You know Showstopper has been dancing with you since 1978, but you might not know how all of the pink and glitter got here. As we celebrate Showstopper’s 45th anniversary of dance, competition, and talent, we have to look back on where it all began and the steps it took to continue to make dance something to celebrate.
In 1967, at just 16 years old, our founder, Debbie Roberts, was in Battle Creek, Michigan working with Civic Recreation to create extra programs for underserved communities. She wanted to start a dance program—she ended up creating dance programs for seven elementary schools in her area. At the end of that first year, the kids in the programs wanted to do something big, so Debbie worked with W.K. Kellogg II (of Kellogg’s Foods) to create a prize pool for a talent competition. She also thrifted and painted a trophy for the first-place award and gathered a panel of judges. This was Debbie’s first dance competition, but it was far from her last.
In 1978, Showstopper would follow in the footsteps of that first dance competition. After years of watching her son, Adam, play competitive sports and knowing the excitement that getting to show their skills brings children, Debbie wanted to give the dance world the same experience. That first year, Showstopper—named by Debbie’s then 8-year-old daughter Angel—held six competitions, with a Finals in New York City, funded by Debbie’s savings and driven by her determination. She wrote letters and knocked on the doors of local dance studios to pitch her idea. Not everyone said yes, but that first competition had around 400 attendees, and by the fourth show, people were excited for what was to come. That first season Debbie kickstarted this dream, and after the first two competitions, her husband, Dave Roberts, would start fitting Showstopper into his work schedule. He joined the team full-time in 1985.
Showstopper was bringing competition to dancers, but it was also bringing dancers to people’s attention. Local TV stations and newspapers were filled with pictures of dancers leaping across the Showstopper stage. Debbie Roberts graced the cover of Dance Teacher in 1984—and later topped Glamour’s list of Outstanding Young Working Women. Showstopper also made it to the screen. Before So You Think You Can Dance and Dancing with The Stars, was the American Dance Championships, Showstopper’s National Finals Competition. Showstopper’s hit TV Show filled televisions across the nation for 20 years and received 5 Emmy Nominations.
Dance is an all-around experience. It’s studio hours, lifelong friendships, travel, competition, and so much more. Dance is a passion. It’s a lifestyle. Debbie would release three dance-related books and continue to explore different ways to bring dance to dancers with the addition of Showstopper Dance Conventions in the late ‘90s. Showstopper’s National Tour grew to match the enthusiasm and excitement of dancers across the country who worked hard to bring their passion to life on stage—and still is.
Competitions, conventions—and even a virtual tour during 2020—if there is a way to make dance an event, Showstopper is up for the challenge. In it’s 45th year, Showstopper is hitting the road to take its stages on a 51-competition tour taking place over 40 locations. The tour also includes four conventions, two issues of Showstopper Magazine—now in its sixth year with its online sister Showstopper Magazine Online—and more glitter and confetti than ever.