The renowned step company brought an interactive experience to our primarily white university.
The world’s first dance production company dedicated to stepping, Step Afrika!, performed for the University of Tulsa last Thursday. This high-energy celebration of Black culture at the university was hosted by Student Association and the Association of Black Collegians, and was free for TU students, faculty and staff.
Stepping, as we know it, has its origins in the 1900s and was pioneered by Black fraternities and sororities to build community within their organizations. It uses the body as an instrument, with patterns of clapping, footsteps and the spoken word to create captivating and high-energy performances. Stepping is an important mark on the rich cultural history of Black resistance through art and is even inspired by that tradition — one example given during the performance was of the South African gumboot dance, which was created by South African miners during the Apartheid era. The gumboot dance was developed as a sort of morse code, so that miners could communicate with each other despite speaking different languages.
The development of stepping has also been influenced by Black hip-hop and R&B artists and dancers popular in the United States, Caribbean dance and even military drills. This combination is expressive, and Step Afrika! does a fantastic job of showcasing it.
According to its website, Step Afrika! is a dance company with a mission — it aims to “promote an appreciation for stepping and its use as an educational, motivational and healthy tool for young people.” Step Afrika! manages many programs to this end for children and adolescents, as well as university visits. For those who attend the performance, Step Afrika! offers a scholarship opportunity for any undergraduate with a 3.0 grade point average or higher who attends a Step Afrika! show. Visit www.stepafrika.org/arts-education/scholars-program for more information.
As the University of Tulsa is a predominantly white institution, the Association of Black Collegians and the Student Association made a fantastic choice in inviting Step Afrika! to our campus. Though a fair number of students, faculty and community members in the audience were already familiar with stepping, this was an introduction to the art form for many other audience members. Encouraging this kind of cultural competency for a predominantly white institution is extremely important, not only for the sake of the white students who may be ignorant of stepping, but for the Black students seeking community and solidarity in a place where we are the minority.
The performance itself was fun, informative and engaging. From having audience members vote through applause on a miniature step competition to pulling audience members on-stage to learn basic step moves, Step Afrika! did everything it could to involve the audience. Even after the performance, steppers came out to the front of the Lorton Performance Center to meet audience members individually and talk about the show. I asked Ta’Quez Whitted, one of Step Afrika!’s talented performers, how well he thought the show had gone. He smiled brightly, looked at me and said that “the energy was through the roof” — and I couldn’t give a better summation than that.
To find out more about Step Afrika! or stepping in general, visit www.stepafrika.org.