By Je’Don Holloway Talley
For the Birmingham Times
More than 100 people in a line dance and another 400-plus in attendance, gathered in the Boutwell Municipal Auditorium’s exhibition hall recently to celebrate the sixth anniversary of one of Alabama’s most recognizable dance teams. The event brought excitement, exercise, and solace to the dancers and guests—and Desi Keith, founder of D2 Line Dancing by Desi Keith, was at the center of it all.
“It’s fun. It’s electrifying. It takes you to a place of solace,” he said. “Even if you don’t know how to dance or think you have any rhythm, it still takes you to a place of tranquility. Out there [on the dance floor], there are no problems, no burdens. Here, in this instance, everything is alright.”
Keith, a 46-year-old East Lake native, has left an impact that goes far beyond the dance classes he teaches downtown Birmingham at The Dannon Project’s recreational facility. He has led fitness boot camps and line dances at major health and wellness events around the Magic City; raised money for myriad causes, including breast cancer and sickle cell anemia awareness; and regularly volunteered for community service.
The Woodlawn High School graduate has more than nine years of experience as a certified fitness trainer, and he is so passionate about his work that some describe it as a ministry.
Much More Than Fitness
Students enroll in Keith’s classes for several reasons: some as a fun alternative to a gym membership, and others to achieve health and wellness goals. He leads a rotation of more than 100 members, teaching four classes a week, each of which includes six different line dances.
“We come together in the name of fitness, but … it’s much more than fitness,” Keith said during a recent interview.
D2 welcomes dancers of all ages: “Our class has people as young as 30 and as old as 60, 70, and 80. You’d never know it, though, because they keep right on up.”
Members often describe the troupe as a ministry that restores joy.
“It just so happens that a lot of [D2 members], including myself, have gone through loss,” said Keith, who is a full-time caretaker at the Arrington Funeral Home Inc., where he provides support and comfort to people in grief. “We all found our joy back on the dance floor.”
Bridgette Agee, 54, said she came to D2 with “my seven dollars, [the cost of the class], my towel, and a water bottle, just ready to exercise, but I found so much more. I found a family and a ministry.”
Kimberly Leslie Patton, PhD, 53, has been line dancing for three years, and she said her life has changed because she gets to “walk into loving arms with praying hands almost every day.”
“It’s an incredible opportunity to prepare my mind and body to be healthy, but it provides you with comradery and a group of people who also want to do positive things,” she said.
Taqua Lewis, 43, a member of D2 for the past three years, said the group is like an extracurricular activity that allows her to unwind with friends.
“I feel like I’m missing something when I can’t come. I absolutely have to be here,” she said. “Everyone who knows me knows that I have to go to line-dance class four times a week.”
Lewis joked that she’d rather do a two-step than “walk on a treadmill like a lab rat.”
LeShone Wilkerson, 54, has diabetes. She learned about the class from a childhood friend and has since experienced health benefits.
“I’ve lost 61 pounds because I changed the way I eat and because I exercise,” she said. “It helps very much when you start seeing good results.”
Wilkerson was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes in 2015, but as of December 2017 she has been ailment- and medication-free.
“I was fighting diabetes for two years, but today I am here and off my medicine. I don’t take any daily meds for diabetes,” she said.
Her dancing has improved, as well.
“I admit, it took me a long time to get the swing of things,” she said. “But the more you come, the more you catch on. I practice at home, too.”
Agee said she’s been down 160 pounds for a total of five years, but she lost the last 30 pounds of her overall weight loss with Keith.
“He keeps me fit,” she said. “My clothes fit a whole lot better. I feel better in my body. It’s all just been so amazing.”
During each D2 line-dance session, Keith teaches six different routines; in total, he teaches more than 170 line dances.
His choreography is wide-ranging, consisting of struts, two-steps, and slides.
“I create some line dances,” Keith said, “but I like to find obscure [undiscovered] dances on the internet and teach them to the class.”
His song catalog includes hip-hop and soul classics like Khia’s “Can’t Wang Wit It” and Lil Boosie’s “Swerve.”
“We do the popular ones because those hits get the party going and get people on the dance floor,” he said.
Popularity isn’t the only reason Keith chooses certain line dances and songs, however. He looks for versatility, as well, because he has carefully developed a classic style for his line.
“I don’t just choose a song because it’s out there,” he said. “D2 is known for its smooth style, and that’s what we try to stay true to. We are classy, sophisticated, and graceful.”
Keith has blended country-western, Latin, hip-hop, soul, and pop into a signature style.
“We do some country, western, neo-soul, soul, and gospel line dances,” he said. “There’s a plethora of genres and songs we can do, and we do them all. The movements and beat counts separate the types of dances from one another.”
The only difference between hip-hop and soul and country-western line dancing is simply the genre of music, Keith said.
“Line dancing originated years and years ago. Among the first … were the Hustle and the Bus Stop,” which have since evolved, Keith said. “When you do your homework, you realize that’s where the Electric Slide started. The trend grew from there.”
Taqua Lewis said she likes the more difficult routines, like the “obscure” ones Keith discovers on the internet.
“I’m different because I don’t like to do the line dances everyone does,” she said. “I’m a pretty quick learner, so for me, he can go through them one time, and I’ve pretty much got it.”
Many come to D2 for more than the dance lessons.
“We have so many other issues that this class helps us work through, problems we’re dealing with in life,” said La’Cherie Price, a 10-year line-dancing vet. “When you can come to a place with this many people who put you in a circle and touch and agree with you … it’s overwhelming.”
It’s a place where everyone can grow, she said.
“A lot of us don’t know how to dance when we first start coming here. But even if you miss every step, you’re still getting exercise. You get to sponge off all this other good stuff by being around all these good people.”
And the best part is that it’s a place where no one is judged, Price said.
“We joke each other like family, throw shade at each other. It’s a no-judgment zone. We all mess up, but we laugh at each other and keep going. We’re a family. We truly are, and we have fun like one. We nurture each other, we love on each other.”