Two filmmakers shine a lens – and lay down some serious cash – on Kansas City's homegrown moves.

Strictly Basement 

Two filmmakers shine a lens – and lay down some serious cash – on Kansas City's homegrown moves.

Page 5 of 10

Wherever it came from, Thompson and McClendon wanted to get it on film -- and the Missouri Arts Council gave them $16,000 to try.

But they needed more than money. They needed a narrative structure, a plot, a way to capture the action so their movie would have a big, dramatic climax. So they called Anita Dixon, an entrepreneur who had created a business, Passage Unlimited, to promote tourism by hyping the heritage of African-Americans in Kansas and Missouri.

"Kansas City is a huge dance town because of the big bands. Big-band jazz was strictly Kansas City," Dixon says. Later, though, as racial tensions escalated, blacks were virtually forced out of dance halls and into basements. "The lindy hop and swing were toned down, modified. But we didn't modify it like the rest of the nation -- we kept that one-two swing."

But, she says, she saw the dance dying. "After hip-hop came in, there were only a couple of places you could step." There was always the Epicurean at 75th Street and Troost. "Old School would draw people just because of the name, or 6902 [a club at 6902 Prospect], and various parties. If you knew where the class of '74 was partying, you knew they would be stepping. Most of us were still going out, but we couldn't find what we wanted."

Dixon figured that if more people two-stepped in more clubs, and if Thompson and McClendon could show the essence of the dance, they'd have something people would come to Kansas City to see. So they made the stakes high: a contest to find the city's best steppers, with a $10,000 purse -- $5,000 for first place, $3,000 for second and $2,000 for third.

Dixon hooked up with De Barker, the line-dancing teacher at Pete's Place who seems to be the most well-known woman on the club set.

Barker laughs off that description, but the 47-year-old grandmother knows how to put things together. Until five years ago, she was out of the scene, having lived in Los Angeles for twenty years. "I hated L.A.," she says. "It's too hard on a person, the cost of living is astronomical -- and I really missed the two-step. That's one reason I came back. It sounds crazy, but I never went out at night in L.A., because there was no two-step."

Back in town, Barker became a regular -- and, later, "the self-proclaimed hostess" -- at Old School. Then she met MC Cannon, the DJ who played at Mac's South on Blue Ridge, and started going out there to see him. When he started DJing at Bodyworks, she checked out that venue, too. Pretty soon, Barker knew everybody.

She was already running a side business as an event planner when she was laid off from her software engineering job at Sprint last January, giving her the opportunity to turn party-throwing into a full-time job. She also teaches aerobics at the Hillcrest Community Center and line-dancing in the clubs. (Sometimes, after aerobics classes, she'll acquiesce to her students' pleading and try to teach them to two-step. "A lot of the people I'm teaching just don't have rhythm," she says. "I never knew so many black people didn't have rhythm. I'll look 'em in the eye and say, 'Are you one of us?'")

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