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 6 of 10

By May, Barker had signed up ten clubs to help with the contest. All through the summer, Barker, Thompson, McClendon and their film crew would take over a club on its off night. Everyone inside had to sign a release -- even onlookers just there to see what the hoopla was about -- because they might end up in the movie. Two-steppers who wanted a shot at the prize money had to dance in special showcases, where they got their dance cards punched; ten punches qualified them for the final step-off in December. On Wednesdays at 6902, on Thursdays at Mac's South, on Sundays at the Epicurean and throughout the week at other clubs, people were showing up to learn about the contest. KPRS 103.3 got into the act as a sponsor, running commercials, interviews, remotes and live broadcasts. Remy Martin and Anheuser-Busch threw in some cash, as did the Michael Fletcher Law Firm. The Missouri Arts Council committed another $6,000.

Business picked up for some clubs. "The clubs are a lot more crowded now," Turner said in mid-September. "If there's a showcase, people everywhere are just coming to watch."

Seeing an opportunity, Grace's Soul Food owner Rodney Williams started holding his own Saturday-night two-step contests for cash prizes of up to $100.

Then, suddenly, R. Kelly had a slow-grooving new single called "Step in the Name of Love," and it was all over the air. "It's on top of the charts, and everybody and their mother is loving that song," Victor Dyson, vice president and director of sales for the Carter Broadcast Group (which owns 103.3), said in mid-November. "So the timing of this contest and what's going on in the community musically all makes sense."

(Making a lot less sense to local two-steppers, though, was The Kansas City Star's November 21 story on stepping in the paper's FYI section -- it was an Associated Press piece out of Chicago, describing the dance as "a distinctive Chicago-bred derivative of swing dancing that is now spreading across the country." Chicago native R. Kelly might have been drawing attention to stepping in general, but how could the hometown paper have missed Kansas City's longtime cultural institution and the big-money competition? People here were furious at the Star, Dixon says. "I was disappointed that we had been putting forth this effort for so many months and they basically ignored us," Thompson says, noting that the paper had, in the past few months, also run locally generated articles about Kansas City's swing and salsa dancers.)

Dixon is betting that, before too long, Kansas City won't have to brag about being the city of fountains. (Really -- how boring is that?) "It's time to support the urban community's contribution to Kansas City," she says. "You can make some money off of it. Once this documentary comes out, it's going to change things. People are going to see it and say, 'What the heck are these black people doing?' They're going to come and try to learn. If nothing else, the clothes are going to blow people away."

That's why Rick Hughes, the new head of Kansas City's Convention and Visitors Bureau, wasn't a particularly hard sell. A month or so ago, his office gave the filmmakers $1,000. "The whole cultural tourism thing is an initiative that we really wish to pursue," Hughes tells the Pitch. "Oftentimes, we think of our cultural experiences as museums and theaters and big festivals, but you have to have smaller but enduring initiatives such as this," he says. He adds that he wants to learn more about two-stepping himself.

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