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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.