Dancing is an interesting way to have fun, socialize and stay in shape. For some Madisonians who have been Chicago-style Steppin’ on a regular basis this past couple of months, it also is a very important balance enhancing activity.

“What started out as something that we really hoped would improve people’s balance and hopefully prevent a fall evolved into something much more,” says Ashley Hillman, Falls Prevention Program Coordinator for Safe Communities Madison and Dane County. “Increased socialization was something that folks talked about as another benefit along with memory. So, it was really cool to see that and how much everybody enjoyed it.”

After months of classes, Chicago Steppers held their graduation ceremony at the Urban League of Greater Madison Dec. 1 to recognize participants hard work and to hear about the difference the class has made in their lives. The classes – and the graduation – was hosted by Safe Communities of Madison-Dane County, a local non-profit coalition that brings together public and private sector partners to save lives, prevent injuries and make our community a safer place.

“We organized ‘Steppin’ On,’ which is an evidence-based fall prevention program and when we looked at the data we realized that we weren’t reaching communities of color at all,” Hillman tells Madison365. “So, Chicago Steppin’ was a way that we hoped we could promote balance in fall prevention activities in communities of color.

“An unintended goal was that a lot of couples started taking the class together,” she adds. “Which was really neat.”

Chicago Steppin’ graduates at the Urban League of Greater Madison Dec. 1

Chicago-style stepping, (also known as Steppin’) is an eight-step dance that evolved out of “Bopping,” a two-step dance. It’s an urban dance that originated in Chicago and continues to evolve and gain popularity.

“Obviously, it’s huge in Chicago. People who are in their 80s are still wearing high heels and getting dressed up and going to ‘sets’ in Chicago and in Milwaukee it’s really big, too,” Hillman says.

Graduates of the program included Deborah and Lenni Brooks, Carrie and Don Braxton, Marcia Brown, Iris Christenson, Sunny McDade, and Jamelle Wade. Participants in the class learned very basic footwork steps and gradually advanced to more technical moves and motions. The graduation this past Saturday at the Urban League was a chance to recognize participants who have taken the class in 2018 and for them to showcase everything they learned.

“I was at the graduation for 2017, too, and the difference in skill level and ability from last year to this year was amazing,” Hillman says. “I couldn’t believe it. The instructors starting counting off and then it was dancing. They were wonderful.”

Through the process of learning how to increase outreach efforts within rural areas and communities of color, Safe Communities MDC also learned of other balance enhancing classes and programming that may benefit older adults. Chicago Steppin’ is one such class that is popular among the African-American community. Safe Communities MDC’s Charlie Daniel has been very helpful recruiting potential steppers.

“We find people through a variety of networks. Ms. Charlie seems to know everybody, so she helped get the word out far and wide through her networks,” Hillman says. “The instructors – Judy Young and Roy Jones – also helped [recruit steppers for the class]. Judy was actually teaching Chicago Steppin’ every Friday at the Urban League.”

All ages of individuals take Chicago Steppin’ but this grant request pilot focuses on a class series that target adults ages 60 plus.

Young has been an instructor for 10 years and is currently leading classes on a donation basis.

“That was one of the things that was great about this class since it was grant-funded, you just drop in and come and it was donation-based,” Hillman says. “There was no set fee. We were even able to provide transportation for folks who needed that assistance.”

All ages of individuals take Chicago Steppin’ but this grant request pilot focuses on a class series that target adults ages 60 plus. Safe Communities of Madison-Dane County wants to keep the Chicago Steppin’ going.

“We were planning on just doing 6 or 7 classes over the course of the year, but once it started, we just never stopped,” Hillman says. “It’s been going on every Saturday since June 2017 at Happy Bambino and it’s been a huge success.”

The graduation event was a great chance to honor graduates of the class and to show off moves with music, food, and fun.

“People really enjoyed it. We’re looking forward to doing it again,” Hillman says. “This is a small part of what we do at Safe Communities MDC, but it’s something that is important.”