn. The two begin circling the otherwise-empty floor, Turner tiny and lithe. He ducks under her outstretched arm as they move in sync, smooth, in the same flowing rhythm even when they’re a few feet apart, he holding her outstretched hand or pulling her close with her head on his shoulder, still swirling over the black-and-white tiles.

She’s on his leg. Filmmaker Rodney Thompson sees it, and records it. We see it, even though some of us don’t quite know what we’re noticing.

Turner knows exactly what she’s doing.

“His legs tell me, and his hands,” she’ll say later, quietly.

They met a year ago August. Turner hadn’t danced in sixteen years, but her two daughters were grown, and she’d just gone through a breakup. She needed something to do. She started going to the Old School Lounge at 88th Street and Troost, which, by virtue of its name, drew a mature crowd. One night, Thrower was there by himself, so she sat down with him. They discovered they’d both gone to Central High School, though he was older, class of ’66. He went home and looked her up in the yearbook.

One night on the dance floor, he told her he’d seen her picture. It took her by surprise.

Back when they were in their twenties, they’d gone dancing at some of the same clubs — they remember the 50 Yard Line on Fifth Street in Kansas City, Kansas, a place called Papa Doc’s at 27th Street and Indiana and, after hours, A.G.’s in Bonner Springs. But they’d never seen each other.

Thirty years later, they began having long conversations on the phone. He invited her online to look at his brightly colored landscape paintings. She’d always wanted to go on a cruise, so he took her to the Bahamas.


Mostly, though, they danced. “The reason we dance so well together is because I follow his lead. He leads, I follow,” Turner says. “We use our bodies to tell the other where we’re going. If he wants to make a particular turn, he moves his hand the same way every time, and so I follow him. I can tell where he wants to go by his thighs.”

Five thousand dollars is riding on Thrower’s leg.

That, and bragging rights for a generation of Kansas Citians.

To understand, you have to know about the dance. In Kansas City it’s called the two-step — not that tight-ass dance white guys do in cowboy bars but a two-step that exists only in Kansas City. In Chicago they do something similar but more up-tempo. In St. Louis and Detroit they bop. In North Carolina they shag, but without the smooth Kansas City style. In Los Angeles they don’t even do it.

Two-step in another city, and everyone on the floor will freeze up and dancers will stare at you, ask where you’re from, ask you to teach them.

By most accounts, the dance derived from Harlem’s lindy hop. One disc jockey describes it as a cross between ballroom and the jitterbug. It involves spins and turns, only they’re slow and close, sophisticated and sensual, as if, during the tense days of the civil rights movement, you had learned ballroom moves in the most confined of spaces — say, your neighbor’s basement. Because none of you had any money, you’d set the mood by sticking a red or blue bulb in a lamp before putting on the Supremes, or later, the Chi-Lites or the Stylistics. Two-steppers move suggestively, but there’s no silly grinding — for Kansas Citians of a certain age, that would just be uncool. And it’s about being cool above all else.

“It was my first social interaction,” says Lonnie McFadden, a 1974 Lincoln High School graduate. McFadden teaches dance and has toured the world with his brother Ronald — the tap-dancing McFadden Brothers have shared stages with the Count Basie Orchestra, Sammy Davis Jr., Miles Davis and Wynton Marsalis. Long before that, though, they had to learn how to interact with girls. For that, McFadden says, you had to know the two-step. “You may not be attractive in any other way, but if you got smooth, ladies liked to dance with you because you made them look good.”

“In every culture there’s something that’s traditional and transcends the times,” says Turner, Thrower’s dance partner. “Nobody talked about it. It was just always done. My brother taught me when I was nine — he wanted a partner. My mom did call it ballroom, but it wasn’t the ballroom dancing done in white culture. It was black ballroom. It was ours. It was different.”

DJ Cool, who spins at Pete’s Place, remembers learning how to dance at a house party. “It was a dark basement with red and blue lights on, and people brought their favorite 45s. Louis Curry’s ‘A Toast to You’ was the first song I two-stepped to. I remember the girl, but I remember the song more.” Cool graduated from Southeast High School in 1969. The student body was 90 percent white, and those kids wanted to have a rock band. So the black kids went to a bowling alley on Fifth Street in Kansas City, Kansas, packing the place with their friends and dancing to Motown hits all night.


