Stephen Knight is one of the most well known names in the ballroom dance industry. And for good reason, he’s super talented and creative, his list of accomplishments never seems to end and to top it all off he’s the sparkling personality of the winners circle at the nationals competitions. His many accomplishments include Regional Franchise Director for the Wisconsin region, NDCA adjudicator, coach, choreographer and Co-National Dance Director for Fred Astaire Dance Studios. Starting with FADS in 1976 Stephen started leaving his mark on the dance scene right away. Partnering with Rae Josephs they became 3-time United States American Rhythm Finalists, and 6 time undefeated Fred Astaire American Rhythm Champions. He is well known for his powerful choreography, outside of the box approach to teaching and creating a large portion of the FADS Silver Syllabus that is taught today. Stephen now lives for sharing his passion of Dance to everyone he touches and that is clear when speaking with him.
So Stephen, what got you started ballroom dancing?
I was 17, and I needed to get a job for the summer before college. When I took the job, it was a training class. I knew after about 2 weeks that I was going to be a lifer. The class was about a month, but I knew after 2 weeks. I wasn’t really into sports and when I started dancing I realized this could really be my thing, I was pretty good at it in the beginning. Not that I didn’t have to work really hard and work really long, but it was good for me.
You danced with Rae Josephs during the peak of your career. Were there any other leading ladies earlier on in your career?
I started with a girl named Chris Marlin, I danced with her and a girl named Victoria at the beginning, you know pre champ era. Then I danced with a girl named Maryanne Brighton in Chicago. Then Diane Monroe, we danced together for a long time until I left Chicago. We did Dance Fever, we were in a big night club show for a year and a half as the specialty act. Then, I had only two partners the whole time I was in Milwaukee, a girl named Dee Dee Hile, we danced three styles. Then I danced with Rae, and Rae was ‘til the end.
Tell me more about your partnership with Rae.
The thing I loved the most about working with Rae is she held me accountable, so I learned really good work ethics from her. Which I needed. I would say she definitely helped to push me in the beginning. I was always good about practicing hard, but she was good about practicing longer. My favorite memory I have while dancing with Rae was the first year we made it to the final in ’94 or ’95.
Of everything you’ve done and accomplished in the dance business, what has been your favorite part of your career?
Oh, the teaching, definitely! After 40 years, still to this day my favorite thing is getting on the floor and coaching the students. Making sure that they walk out of the studio with an experience that will make their day so much brighter. Regardless of what they learn, when they feel better about their dancing it’s going to allow them to learn better. Sometimes the students have so much information that they dance with this huge burden on their back, they’re trying to accomplish so many things. If we can take one or two things and actually get them to feel it so they start to own it. When they really start owning it, it’s theirs for life.
What in your opinion sets FADS apart from other dance studios?
Definitely the trophy system, for sure. It was created by Fred Astaire himself with the original dance board members. It’s something that we’ve taken the grace and the style and sophistication of Fred Astaire and his many partners and incorporated it into the system we teach today. Our teaching methods are great, our teachers are great. Fred Astaire is about the product, the product is the dancing and of course the service that we give. I’m out on the circuit judging, and I see how our Fred Astaire students place and they kick butt. There’s a family bond and a community that’s very tight. The support is huge. You don’t see that with other dance studios.
So can you drop me any hints of any Top Secret changes happening in 2017? With the competitions or the curriculum or anything in the works?
Well, CCDC will be at a new venue this year in Houston and I don’t know if you’ve seen the pictures. But it’s absolutely breath taking. So that’s going to be exciting, it’s always nice to go to a new venue. The new bronze curriculum should be being introduced at the FACT seminar. We’ve taken both bronze’s (the social and the advanced) and we merged them into one program. Everything has been gone though with a fine tooth comb to make sure that the videos and manuals are impeccably in sync. All of the material is now numbered 1-20 and based on the level of difficulty. Which is a great improvement. Lots of good stuff happening, it’s going to be a very exciting year.
What would you say is the biggest change to the national competitions?
Gosh, just about everything. The amount of energy and passion, organization, communication. The service and the amount of money being spent to make the event great. Decorations, the menus and the food. The quality of the dancing, literally everything. It’s all great. We want to keep elevating the level of service, that’s how you elevate your business.
So Stephen, inquiring minds want to know. What do you like to do for fun?
I’m a movie fanatic. I love movies and TV, it’s my escape. I give it all on such a regular basis, so to sit and relax into make believe land is so much fun for me. I love to go to spas and pamper myself, and shopping. I love to go away for a few days for a mini vacation. We have many of the coaches come stay with us, we entertain extensively. We are very busy with our families a lot, we’re getting to that age where we want to have as much family as we can.
What is in your Netflix que right now?
Well I just got done watching Medici. I’m watching The Crown right now. There’s another one that someone turned me onto and now I’m addicted called Schitt’s Creek. It’s a stupid comedy but it’s pretty funny.
What is your favorite dance? If you could only dance one for the rest of time.
If I had to pick, it would probably be Waltz. I like where the American style has gone. It’s very liquid, it’s got a lot of heart and soul a lot of passion. You’re not restricted to one dance position, you’re able to express with your entire body. It’s got elegance and sophistication but freedom and passion at the same time.