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Yet her nerves are rattled, too. "There's already an unwritten rule that he who holds the title, having been deemed the two-step champion for 2003-04, that's like being deemed Miss Black America in the black community in Kansas City. That's a prestigious thing. I'm going to be ready to eat everybody's lunch."
But something else has started to happen, too. Word has begun spreading that many of the couples have been holding back, saving their real stuff for December 18. And privately, organizers have said that a few other couples also stand a chance.
Couples a lot younger than the old-schoolers.
Like Keisha Baker -- who's only 37 -- and Dempsey Oates, a baby at 33.
"To be bluntly honest, I don't think anyone in Kansas City can handle me and my partner," Oates says at a happy hour the Friday after Thanksgiving. His partner, Baker, learned how to dance when she was eight, from an uncle who was known around town as a two-stepper. "He would win contests all over the city," she says.
Baker, who works in customer service at UMB Bank, and Oates, a Kansas City, Missouri, police officer and part-time physical therapist, dance a couple of times a month. They know they're inheritors of a tradition, but with all due respect, they say they've added some youthful twists and do more turns across the dance floor.
Then there's Spanky and Bebe (whose real names are Warren and Beth Heilderberg).
"We're just representing Kansas City," says Spanky, 38, who graduated from Lincoln Academy in 1983. ("Mostly all the good two-steppers came from Lincoln," he claims.) "You hear a lot of people say, 'Kansas City, they're country,' but we want to be part of putting Kansas City on the map."
A couple of years ago, the Heilderbergs were in a car accident that left Bebe with two bad knees and Spanky with a crushed pelvis, now held together with a metal plate and four screws. As soon as they got out of rehab, they went dancing. "Seeing me dance, you wouldn't know I had all that in me," Spanky says of his hardware.
Bebe went to Southeast High School and is now 40. She learned to dance from her mother and stepfather, perennial two-step award winners. "One night they went to a contest in Columbia, Missouri, and brought home a trophy and the record 'Rapper's Delight,'" she recalls (the record came out in 1980). "That's when I said, 'Hey, I want to learn how to do that dance.'"
Thrower is diplomatic about the younger dancers' chances. "I was thinking we might be blowing people out of the water, but that's not the case from what I've seen," he says. "We're pretty good dancers, but we don't count our chickens before they're hatched. It all depends on the judges." If he and Turner don't win, Thrower says, it's just because they got outdanced. "That's the bottom line. It's nothing to hang your head about. But we're in it to win it."
"If it's judged strictly on two-step style and creativity, we've got it won," Johnson counters.
On December 18, it won't matter who the sentimental favorite is. Barker has lined up serious judges, all of them trained to work a body -- Ingrid Hadley, a teacher of modern dance at Paseo High School; Dianna Whittaker, a dancer and model-pageant judge for more than fifteen years; Clay Johnson, a Manual '74 graduate who spent three seasons with the Los Angeles Lakers; Rick Rainey, a two-stepping tennis coach; the tap-dancing Ronald McFadden; and Cherri Ford, who Barker describes as "a two-stepper from the old-school era who doesn't go out a lot -- I chose her because she doesn't see these people all the time."