“Aside from football and basketball rivalries, there was always a two-step rivalry. You can dance with a person and know what high school they went to,” says Lawrence Johnson Jr., Central class of ’70. “The Central Blue Eagles were more flamboyant. Smooth. More considerate of what was going on — they made sure they were looking good but their partner was looking good, too. At Manual and Lincoln, there was a lot of fighting. The guys didn’t have much time for dancing. We had more fun.”

Despite the rivalries — or maybe because of them — the two-step was a common denominator among the city’s high schools. Economics was another, McFadden says. “You might have been broke, but everybody was broke.” And then there were race relations. “This was the time of President Kennedy, Robert Kennedy. Kansas City was one of the places where the King riots hit hardest. If I went to the Plaza, I was followed around the whole store. The inner city was shut down — unconsciously, you were trapped.”

So you would walk up to J.C. Penney at 30th Street and Troost. You’d catch the bus to Katz Drug Store, Macy’s or Rothschild’s downtown, because you might not have had any money, but you had to dress stylish. Kids bought their suits from Harold Penner’s and Matlaw’s on East 18th Street, their shoes from Flagg Brothers at 10th and Main. They bought their music at Foster’s Record Salon on 31st Street, right off the corner of Brooklyn, or Tiger’s Record Center on Independence Avenue.

“The black community made our own music, made our own dances — the Motown sound, the Philly sound, the Atlanta sound. We created funk in the ’70s,” DJ Cool says. “We depended on one another to entertain one another.” Until 1984, he says, you couldn’t go into a black club where there wasn’t live entertainment. “It was the last heyday for the second phase of the big-band era. The soul bands had seven to fifteen members,” he says, citing Sly and the Family Stone, the Ohio Players, Earth Wind & Fire, and Kansas City-based bands such as Bloodstone, Lo-Key and Smoke.

For a decade between 1972 and 1982, McFadden played the funky trumpeter as leader of Lonnie and the Band. They gigged at places like the 50 Yard Line, the Inferno Show Lounge at 41st Street and Troost, or the Fancy Dancer on Quindaro. They couldn’t get jobs on the Plaza, where white bands were playing the same music, but black bands would battle all night until noon the next day at A.G.’s, the after-hours club in Bonner Springs where Thrower and Turner danced but never met.

“A.G.’s epitomized the nightlife,” McFadden recalls. “It wasn’t very big, but it was packed, with the lights down low. You would find all kinds of people there — I met a lot of pimps, streetwalkers, drug dealers, a lot of people who would be doing illegal things. But this was a place where everybody would go hang out, so everybody was cool.”

Talk to any two-stepper, and you’ll understand it’s about more than dancing. It’s about history, politics — hell, all of American culture — the way black Kansas Citians experienced it during one moment in time.

“Those days were all about peace, stopping the Vietnam War. Everyone wanted to live good, go to college, make $150,000. All of that was expressed in this dance,” recalls Anthony Clifton, one of the guys watching two-steppers at a club on a Saturday night. “This is the dance of the black baby boomers. We were the last generation to grow up and actually have fun. There were no drive-bys. The worst thing we had to fear was drunks.”


Thirty years later, the two-step still defines the cultural life of some Kansas Citians.

“I can go out wining and dining with friends, but if I don’t dance, I don’t have a good night,” Jackie Brown says. “We judge music by whether you can two-step to it. It could be a cool song with an awesome beat, but if you can’t two-step, the dance is wasted on it.”

When Brown goes shopping and tries on clothes, she won’t buy something if she can’t two-step in it. “When I go to DSW, they probably think, Here she comes again,” Brown says, referring to Designer Shoe Warehouse. “Women have to have high heels — or, as we call ’em, ho heels. They make your legs look good. And your dress has to be above your knees for twists and turns.”

And God help you if you ask a woman to dance and you don’t know how to two-step. “If someone asks me, I’ll ask them, ‘Do you two-step?’ Because I don’t want any half-stepper,” Brown says. “I’ve often contemplated walking off the dance floor, but that would be the ultimate act of disrespect. But I’ll make a mental note not to dance with them again.”

Women all over town tell the same story. And some of them now say their kids want to learn how to two-step.

That’s why there’s so much money, so much pride, riding on Evern Thrower’s leg.

