July 9, 2001
Step by Step
By Eric Rangus firstname.lastname@example.org
For Kharen Fulton, dancing represents a lot of things.
Its a lifelong hobby (she has danced for more than 35 years and
has no plans to quit anytime soon). Its a form of exercise (I
dont understand how people can jog all these miles and go nowhere!
she exclaimed). And its a way to pick up a little extra cash, not
to mention a bit of glory.
I never even knew you danced, upstairs officemate Mary Ann
Lindskog said upon seeing the foot-and-a-half-tall violet and gold trophy
Fulton brought into her office in the Administration Building June 18,
one day after she won it at All That Dancing, a national dance
competition held in Atlanta, June 1517.
Fulton, director of graduate admissions, and partner Tony Craig won first
prize in the advanced stepping category, beating out more than a dozen
other couples from around the country. Stepping is a form of dance, performed
primarily by African Americans, derived from swing. It features intricate
foot movements and, on the surface, is similar to ballroom dancing, but
its music is more jazz- and R&B-based.
Since its introduction in the 1930s, stepping has gone by several namesthe
scag, bopping, be bop (which is what Fultons parents called it)depending
on thet part of the country in which its practitioners lived.
All That Dancing featured not only stepping but several of its cousins:
hand dancing, for instance, another swing derivative that incorporates
sweeping arm movements. The weekend included competition in several dance
disciplines, offered dance classes and provided retailers an opportunity
to showcase hard-to-find dance accessories like clothes, shoes and music.
The championship lasted until 4 a.m. on Sunday, June 17. Fulton and Craig
reported at 1:30 Saturday afternoon for the prelims and were told they
had a bye into the finals (I didnt question it, Fulton
said). The judges had spent several weeks in the area scouting talent
and had seen the pair dance at Ellerys, a club in southwest Atlanta
that hosts weekly stepping.
Fulton and Craig squared off against five other couples in the finals.
They were up third and danced to the instrumental Callie by
local artist Joyce Cooling. Fulton wore a clingy, knit red dress with
a hem cut low in the back and high in the front. One arm was adorned with
a long red glove. Craig wore a red jacket with black slacks, a collarless
white shirt and red snakeskin shoes, the color of a fine Bordeaux.
People said judging would not be based on attire, but as far as
Im concerned, it has a lot to do with how a judge is looking at
me, Fulton said. I was definitely not going out there in pants.
After they were done, they watched the other couples. And waited. Around
3 a.m., they were called to participate in the competitions final
dance, where they would take on winners in the other disciplines. Only
they hadnt been told how they finished in the stepping contest.
A few minutes later, though, someone came along and told them they had
Fultons reaction? Not elation, exactly.
Look, we cant get all excited, she told Craig. Its
3 a.m., Im tired. I dont know if I can put anything else out.
She did, though, and while the couple didnt win the $5,000 grand
prize, the experience gave her quite a bit of perspectivenot that
she was really lacking it in the first place.
The people who produced this realize that unless we continue to
promote these different types of dancing, they will be lost, Fulton
said. Its a very strong socialization process. Its a
courting process. If a guy didnt know how to introduce himself to
a girl, it was a way for him to meet one.
Now, she continued, gesturing with her arms, guys are
over here, girls over here. Its not the same.
Next years competition is slated for Greensboro, N.C., and Fulton
will be back to defend her title.
Ive already planned what Im going to wear, she
said. The color, at least. She and Craig also are in the process
of selecting music. They want to start early so the moves in their routine
will become instinct.
We want songs where we know we can be creative, she said.
When youre doing the prelims, [the judges] are looking to
see if you can [simply] do the dance. Its not the time to throw
in all your little tricks. But when you get to the final, its time
to pull out all the stops.
Fulton began dancing at the age of 13 when her 17-year-old uncle Roger
would escort her to teen clubs in Chicago; she grew up in Pembroke, Ill.,
some 60 miles south. Roger built on some of the steps Fultons mother
had taught her, a dance called the be bop, which she had known
since she was Kharens age.
Fulton danced with Roger for a year until he died at age 18 of leukemia.
He was the best dancer, Fulton recalled. He was so limber.
Rogers friends took young Kharen under their wings. They took her
out, watched out for her and continued her dance instruction.
I learned to dance through the older guys and never stopped doing
it, she said.
Fultons interest in dance continued through college at Northern
Illinois University, through marriage, through the birth of sons Jamaal
and Kharlos, through divorce, and through a move to Atlanta in 1978.
Shortly after moving to Georgia, Fulton met Craiga fellow Chicago
transplantat a dance club.He approached her and correctly guessed
her hometown by recognizing her distinctive dance style. They became partners,
a coupling that remains strong today.
For 20-something years, he and I have always danced together when
were out, Fulton said. He even left for 10 years, got
married, then came back. We got in touch, and it was like we hadnt
been apart. We just clicked.
But dont get the idea that Fultons life is play. Far from
itas director of graduate admissions for the graduate school, Fulton
travels throughout the country visiting recruiting fairs and counseling
students interested in graduate education, and promoting Emory along the
Next month Fulton will celebrate her 20th anniversary at the University.
Shes seen several changes in the educational system since she entered
it, and one of them stands out.
What has changed is the interest of students of color in going
into research, Fulton said. Because probably no one else in
their family went to graduate school or they stopped after college, it
was not a goal. So one of the things I tell students, particularly when
I do minority workshops, is if you want to see somebody who looks like
you teaching your children, then you may want to consider going into research
There are a lot of doors left to be unlocked. We still have so to learn and contribute to the human race.