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Chicago-Style Stepping is an urban dance that originated in Chicago, and continues to evolve, defining its unique style and culture, within the context of mainstream Swing dance. Chicago-Style Stepping has gained popularity, particularly, but not limited to, the urban neighborhoods of America. "Chicago-Style Stepping" makes reference to other urban styles of dance found throughout the United States larger enclaves in cities such as Detroit, Cleveland, Baltimore and Washington, D.C.
In these and other cities one will find very similar customs and cultures accenting local dance movements that are very similar to movements of the Lindy Hop, West Coast Swing, Jitterbug and the Shag, just to name a few. Each city bears its own name such as theHustle or Swingout. Although unique to its own style, customs and accents the basic structure involves the movement of triple-steps, rock-steps and anchors, with the leader and follower synchronizing their steps in a complementary manner.
Chicago-Style Stepping, or steppin' as it is also known, has it roots imbedded in the traditional dance movements of Swing Dancing. The history extends to Ragtime and animal dances, which documents the polyrhythm movements and sounds of its heyday. Ragtime was not only a unique music form, it was a dance as well. Ragtime was a play on John Phillip Sousa's music, combining improvisation and syncopation in between to draw upon melodic themes and percussions. The end result was a richer melodic sound that was well received by local patrons as well as those abroad who would hear the new sounds coming from traveling musicians and dancers on the Vaudeville circuit.
Swing dance is style of dance which encompasses partner dances. Steppin is codified as a Nightclub dance. It is part of the Western Swing family. Its original form social called the “Chicago Bop” may have developed more from the Eastern Swing family. Steppin usage of the lane or slot stems from the Western style of Swing. Similarly, the usage of the close embrace stems from European family of dances such as the Volta and Waltz. Steppin's six (6) count basic pattern is consistent across many regional culture patterns. This is equal to 1 ½ measures of music in 4/4. Its tempo ranges 70 to 100 Bpm. Its basic rhythm pattern consists of a double and two syncopated triples. The patterns start traditionally on the downbeat beginning on the first beat of the music. The leader begins on the left and finishes on the right foot. The follower's dances natural opposites.
The cultural term “Bop” was used to describe the dance form from the early 40s until the early 1970s. The dance known as Chicago Steppin’ has many similarities as the Bop and early partner dances such as the Lindy Hop, Jitterbug, Foxtrot, Ragtime and many other early Swing dances. Like many other social dances the patterns and styles are passed down as a cultural experience and does not rely on a formal syllabus or curriculum of dance.
Disco and Chicago-Style Stepping
Even with the onset of Disco music, there was still a strong contingent that would still dance "The Bop" (followed by Chicago-Style Stepping) to any kind of music, and that trend continues to this day. Chicago-Style Stepping gained a real foothold when a local radio station, WBMX (102.7FM/1390AM), started playing two particular records by artist Jeffree, "Love's Gonna Last", and "Mr. Fix-It" in the mid to late 1970's. Neither song was a major Billboard R&B chart hit ("Mr. Fix-It" made it to number 53, "Love's Gonna Last" didn't chart), but they perfectly complemented the newest version of Chicago-Style Stepping. In a classic case of a dance making a record a (local) hit, due to the massive request and playing of "Love's Gonna Last" on WBMX, it is now considered the ultimate Chicago-Style Steppers cut. William DeVaughn's classic, "Be Thankful for What You Got," was also a ground-breaking cut for Chicago-Style Stepping.