About four years ago, filmmaker Rodney Thompson was out one night when something he’d seen all of his life somehow looked different.

“I was at a club, and it had never occurred to me how aesthetically appealing the dance is,” he says.

Thompson graduated from Central in 1964, then went to the University of Missouri-Columbia before earning a master’s degree from San Francisco State University. His high school classmate Stinson McClendon, who earned undergraduate and graduate degrees from Central Missouri State University, runs Reel Images Film & Video Group with him. They’ve made corporate videos for clients such as the Kauffman Foundation, Kansas City Power & Light and the Area Transportation Authority as well as documentaries on Kansas City jazz stalwarts Claude Fiddler Williams and Jay McShann. A documentary they produced for the Missouri Historical Society, called Through the Eyes of a Child (it focused on people born between 1940 and 1980 who grew up in four historically black communities in St. Louis), took second place at the Black Hollywood Film Festival in 2000. Thompson and McClendon are also intrigued by the way men and women interact — for one current project, they’re interviewing subjects in black barber shops and beauty parlors, asking them about male-female relationships. And that’s what the two-step is all about.

“It’s just such a visual and creative dance,” Thompson says. “We started talking to people, trying to figure out where it came from.”

Readers who want a definitive answer will have to wait for Thompson and McClendon’s film to come out, though Thompson offers a preview. “Because it was very much like the lindy hop or jitterbug but not as high-energy, I think it evolved from the late ’50s, around the beginning of the Motown sound, when R&B was evolving and growing. African-Americans in Kansas City who grew up during that era share a collective persona, and it’s kind of cool. Cool comes from the era of the ’50s, music influenced by jazz — Miles Davis’ Birth of the Cool. I remember the way a young man would talk and dress, the era of the cool. It may have been all over the United States, but my memories are of Kansas City. That coolness comes out in the way people express themselves when they dance.”


Wherever it came from, Thompson and McClendon wanted to get it on film — and the Missouri Arts Council gave them $16,000 to try.

But they needed more than money. They needed a narrative structure, a plot, a way to capture the action so their movie would have a big, dramatic climax. So they called Anita Dixon, an entrepreneur who had created a business, Passage Unlimited, to promote tourism by hyping the heritage of African-Americans in Kansas and Missouri.

“Kansas City is a huge dance town because of the big bands. Big-band jazz was strictly Kansas City,” Dixon says. Later, though, as racial tensions escalated, blacks were virtually forced out of dance halls and into basements. “The lindy hop and swing were toned down, modified. But we didn’t modify it like the rest of the nation — we kept that one-two swing.”

But, she says, she saw the dance dying. “After hip-hop came in, there were only a couple of places you could step.” There was always the Epicurean at 75th Street and Troost. “Old School would draw people just because of the name, or 6902 [a club at 6902 Prospect], and various parties. If you knew where the class of ’74 was partying, you knew they would be stepping. Most of us were still going out, but we couldn’t find what we wanted.”

Dixon figured that if more people two-stepped in more clubs, and if Thompson and McClendon could show the essence of the dance, they’d have something people would come to Kansas City to see. So they made the stakes high: a contest to find the city’s best steppers, with a $10,000 purse — $5,000 for first place, $3,000 for second and $2,000 for third.

Dixon hooked up with De Barker, the line-dancing teacher at Pete’s Place who seems to be the most well-known woman on the club set.

Barker laughs off that description, but the 47-year-old grandmother knows how to put things together. Until five years ago, she was out of the scene, having lived in Los Angeles for twenty years. “I hated L.A.,” she says. “It’s too hard on a person, the cost of living is astronomical — and I really missed the two-step. That’s one reason I came back. It sounds crazy, but I never went out at night in L.A., because there was no two-step.”

Back in town, Barker became a regular — and, later, “the self-proclaimed hostess” — at Old School. Then she met MC Cannon, the DJ who played at Mac’s South on Blue Ridge, and started going out there to see him. When he started DJing at Bodyworks, she checked out that venue, too. Pretty soon, Barker knew everybody.

