6-5-2015 Steppers Beat

The West Coast Report
By Samuel Parker The West Coast Report

WLSC: 2015 - COMPLAINT Regarding Judging

Written by Samuel Parker on September 23, 2015.

On my return flight to Los Angeles, from the 25th Anniversary World’s Largest Steppers Contest, I’ve jotted down some of my observations of the contest and my complaints regarding the judging .

This was my fifth time attending World’s Largest in the past six years and I have previously written articles about various aspects of "the Big Contest" and my expectations about what it should/could be.

I’m glad that the "contestant check-in process" was taken more seriously this year (i.e. "if you don’t show up when your number is called…..SCRATCH…, moving right along, and there will be no recalls). Consequently, from a contestant’s perspective – the pace of the contest seemed to flow a lot better than previous years. We were actually lined up to take the stage, before the other couples came off. (great coordinating Ms. Foxette). I also liked it that Steppers from particular cities (i.e. Los Angeles) weren’t on the stage at the same time. It enabled us to cheer and support each other.

I also thought the multiple personalities on the MIC was an interesting twist and reminiscent of some of the pre-2009 contests. I did miss Pete on the MIC, but also found Casper to be very entertaining as "Univer-Soul" usual. Hope to see it again.

And who is the genius that decided to "live-stream" the contests?... Whoever it was, give that person 2 (two) Complimentary passes to the Compton Swap Meet. Great Stroke. Our folks were Tweeting and Facebooking us about the contest, while it was still going on! Welcome to the 21st Century.
I really liked the "format" of the Masters Category (One couple on the Stage, performing the various tempos of our dance, their musical choice, .. their choice of choreography and improvisation, … their costuming choice.) This balance of choices by the master performers of this art, make it ripe for intellectual consideration by future contestants, and peer review. While I still would have enjoyed a defense by the previous Winners, and while I would like to see this category more often (maybe every two or three years), I enjoyed the category and the performances.

"Big Ups" to Pete, Moe, and all the Majestic Gents for this production and for the ongoing organizing of this national Steppin’ Showcase. I continue to be thankful that you select environments where I don’t have to be concerned for my personal safety and security on my ingress and egress … and I can’t recall even having a thought about whether my car was being vandalized "outside", while I was gittin’-it-in "inside".

Now, here are my COMPLAINTS . . . regarding the judging.

Pete usually takes the time to remind the audience about how challenging it is for the contestants to get up on that raised stage to perform in front of the audience. It, generally, generates much appreciated applause and understanding from the audience regarding the difficulties of what Contestants (as a group) must necessarily confront and overcome – in order to put on a show – in front of a whole lot of folks who can do this dance as good and better than some of us. While there are some among us who would dance on a pole – in front of anybody; there are others of us who wouldn’t normally sing (or dance) without divine inspiration. As a non-extroverted contestant, I appreciate that little reminder being recognized.

This year, I am further encouraged and hope that all "Out-of-Towners" are equally encouraged, that a group of Chicago Judges gave high marks to a team of Steppers from the West Coast. Although we are at the greatest distance from Chicago, separated by the Mississippi, the Rio Grande, and the Colorado Rivers, we are not-so-distant cousins in this dance family.

The judges determined a "First Place" position in the TRIOs Category for Team #69, (Carlton Puckett, Lauren La Grone, and Dedrick "Showtime" Vernardo) from Los Angeles, CA. Ms. La Grone is the new addition to the Trio group that performed (but did not place) in the 2014 contest.

The Judges also awarded a "Second Place" finish in the NEW SKOOL Category to Couple #34 (Carlton Puckett & Lauren La Grone) of Los Angeles, CA. This couple also competed, but did not place, in 2013 (See clip of the performance https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qT5tfWoUY-g , and the move @ 0:35 – 0:40) and 2014. Puckett-La Grone have wrestled with fine-tuning the elements of a winning formula which saw them studying the dips and drops (which are perfectly legal in the New Skool category) where the lead dramatically thrusts the follower from a perpendicular position to a 45 degree dip or a 90 degree drop, and just as quickly – rhythmically returning the follower to an upright Steppin’ pattern. In their stimulating 2014 performance, Puckett-La Grone extended the technique (by degrees) when he hoisted her into a fully inverted 180 degree lift, before returning her to the upright Steppin’ pattern. (See the clip at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w_u6EGYMamQ, See the move @ 0:51 - 0:56) And, yet, the judges weren’t impressed.

