Chicago DJ who coined phrase 'Steppin' explains why dance is big part of Black history

Samantha Chatman Image
Thursday, February 10, 2022
Chicago DJ who coined phrase 'Steppin' explains dance's importance
A Chicago DJ who coined the 'Steppin' music' term on the city's South Side explained the dance's importance during Black History Month 2022.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- If you've lived in the Chicago area long enough, you've probably heard the word "Steppin'."

It's a popular dance that incorporates smooth steps, a good partner and a whole lot of swag. People are now Steppin' around the world, and it started right here in Chicago, thanks to DJ Sam Chatman.

Some of Chicago's smoothest dancers have come to Family Den on the South Side to show off their best moves. This style of dance originated from "The Bop," which started in the 1940s.

But as a young, up-and-coming DJ, Chatman noticed the dance evolving into something much different. ABC 7's Samantha Chatman sat down with her dad to talk about the origins of Steppin' music.

"Well, I had a friend of mine who would be dancing and he would break away from his partner and he would sort of like, walk back to her. It was like he was stepping. So, I kept saying Steppin' and Steppin' and the word Steppin' just caught on," Chatman said. "The rest is history!"

Watch the ABC7 Morning News crew take the dance floor.

The Steppin' movement took Black Chicagoans by storm in the 1970s. If you didn't know how to step, you wanted to learn. But leading up to its popularity, Chatman admitted some other DJs had their doubts.

"They laughed at me all over the city. They said, 'this guy is going to just play this music? Nobody's going to go there and hear this old music, slow music,'" he said.

It didn't take long for people to catch on, though. Chatman's steppers sets soon became the go-to spot for dancers. At his sets, Chatman even managed to broker peace between South Side and West Side gangs.

"If you were West Sider you couldn't come to The Dungeon. If you were a South Sider, you couldn't go to the Keyman's Club. So, what I did was, I got a group of guys who are great dancers, and also gang members. I took the South Side guys to the West Side and introduced them to the West Side guys," Chatman said. "Originally, the West Side guys wanted to do something to them. I introduced them. I explained what it was all about and let them know that on Sunday, they could come to the South Side. I was able to merge these gangs, some of them Gang Disciples or Black Stone Rangers. These same leaders back then 15, 16, 17 years old... are 50- and 60-year-old friends today."

If you'd like to learn how to step, instructor Andre Blackwell said practice is key.

Instructor Andre Blackwell demonstrates how to step.

"You must practice," Blackwell said. "For instance, when I first started dancing, I danced every day and started practicing every day in my house, in my basement, every day, everywhere. You practice with the 8-count."

Steppin' is not just in Chicago anymore, though.

"It's in Atlanta, Florida, California, Hawaii, Washington," Chatman said. "They're Steppin' in Greece. They're Steppin' in England. They're Steppin' in Amsterdam. They're Steppin' all over the world, and in my heart, I honestly felt it would be that way."

When Samantha asked whether Steppin' is still alive, Sam said it's just the beginning.

"Excuse me! We haven't even scratched the surface," Chatman said. "Let's go to work, steppers. Let's go to work!"