She was already running a side business as an event planner when she was laid off from her software engineering job at Sprint last January, giving her the opportunity to turn party-throwing into a full-time job. She also teaches aerobics at the Hillcrest Community Center and line-dancing in the clubs. (Sometimes, after aerobics classes, she’ll acquiesce to her students’ pleading and try to teach them to two-step. “A lot of the people I’m teaching just don’t have rhythm,” she says. “I never knew so many black people didn’t have rhythm. I’ll look ’em in the eye and say, ‘Are you one of us?'”)


By May, Barker had signed up ten clubs to help with the contest. All through the summer, Barker, Thompson, McClendon and their film crew would take over a club on its off night. Everyone inside had to sign a release — even onlookers just there to see what the hoopla was about — because they might end up in the movie. Two-steppers who wanted a shot at the prize money had to dance in special showcases, where they got their dance cards punched; ten punches qualified them for the final step-off in December. On Wednesdays at 6902, on Thursdays at Mac’s South, on Sundays at the Epicurean and throughout the week at other clubs, people were showing up to learn about the contest. KPRS 103.3 got into the act as a sponsor, running commercials, interviews, remotes and live broadcasts. Remy Martin and Anheuser-Busch threw in some cash, as did the Michael Fletcher Law Firm. The Missouri Arts Council committed another $6,000.

Business picked up for some clubs. “The clubs are a lot more crowded now,” Turner said in mid-September. “If there’s a showcase, people everywhere are just coming to watch.”

Seeing an opportunity, Grace’s Soul Food owner Rodney Williams started holding his own Saturday-night two-step contests for cash prizes of up to $100.

Then, suddenly, R. Kelly had a slow-grooving new single called “Step in the Name of Love,” and it was all over the air. “It’s on top of the charts, and everybody and their mother is loving that song,” Victor Dyson, vice president and director of sales for the Carter Broadcast Group (which owns 103.3), said in mid-November. “So the timing of this contest and what’s going on in the community musically all makes sense.”

(Making a lot less sense to local two-steppers, though, was The Kansas City Star‘s November 21 story on stepping in the paper’s FYI section — it was an Associated Press piece out of Chicago, describing the dance as “a distinctive Chicago-bred derivative of swing dancing that is now spreading across the country.” Chicago native R. Kelly might have been drawing attention to stepping in general, but how could the hometown paper have missed Kansas City’s longtime cultural institution and the big-money competition? People here were furious at the Star, Dixon says. “I was disappointed that we had been putting forth this effort for so many months and they basically ignored us,” Thompson says, noting that the paper had, in the past few months, also run locally generated articles about Kansas City’s swing and salsa dancers.)

Dixon is betting that, before too long, Kansas City won’t have to brag about being the city of fountains. (Really — how boring is that?) “It’s time to support the urban community’s contribution to Kansas City,” she says. “You can make some money off of it. Once this documentary comes out, it’s going to change things. People are going to see it and say, ‘What the heck are these black people doing?’ They’re going to come and try to learn. If nothing else, the clothes are going to blow people away.”

That’s why Rick Hughes, the new head of Kansas City’s Convention and Visitors Bureau, wasn’t a particularly hard sell. A month or so ago, his office gave the filmmakers $1,000. “The whole cultural tourism thing is an initiative that we really wish to pursue,” Hughes tells the Pitch. “Oftentimes, we think of our cultural experiences as museums and theaters and big festivals, but you have to have smaller but enduring initiatives such as this,” he says. He adds that he wants to learn more about two-stepping himself.


Despite the contributions from savvy businesses who are buying into their vision, raising money remains a challenge for Thompson and McClendon; their movie will be made on a fraction of what such a documentary would normally require. But when Thompson and McClendon finish editing their film in the spring, they plan on shopping it to film festivals around the country.

“We hope to be able to get some national distribution and hopefully be able to expose the style of dance to the nation, let ’em see how we do it,” Thompson says. “It’s just very unique. I’ve never been anyplace else where the two-step is the same as we do it in Kansas City. It’s ours.”

First, though, there’s the December 18 contest at the Park Place Hotel (at Interstate 435 and Front Street). And thousands of dollars riding on Evern Thrower’s leg.

“E.T. couldn’t hold a pair of my dirty shoes,” jokes Lawrence Johnson Jr.

Heading into the finals, it looks as if the Step Off will come down to two couples who have long since graduated from Central.

Whereas Thrower is the strong, silent type, Johnson swaggers in silk shirts and matching pants, remembering the ladies who’ve asked him to dance.

