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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."