Daron “Dr. Step” Barker and his wife, Janetta, have been teaching the style of dance known as “steppin’” for more than four years now. Seeing their unapologetic display of mutual affection and comedic approach to teaching, it’s easy to understand why their students keep coming back.
“I started teaching by accident,” says Daron Barker. “We were taking a steppin’ class and I would always be helping other students in class. We started practicing in my basement, and that eventually turned into me teaching my own class.”
On a Friday evening in early May, the Barkers were teaching a Chicago-style stepping class, one of four dance classes in the American Jazz Museum’s Steppin’ on the Vine series at the Gem Theater on First Fridays. From salsa to old jazz & blues, attendees can enjoy a night of dance lessons with other city locals.
“I am fairly new to the area, and felt that this was a way that I could exercise and meet new people,” says Victoria Bell, a participant of the class and a regular of the Barker’s step classes.
The May First Fridays class began with about five participants, but grew to over 30 nicely-dressed adults, with most men wearing loafers, and women in comfortable high heels. Everyone came prepared for an eventful night.
Those who arrived at the beginning were able to hear a breakdown of what Chicago-style stepping is and how it differs from Kansas City’s style of the dance. As Daron explained, Chicago-style is more modern and intimate with your partner. Its formal start and emphasis on the female partner also contrasts with the KC version.
“This style of dance is very classy and adult,” says Janetta Barker. “It plays on leadership roles, and is a definite relationship-builder.”
Leading the class as a couple, the Barkers instructed attendees to mirror them as they explained the style step-by-step, giving them the basics to eventually dance effortlessly with a partner. Daron Barker broke down the counts of Chicago-style matched with the tempo, and had attendees repeat the steps until he and his wife judged them ready to dance with a partner.
“This was my first time learning Chicago steppin’,” says Monique Brock. “Surprisingly it was a better transition from Kansas City style to Chicago than I had thought.”
Although the footwork was quite strategic — and confusing at times to some — the Barkers’ playfulness and confidence in class attendees maintained a positive atmosphere. The music selections, which dripped of summer nostalgia, added to the sense of fun.
After nearly two hours of learning Chicago-style steppin’, participants were encouraged to show their new skills at the dance party following class.
“I love that through teaching we help people break out of their everyday routine,” says Daron. “Steppin’ provides clean fun. You can arrive and be ready to party without even taking a drink yet!”
“Steppin’ on the Vine” classes are held First Fridays at 7:30 p.m. at the Gem Theater, 1615 E. 18th St. Admission is $5. The July 7 class features Chicago Style Stepping; The August 4 class features line dancing. For a complete schedule and more information call 816.474.8463, or visit www.americanjazzmuseum.org.
Above: Foreground left to right: Sherrick Monk, Sean Irons, Lynn Grant and Eesa Hakim learned Chicago-style step dancing at a May “Steppin’ on the Vine” class, presented by the American Jazz Museum at the Gem Theater. (Photo by Serena S.Y. Hsu)