Quiet Linda Turner epitomizes the petite sophisticate. The gregarious Jackie Brown has a fondness for Jose Cuervo.

Thrower and Turner are a couple on and off the dance floor. Johnson and Brown are both married to other people.

OK, it’s not that simple. It’s not as if Johnson and Brown are mercenary dancers. They dated back in the ’70s.

Until the competition started, Brown says, she had practically stopped going out. A computer technician at the Kansas City Public Library’s Main Branch downtown, she used to work Monday nights and then stop by the Green Duck at 25th Street and Prospect to unwind. There, enjoying the neighborhood crowd and the stiff pours, she’d listen to the R&B songs on the jukebox, maybe play a game of dominos — and two-step. Johnson was there, too, and they’d dance. Then Brown would go home to her husband, and Johnson would go around the corner, home to his wife.

“We’d see each other out, and that’d be the extent of the relationship. It’s strictly dance,” Johnson says. The two have also double-dated with their respective spouses. “My wife is an excellent two-stepper,” Johnson says emphatically. Brown’s husband, though, is West Indian, so he’s more into reggae, she says.

But the two-step is so sensual that people can’t help wondering if something more is going on when the couple dances.

“It’s actually a form of making love without … ” Brown says.

“It’s foreplay,” Johnson finishes. “A prelude to a kiss — only we don’t kiss.”

“He did kiss me on the cheek after exceptional dancing at Grace’s,” Brown says.

During the September showcase at Grace’s Soul Food — a clam-shacky hall set back in a parking lot at 83rd Street and Wornall Road, with whitewashed walls and dock décor — Johnson prowled the perimeter with an MGD in one hand and a napkin in the other, using it to mop sweat off his forehead. He showboated during the warm-up dances, spinning in circles. Then he cased the crowd, danced by himself in the aisle in front of the bar, throwing his hands up as if to yell, Where’s my woman?


Brown was dressed in a skintight, red-sequined dress and strappy, spiked heels, and when the two of them finally took over the floor for their showcase performance, Johnson — spinning and grabbing his crotch — seemed disconnected from Brown. Still, their dancing that night made it onto an early compilation video of Thompson and McClendon’s footage, and there it looked dramatic and climactic.

The floor had been gummy that night, Brown said later. They danced much better at the next Grace’s showcase, when she was able to get into her zone.

“We are the Fred and Ginger of two-step,” Brown says, her comment revealing what may be one of Thompson and McClendon’s most surprising discoveries: That many of Kansas City’s best two-steppers have been inspired by oh-so-white — but oh-so-smooth — Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. “Central was all about being cool and looking good. Some dance steps you don’t see the Central guys do, because it’s not cool.”

“Because my shirt might come out of my pants,” Johnson explains. “I’m not saying I’m not going to break a sweat … “

“He’ll do a spin with me, and I’ll think, OK, I’m in my zone — and sometimes we get there together,” Brown says. “It’s on. There’s nothing else you can say. I hate to stop dancing. If the two-step were taken out of my life, it’d be like a crack addict going off of drugs cold turkey.”

By November, some insiders were saying that Thrower and Turner were the crowd favorites. But Johnson and Brown were leading the online voting on Barker’s Web site, (named after her high school and graduation year).

They presented a significant threat to Thrower and Turner’s chance at the $5,000 grand prize.

Johnson had been dancing since he was five years old. He’d grown up on a block of two-stepping families — the Andersons, the Johnsons, the Stanleys — at 34th Street and Montgall. “My sister used to make me dance,” he says. “You never want to dance with your sister, but she always said, ‘You’ll thank me someday.’ And I do.”

Johnson had gone on to be a track star; running the quarter-mile and sprint relays, he’d been a six-time Junior College All-American at Mesa Community College in Mesa, Arizona. At one time, his name hung on a banner in the University of Missouri-Columbia’s Brewer Fieldhouse, honoring his record for the indoor 600-yard run. “I wonder if it’s still hanging there. It stayed up there for a little while,” he says.

“I got a lot of recognition and accolades, and I miss that,” Johnson says. But the two-step competition has re-energized him, and he’s getting that kind of attention again. “It’s like being at the top of the food chain. At showcases, we’re usually the last people scheduled to dance, because people stay all night until we dance. They want to know when we’re going to dance, because they have to get to work in the morning.”

