As Hollywood was gearing up for the 56th Annual Grammy Awards during the weekend of Jan. 24-26, nearly 1,000 Baltimore line dancers converged on the Marriott in Linthicum, for the 7th Annual UC Star Awards, dubbed “the Academy Awards of Line Dancers” by event founder Mike Womack.
“Folks from all the major cities, Puerto Rico and Ireland, are here to celebrate what we do all year,” said Womack, who, along with his wife Trish Womack, helped form the Baltimore-based Union Crew (UC) Line Dancers in 2005.
Womack, of Baltimore, is the cousin of Rock and Roll Hall of Fame singer Bobby Womack.
Gloria Stevens, of Silver Spring, said participating in dance troupes has been a healthy lifestyle choice since she retired after a 30-year career as a special education administrator.
“It keeps your mind sharp, in addition to the obvious health benefits,” she said.
Wilma Wright, 58, of Cerritos, Cal., flew in with her group, the J&J Soulful Steppers of Los Angeles.
“We wouldn’t miss this for the world. It gives us a chance to reunite with our brothers and sisters of dance,” said Wright, a Hamilton, Ohio, native and former classmate of the late music legend Roger Troutman of the Zapp band. “Really, it’s like a family reunion, a love-fest for dancing. People are so friendly and warm.”
LeMetia Butler, 29, joined fellow Houstonians, adding that their Texas-style flavor is uniquely welcomed at the convention.
“We all learn from each other,” said the social services administrator. “That’s the beauty of this event.”
Though many dancers primarily dance to mixed versions of classic soul and 1990s R&B songs, younger participants chose hip hop beats from artists such as Lil Wayne, 2 Chainz and Drake, with the expletives removed.
A Gospelcise program by Cleveland resident Belinda Haywood focused on faith-based fitness. Haywood started her program in 1993 and was considered one of the most innovative choreographer/instructors at the convention.
Womack said his line dancers are anything but typical of the genre.
“We’re aware of and respect the original L.A. and N.Y. hustles, the Bus Stop, Monarail, Electric Slide and country line dancing. Ours is slightly more technical, complicated and very challenging,” said Womack, adding that The Madison (circa 1950s), is generally considered the original line dance.
Womack also credited the late Dave Bush, of Philadelphia, for being the Godfather of urban line dancers. Bush, who died last May, is also known as the creator of the recent dance craze, the Wobble.
Womack said he was inspired to honor line dancers after watching the Academy Awards, the BET Awards and the Grammys. The event honored dancers, choreographers and instructors.
“[I] realized that our line dancing should be considered as more than just a way for people to dance and party,” he said. “Just like the awards shows on TV, we figured it was time to organize and award our people for their skills, talents and commitment.”
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