By Brooke Schultz
Elm Staff Writer
Step Afrika! graced Washington College’s Decker Theater stage on April 11. The event was hosted by Multicultural Affairs and The Office of Student Activities.
Step Afrika! is the first professional step company in the world and is celebrating their 20th year of worldwide performances on over a thousand different stages.
“Stepping” uses the body as an instrument. Through stomping, clapping, and speaking, the performers create percussive dance movements. It incorporates dance styles such as tap, modern, and hip hop.
Stepping draws inspiration from African-based traditions such as a style called “Gumboot,” which was created by miners in South Africa as a way to communicate with each other. The tradition moved through time and continents and was practiced by African-American sororities and fraternities.
Company member Brittany Smith said, “These groups were formed to not only help the students both academically and socially but also to uplift and strengthen the surrounding communities.”
The Step Afrika! show obviously contained stepping, but the performance wasn’t limited to that. Step Afrika!’s production was multidimensional. Company members would individually speak to the audience about the history of stepping and about Step Afrika! itself. The stepping was energetic. The steppers combined use of a cappella and synchronized patterns with choreography to create an intricate performance.
The company was also very interactive with the audience, adding a dimension of authenticity to the show. They played off of audience reactions. When a specific part of the audience didn’t respond or play along, they paid them more attention, which helped participation.
The audience was also prompted to respond and judge two sets of dancers, a team of men versus a team of women. The show really broke the boundary between performer and audience member when they requested that a group of students join them onstage.
Among them was Logan Tony, a prospective student. He said, “They basically went into the audience looking for volunteers, and I volunteered. It was fun. It was an experience that I will never forget.” Tony has already committed to WC, but the event solidified his choice.
The performance delved into the history of stepping. Members of Step Afrika! used that background information they gave the audience as a platform to build skits around. After describing “gumboot,” the company created a skit about workers and their supervisor dancing during a break.
“They danced, and they used their boots as a form of percussive communication,” performer Jordan Spry said. They incorporated tribal elements into the performance as well, melding past and modern cultures together to fashion an interesting juxtaposition.
While students were getting educational information in the dancing, they were also getting a layer of humor, either from the company members or from what was already worked into the skits. This gave the performance a laid-back, casual atmosphere that also gripped the audience’s attention even more.
Another audience member, freshman Shane Manske described the performance as “powerful, ferocious, visceral movement” and said it was “a lot of great fun and audience involvement. It was a great event at WC.”
Freshman Alexandra Liebman stated, “The performance was amazing. There was a lot of energy, and it got a lot of people moving.” Step Afrika! created a complex, multidimensional production that engaged the audience with their energy.