Whether they are performing at big time events across the country marching down Franklin Street in a local parade, the Michigan City Soul Steppers Drill Team and Drumline are proud to represent Michigan City. In fact, they are the pride of Michigan City.
“Wherever we go we wear the Michigan City name,” said founder/director Lyn Isbell - a lifelong Michigan City resident. “We aren't just the Soul Steppers, we are the Michigan City Soul Steppers. During some events, people don't even call us the Soul Steppers, they say ‘here comes Michigan City.”
The group, which has a drumline and drill team, cannot be mistaken. They are the highlight of every local parade and have dazzle audiences nationwide with their unique routines, spreading the ‘Michigan City’ name throughout the country. Like anyone from Michigan City, they have to explain what state they represent to those who had never heard of Michigan City - an all too familiar predicament for any City dweller explaining where they are from when on the road.
“Everyone thinks we are from Michigan,” Isbell laughed. “We always have to say ‘No, we are from Michigan City, INDIANA.’”
Founded in December, 2000 by Isbell, the Soul Steppers have chalked up quite a list of accomplishments, including a performance at the inauguration of President Barack Obama in 2009.
“That was our defining moment,” Isbell said. “It was really, really cold, but a great experience for all of us.”
The group has also won “best overall” at the Baltimore Preakness Parade and at a competition during halftime of a Dallas Mavericks game a few years back. Every year, the Soul Steppers are invited to dazzle the crowds at the New York City Veterans Day parade and the McDonald’s Thanksgiving Day parade in Chicago - two events that also test the endurance of participants in the cold.
“We love the Chicago parade,” Isbell said. “All the kids are so energetic we actually end up sweating during that one. We are a high energy group with synchronized routines.”
The Soul Steppers, comprised of several local middle and high schoolers, are dominant when it comes to competitions. Just last weekend, they finished first in the Midwest Drill and Drum competition held in Minnetonka, an event that featured ten of the best drumline and drill teams throughout the nation. The drill team competed in the same competition last year, finishing in a close second to the Elite Striders from Chicago, only one point away from victory.
“We contemplated not going this year,” Isbell said. “But we came back and got em (the Elite Striders). It felt really good because they were first and we were second last year - and this year we flipped it as we were first and they were second.”
The Steppers’ drumline, which is only seven members deep, finished second this year to a squad from Alabama that has 40 drummers.
“We felt a great sense of pride in both our drum line and drill team because we were the only Indiana team at the finals,” Isbell said.
Every July, the Soul Steppers host one of Michigan City’s highest profile events, the “Show Up & Show Out” competition in conjunction with the Michigan City Summer Festival that features drumlines and drill teams from across the nation competing at Michigan City High School. It is the highest profile such competition every year.
“We draw the most teams to Michigan City because of the hospitality and the draw of having a beach,” Isbell said, noting that the Meet 'n Greet picnic party at Washington Park is a fun time for all participants because many of the visiting kids “have never been to a beach.”
Among the 12 teams competing in this year’s competition, set for Saturday at 5 p.m., are the Elite Striders, Kansas City Marching Cobras, Kansas City Marching Sizzlers, East High Trojan Nation Drill Team and the Kaos Drumline of Chicago. The Judah Expression, another Michigan City-based group will also perform.
“They are a new dance group and they are really good,” Isbell said of the Explosion.
The event packs City hotels like no other weekend except for perhaps the Great Lakes Grand Prix in early August.
“We bring additional revenue to the city because not only are the teams and families staying at the hotels, they are eating at the restaurants and shopping at the Outlet Mall,” Isbell said. “The beach is also a big draw, so when people say there is nothing to do in Michigan City - I beg to differ.”
Deseree Jefferson, an incoming freshman at Marquette Catholic High School, has been a member of the Steppers for nearly three years and loves being a part of the group.
“It’s something I always wanted to do,” she said. “It feels great to win first place in competitions in New York, New Orleans and all over. I’d like to encourage others to join the team because it’s something different, new and positive for the community. My family is really proud because they want me to do something positive with my life and not be out on the streets. The Steppers are like another family to me.”
Isbell reaches out to any youngster interested in being a part of the Soul Steppers, making a point not to turn anyone away.
“Some groups have grade point average requirements, and while I always encourage the kids to do better I do not kick them off the team if there grades aren’t good. That’s what society does,” Isbell said of her inclusive approach. “If they get kicked out of here, then what are they going to do? I’ve had top scholars and college grads but also some who have struggled with school.
“Not everyone is a traditional learner,” she continued. “These kids are so talented and sometimes just need a gift pulled out of them. I want to show them how to have a positive approach to life and not push them to the streets if they don’t succeed in school.”
The competition in Minnesota was the final one for the Soul Steppers in 2014, but they will still perform at the Howard University Homecoming parade in Washington D.C. in October and the popular Bud Billiken back to school parade in Chicago in addition to their yearly appearances at the New York City Veterans Day parade and Chicago Thanksgiving Day festivities.
Isbell said that nearly 14 years of successes may never have occurred if not for a calling from God the night before she found the inspiration to create the group. The experience is recounted in a poem she wrote and has committed to memory.
The story goes:
“It was the very last month of the 2000 year, When the Lord sat me down and whispered in my ear, He said ‘Go ahead Lyn do what you wanna do, just ask in my name & I will see you through,’ So I formed the Soul Steppers by the next early light, It was pleasing in his sight so he made it alright!”
To attend “Show Up & Show Out”
Tickets are $10 in advance and $12 at the door. They can be purchased ahead of the event at Captain Ed’s Candy Island, Michigan City City Hall, the Michigan City Senior Center or by calling Isbell at the numbers listed below. Doors will open at 4 p.m. with the show set to begain an hour later.
Open for all occasions
Any parade organizer or event planner looking to book the Michigan City Soul Steppers can contact Isbell at 219-874-2607 (home), 219-809-1155 (cell) or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.