The Miami Herald
SECTION: FRONT; Pg. 1A
The lights are low on this Friday night at Hallandale Beach's Millennium Ballroom, a modest hall tucked into one of South Florida's dozens of nondescript strip malls.
The mirrored walls and wooden floors have been transformed from a banquet hall into a destination for a steppers' ball.
The men have traded their distressed jeans and Air Force Ones for tailored suits and polished spectator shoes. The women are wearing strappy cocktail dresses and three-inch heels.
No hip-hop couture here. The look is grown and sexy.
The dance of the evening is a two-step - twirling, grooving, shuffling and spinning to Marvin Gaye's Makes Me Wanna Holla and the Temptations' The Jones.
This is stepping, South Florida style, a retro groove that's enjoying a resurgence in the region, thanks to some displaced Chicagoans who missed the moves made popular in the Midwest.
Stepping - not to be confused with the military-style stomps and slaps of black sororities and fraternities - is a sexy, stylish dance for couples, most easily described as the African-American form of ballroom dancing.
"It's sexy, it's sophisticated and can be elegant or funky," said native Chicagoan Jim Berry, an avid dancer who has formed the South Florida Steppers, a social group that throws the steppers "sets" - or dance parties.
Berry, sports anchor for WFOR-CBS4, hosts sets at the Millennium Ballroom every second Friday of the month. He also teaches classes to the uninitiated.
The conventions, generally held in urban centers, have drawn up to 3,000 dancers in the past.
"You don't have to be a babe to do it," added Berry's business contact Darryl Davis, of Chicago, who produces stepping contests, instructional DVDs and steping shows on cable access. "Everyone looks good doing it regardless if you are short, fat, tall or skinny."
TO THE BEAT
Steppers dance to old and new music. It's all about the stepper's beat that makes a steppers song.
They practice with their feet: kick, kick, cross, cross over and over - always with plenty of body English and attitude.
It's all about grace, form and personality.
"Sometimes you have to fake it till you make it," Berry says to students, making tentative steps, in an attempt to coordinate.
Hoping to capitalize on the dance revival, stepping groups have cropped up across the country in places like San Francisco, Atlanta, Milwaukee, and now in South Florida.
At the Millennium Ballroom on this Friday night, as the announcer promotes a $4 Courvoisier cocktail special, several of Berry's friends have flown in from Chicago to lend support to the fledgling steppers movement.
The Chicago visitors are distinguished by their dress - tailored suits with long jackets with color schemes like black and bone with matching shoes. They are among the most sought after dance partners.
Stepping took a baby step into the national scene in 1997 with the movie Love Jones, a wildly popular date movie aimed at a young, hip, urban crowd, set in Chicago and starring Nia Long and Larenz Tate.
The dance style blossomed in 2003 when Chicagoan R. Kelly's Top 40 song Step in the Name of Love, and the accompanying music video, hit the airwaves.
Now, R&B crooner Usher has penned a deal with MGM for a movie by the same title, promoted as an urban Saturday Night Fever.
"Chicago wanted to keep it all to themselves for so long, but now it's changed," Davis said.
"Nobody knew what I was doing," said Neal, a real estate broker who describes himself as "over 40."
He left Chicago seven years ago for South Florida. "It's getting better now. It's good," he said.
For the average black Chicagoan growing up on the city's south or west sides, stepping was a rite of passage. One either grew up doing it or watching parents do it.
Stepping is derivative of the 1930s jitterbug, a toned-down version of the Lindy Hop. During the 1960s, the pace slowed to the bop, a more laid-back step. In the 1980s, the pace got even slower as stepping evolved.
"People didn't want to sweat out their clothes so much," Davis said.
The South Florida classes and parties are a mix of Chicago snowbirds and locals, like Derrick Hadley, who want to get in on the action.
On a recent Saturday, Hadley, a singer who performs on the condo circuit, joined 60 others for Berry's stepping lessons at the Millennium.
"I'm always going to nice events and this will help me network," said Hadley, of Oakland Park. "My parents used to dance like this."
If You Go
SETTING THE TONE
IN THEIR FOOTSTEPS
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