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Despite the contributions from savvy businesses who are buying into their vision, raising money remains a challenge for Thompson and McClendon; their movie will be made on a fraction of what such a documentary would normally require. But when Thompson and McClendon finish editing their film in the spring, they plan on shopping it to film festivals around the country.
"We hope to be able to get some national distribution and hopefully be able to expose the style of dance to the nation, let 'em see how we do it," Thompson says. "It's just very unique. I've never been anyplace else where the two-step is the same as we do it in Kansas City. It's ours."
First, though, there's the December 18 contest at the Park Place Hotel (at Interstate 435 and Front Street). And thousands of dollars riding on Evern Thrower's leg.
"E.T. couldn't hold a pair of my dirty shoes," jokes Lawrence Johnson Jr.
Heading into the finals, it looks as if the Step Off will come down to two couples who have long since graduated from Central.
Whereas Thrower is the strong, silent type, Johnson swaggers in silk shirts and matching pants, remembering the ladies who've asked him to dance.
Quiet Linda Turner epitomizes the petite sophisticate. The gregarious Jackie Brown has a fondness for Jose Cuervo.
Thrower and Turner are a couple on and off the dance floor. Johnson and Brown are both married to other people.
OK, it's not that simple. It's not as if Johnson and Brown are mercenary dancers. They dated back in the '70s.
Until the competition started, Brown says, she had practically stopped going out. A computer technician at the Kansas City Public Library's Main Branch downtown, she used to work Monday nights and then stop by the Green Duck at 25th Street and Prospect to unwind. There, enjoying the neighborhood crowd and the stiff pours, she'd listen to the R&B songs on the jukebox, maybe play a game of dominos -- and two-step. Johnson was there, too, and they'd dance. Then Brown would go home to her husband, and Johnson would go around the corner, home to his wife.
"We'd see each other out, and that'd be the extent of the relationship. It's strictly dance," Johnson says. The two have also double-dated with their respective spouses. "My wife is an excellent two-stepper," Johnson says emphatically. Brown's husband, though, is West Indian, so he's more into reggae, she says.
But the two-step is so sensual that people can't help wondering if something more is going on when the couple dances.
"It's actually a form of making love without ... " Brown says.
"It's foreplay," Johnson finishes. "A prelude to a kiss -- only we don't kiss."
"He did kiss me on the cheek after exceptional dancing at Grace's," Brown says.
During the September showcase at Grace's Soul Food -- a clam-shacky hall set back in a parking lot at 83rd Street and Wornall Road, with whitewashed walls and dock décor -- Johnson prowled the perimeter with an MGD in one hand and a napkin in the other, using it to mop sweat off his forehead. He showboated during the warm-up dances, spinning in circles. Then he cased the crowd, danced by himself in the aisle in front of the bar, throwing his hands up as if to yell, Where's my woman?