For Johnson, this restored recognition has done something more than earn him $100 cash prizes at Grace’s new Saturday-night contests. “It’s brought back that vigor I’ve been missing all my life,” he says.

But as the finals approach, the dancers are getting more and more stressed. Among the men, Johnson says, the vibe is cutthroat. “We talk a lot to each other and about each other — to each other’s face.”

It’s different for the women. “With the women, you can see that nod of approval, like they like your style,” Brown says. But she also sees something else. “Do I want to say envy? Because I’m really smooth.”


Yet her nerves are rattled, too. “There’s already an unwritten rule that he who holds the title, having been deemed the two-step champion for 2003-04, that’s like being deemed Miss Black America in the black community in Kansas City. That’s a prestigious thing. I’m going to be ready to eat everybody’s lunch.”

But something else has started to happen, too. Word has begun spreading that many of the couples have been holding back, saving their real stuff for December 18. And privately, organizers have said that a few other couples also stand a chance.

Couples a lot younger than the old-schoolers.

Like Keisha Baker — who’s only 37 — and Dempsey Oates, a baby at 33.

“To be bluntly honest, I don’t think anyone in Kansas City can handle me and my partner,” Oates says at a happy hour the Friday after Thanksgiving. His partner, Baker, learned how to dance when she was eight, from an uncle who was known around town as a two-stepper. “He would win contests all over the city,” she says.

Baker, who works in customer service at UMB Bank, and Oates, a Kansas City, Missouri, police officer and part-time physical therapist, dance a couple of times a month. They know they’re inheritors of a tradition, but with all due respect, they say they’ve added some youthful twists and do more turns across the dance floor.

Then there’s Spanky and Bebe (whose real names are Warren and Beth Heilderberg).

“We’re just representing Kansas City,” says Spanky, 38, who graduated from Lincoln Academy in 1983. (“Mostly all the good two-steppers came from Lincoln,” he claims.) “You hear a lot of people say, ‘Kansas City, they’re country,’ but we want to be part of putting Kansas City on the map.”

A couple of years ago, the Heilderbergs were in a car accident that left Bebe with two bad knees and Spanky with a crushed pelvis, now held together with a metal plate and four screws. As soon as they got out of rehab, they went dancing. “Seeing me dance, you wouldn’t know I had all that in me,” Spanky says of his hardware.

Bebe went to Southeast High School and is now 40. She learned to dance from her mother and stepfather, perennial two-step award winners. “One night they went to a contest in Columbia, Missouri, and brought home a trophy and the record ‘Rapper’s Delight,'” she recalls (the record came out in 1980). “That’s when I said, ‘Hey, I want to learn how to do that dance.'”

Thrower is diplomatic about the younger dancers’ chances. “I was thinking we might be blowing people out of the water, but that’s not the case from what I’ve seen,” he says. “We’re pretty good dancers, but we don’t count our chickens before they’re hatched. It all depends on the judges.” If he and Turner don’t win, Thrower says, it’s just because they got outdanced. “That’s the bottom line. It’s nothing to hang your head about. But we’re in it to win it.”

“If it’s judged strictly on two-step style and creativity, we’ve got it won,” Johnson counters.

On December 18, it won’t matter who the sentimental favorite is. Barker has lined up serious judges, all of them trained to work a body — Ingrid Hadley, a teacher of modern dance at Paseo High School; Dianna Whittaker, a dancer and model-pageant judge for more than fifteen years; Clay Johnson, a Manual ’74 graduate who spent three seasons with the Los Angeles Lakers; Rick Rainey, a two-stepping tennis coach; the tap-dancing Ronald McFadden; and Cherri Ford, who Barker describes as “a two-stepper from the old-school era who doesn’t go out a lot — I chose her because she doesn’t see these people all the time.”


Who wins? Go to the Park Place Hotel on December 18. Or just go to a club, because really, the contest has already been won.

“This whole two-stepping contest has been a rebirth, a renaissance for us,” Brown says, and it sounds like she’s talking about her whole generation.

Johnson, the onetime track star turned nightclub dance star, agrees. “We needed this.”

The Step Off is at 8 p.m. Thursday, December 18, at the Park Place Hotel, off Interstate 435 at the Front Street exit (816-483-9900). For information, see

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