I first met Krystal at the Blues Experiment in America, way back in 2014. My first impression was that she had the biggest smile in the world. Just a couple of weeks ago, I managed to catch up with her at a dance weekend in Zürich. Since we first met, she and her husband Adam have dove deep into organizing, teaching, and sharing their passion for the Blues. In this conversation, she takes us through the people who have impacted her Blues life… her “Blues Family.” And yes, she still has a huge smile.
Greg Austin Hello!
Krystal Wilkerson Hello!
Greg I always like to start with the origin story, like how you came into the dancing world. So what were you doing before you were a dancer?
Krystal Ok, so like in terms of my hobbies before dancing? Or where I was in my life before I started dancing?
Greg If someone is a non-dancer reading this, often times they want to know, “What do you do in life?” So for non-dancers I think it is interesting for them to hear how you came to dancing.
Krystal So before I started partner dancing, I was in grad school. Under-grad, grad school, that was pretty much my life. Laughs. In terms of things I did for fun, in grad school, I used to be really big into Metal and Rock, going to Metal and Rock concerts.
At some point, I decided to go to a Ballroom dance class, at Mississippi State University. From there, I started doing Ballroom partner dancing, and I had a friend from South Korea that was into Lindy Hop. He started showing me how to do Lindy Hop. From Lindy Hop I got into Blues. And now we Blues dance and we rock climb, and we hike, and we have greyhounds.
Greg Let’s talk about who this “we” is. You just posted a great picture that you referred to as your “Blues family.” Take us through all the faces in that picture.
Krystal Ok, my Blues Family. I’ll start from the bottom and work our way up. The first one is Dominic Hanna, he is who we consider our “Blues Kid.” Next to me is my husband Adam Wilkerson and myself. Then our “Blues Mom,” is Mike Legenthal. And then she considers her “Blues Parent” to be Damon Stone. Then we have expanded to where Mike Legenthal’s husband is Dan Legenthal and Damon Stone’s wife is Kelsey Stone. So that’s our family.
Greg And how did you meet your husband Adam?
Krystal I met my husband Adam in Ballroom dance. He had been dancing Ballroom for a couple of years before we met and I decided to go Ballroom dancing one time and he was there in the beginner class. He was my first East Coast Swing dance. And then we ended up being friends, and continuing our dance journey together. We are continuing to be passionate about dance and learning about dance.
Greg What did you learn from your “Dance Mom?”
Krystal Oh, Mike Legenthal has taught me a lot about how to be a good human. She teaches you to be considerate about others, how to phrase your thoughts in a way that is kind, and compassionate to other humans, while still getting to the point that you wanted to make. But she does it in a way that is very thoughtful, very considerate. She constantly challenges me to think outside of me and my bubble, but to think of the community as a whole and how we can help each other grow, push each other to grow, and to challenge ourselves as humans.
And also in terms of her dancing itself, I really love her dance values, like partnership focus. What do we create as a partnership? Really the connection between you and your partner, and having that as a wonderful focus.
Greg And her mentor was Damon Stone, you have also referred to him as your “Dance Grandpa.” What about that relationship?
Krystal So in terms of who she views as being her largest influence, it was Damon. Damon has a lot of “Dance Kids,” in general. He has a lot of “Dance Kids” and a lot of “Dance Grandkids,” cause he’s been teaching for a very long time, in the Blues community. He’s been doing a lot of work, a lot of labor, a lot of labor of love, for the Blues dance community in general. Sharing the information about idioms, sharing the information about he’s learned from his biological parents, so we have direct resources.
He’s been in the dance community for decades and he’s go the knowledge base, the personal experience, the compassion, the drive… the ability to transfer his knowledge on to the future generations. And so he’s being doing it long enough to where he taught Mike, Mike taught us… he still teaches us, as well, just like a “Grandpa” would do with their “Grandkids,” and then he also our “Dance Kid,” Dom.
And speaking of which, the last one is Dominic Hanna. He started Blues dancing in Huntsville, which is where we currently teach and live, and run our dance scene. He walked in to the first dance class, into our Lindy Hop community where we were teaching a Blues class, and he was kind of like standing on the sidelines. We were like, “Hey you wanna dance?!” and come into the class, and he was like, “Ugh…sure.” And so he took his first Blues class with us, and we kind of sucked him in. We were like, “Oh, you’ve got movement!”
He was a roller skater. He’s from the Bahamas, he’s Bahamian, and so his main hobby is roller skating, going to the roller skating rinks and doing all of these fancy footwork. Adult roller skating, so he’s got really good body control, and body awareness. So we were like, “Hmmmm, we can do a lot with this!”
And so we worked directly with him on progressing his knowledge on what is Blues, what is Blues music, what is Blues dancing, what are the characteristics of Blues dancing. He also taught us a lot about Bahamian movements, about African-Carribean movements, his cultural heritage, and his current Black music information, because he himself went to a Black community, and he’s also very passionate about Black music.
We got him to where he’s able to teach. And then he moved away. Laughs.
Greg Let’s pretend that in 10 years, someone else is doing an interview with Dominic, and they show him this same picture. What would you hope he says is the legacy from the lineage in the picture?
Krystal I would say that everyone is a product of those who came before us. Especially with our dance community. We learn what is passed down to us. We learn not only information about the music and the dancing, but also community values and the fact that we are successful by helping each other just like a family would be supportive. I have a lot of desire to see you grow. As a brother or a sister, I want to support you, I want to be there for you, I want to make sure you have what you need to be a healthy and happy human.
So that thought process of we all seek to be better humans, better at being compassionate about music, being compassionate about dance, helping each other grow, helping the community and the scene grow and learn and progress. If we don’t pass down that information… it would be a shame for that knowledge to die with us.
Greg I’m curious, does anyone in the photo have biological children?
Krystal Actually… no.
Greg So the people you would pass it down to are in the community?
Krystal Yeah, cause right now Adam and I have absolutely no desire to have kids. Part of that is we talk about the fact that our dance students are our “Blues Kids.” Those are who we dump our energy, and time, and thought, and love, and compassion into. That is fulfilling for us.
Greg Thank you so much!