Stepping is a unique African-American art form heavily influenced by African culture.
Step Afrika!, the only professional company dedicated to stepping, seeks to spread the gospel of the genre around the globe. The steppers performed recently at Lew Klein Hall for Performing Arts on Temple University’s campus.
“We started in 1994 as a cultural exchange program in Johannesburg, South Africa,” said founder and executive director C. Brian Williams. “That is the origin of Step Afrika!, connecting American art forms with South African dance traditions. Since then, we have turned into a touring company. We are probably one of the ten largest African-American dance companies in the country.”
The steppers put on a lively show for an intimate crowd.
“When I say okay, you say all right,” artistic director Jakari Sherman told the audience. “When I say al lright you say okay.”
The audience excitedly obliged.
With 11 full-time performers, Step Afrika!’s performance displayed the range of stepping while incorporating other art forms such as South African Zulu and the South African Gumboot dance.
One of Step Afrika’s main objectives is to use stepping as a motivational and educational tool for young students.
“We are a nonprofit organization,” Williams said. He is also a member of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. “Our mission is to preserve and promote the tradition of stepping around the world, and to work with children and communities everywhere. We just finished a tour of South Sudan, the first American dance company to perform there, doing workshops with kids over there. So, we are doing some really incredible work around the world.”
Before their evening show, Step Afrika! hosted a workshop with over 800 students from the School District of Philadelphia, where they taught the history of stepping and also taught a few techniques.
The company’s outreach stretches beyond just workshops and step shows. The group hosts a week-long youth summer camp, hands out yearly scholarships, and is in the process of starting a program to engage senior citizens in the art form of stepping.
“We pride ourselves in sticking to the tradition,” said Brian McCollum, also a member of Alpha Phi Alpha and a Morehouse graduate. He has been with the company for ten years. “We use teamwork, discipline and commitment in every workshop and show that we do to drive home the fundamental principles of stepping.”
Jordan Spry, the only Philadelphia native on the team and the newest member of Step Afrika!, was a seasoned stepper before joining. “I’m a stepper from Howard, but the musicality that Step Afrika! brings is different.”
Step Afrika! is also one of the few mixed-gender step teams, boasting three young ladies, each with a background in performing arts.
Assata Barton, a Howard grad, and member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. has been with the company for three seasons.
“We don’t even notice all the testosterone around us,” she said jokingly. “We hold our own, and we don’t feel overwhelmed or underrepresented. You saw what we did to the guys during the challenge part of the show.”
Danielle Glover, also a Howard graduate, before joining Step Afrika! was an accomplished dancer. Her degree is in dance and she has worked with legendary dancers such as Virginia Johnson and Baba Chuck Davis. Despite being a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc., this is her first foray into stepping.
“Step Afrika! took me in and trained me, so I’m still learning,” she said. “Stepping is a language and technique, and I view it as highly as every other art form.”