Sooo…. the Puckett-La Grone team went even further with a crowd-stunning full 360 degree "over-the-back" flip with a graceful return to the Steppin’ pattern. Something got the judges’ attention. Thus, making it even more difficult to argue with the success of that element in a winning formula. Even the most begrudging observer has to at least pause and wonder if they have tapped into an important element in the winning formula.

In the Old School Category, the Judges awarded the "3rd Place" award in the Old Skool Categroy to Couple #22, Maurice Thomas (Chicago) and Martha Stevens (Los Angeles, CA). Interestingly, Maurice Thomas stated in a Facebook posting that he and Ms. Stephens never even practiced (Together?) Martha Stephens has been putting in the work here in Cali – and it made a difference. Martha also did her homework and has utilized a formula that has worked for a number of West Coast ladies. In 2014, the Chicago-Los Angeles connection worked for Lawrence Parker (Chicago) and Ginger Jackson (Los Angeles) when they took 3rd Place in the Old Skool Category. The Parker-Jackson team is thought to have had many more practice sessions together.

However, based on the results, perhaps the "in-person" practice sessions are not a necessary element. This trend goes back even further, to 2010, when Catherina Brown (Seattle, WA) teamed up with Greg Rashid (Cleveland, OH) for 2nd Place in the "Out-of-Towners" Category. In fact, the last California Male who lead a Winning Team was Damone Hodges with Shakira for a 3rd Place finish, in the WLSC 2009, "Out-of-Towners" Category, (Oakland, CA). There’s something to think about, for the ladies who suggest that they cannot find a willing Male Lead Stepper.

Finally, in the Masters Category, Couple #66, Tony Dow (Chicago-Los Angeles) and Charnice Simmons (Chicago), brought it on home to make at least 7 pieces of hardware that left Tinley Park on Saturday night with new destinations - in Los Angeles.

A few of the local promoters who travel to Chicago ( One Step Promotions, A Step Ahead Entertainment, Phamily Steppers, DowHouse, etc.), in efforts to increase the cultural exchange between Chicago and the West Coast have a few more tools in their arsenals for encouraging new Steppers to get active in the Steppin’ communities AND Contests. Based upon the trends mentioned and alluded to in this writing – the door is not closed to West Coast Steppers. The judges may be looking beyond their hometown, to see what you can bring to the art and the hometown of Steppin.

Thus, to summarize my complaint. I would like to complain that the judges have not been thanked for the role that they play, and have played, in braving the treacherous waters of deciding the winners in these contests – without an objective set of Standards and required elements for judging Steppin’ Competitions. Their credibility and inconsistencies are gonna be under attack, for the service that they render to the Steppin’ Community (nationwide). Next time Pete takes the time to remind the audience of the challenge faced by the contestants, I hope he will also take the time to remind us all of the job that is being done by the judges.

The title of this article, shamelessly, takes advantage of a marketing ploy - that I could attract a lot more attention with scandal and controversy, than by simply saying to the Judges of the 2015 World’s Largest Steppers Contest - "Thank You Ladies and Gentle Sirs, for your services to our national community."

SteppersUSA is  looking for people who can tell the story to the nation...
I'm looking for staff from Chicago, the East coast (Atlanta, Central Florida, North Carolina), the mid west beyond & including Chicago (Detroit), the west and  on the west coast (San Francisco/Oakland and Seattle). If you take photos -- that's great but it's not necessary (perhaps you know someone who takes photos at the set -- even with a camera phone) we are looking to keep the country informed about the world of steppin in your area.  Shoot me an email!

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