Members of Step Afrika! were preaching to the crowd through their rhythmic feet on March 2 in Lee Hall. The dance company, which originated in South Africa, had audience members clapping throughout the performance, and even had some join them on stage.
The company that began in 1994 as an exchange program with the Soweto Dance Theatre, Step Afrika! has become the first professional dance company in the world dedicated to the tradition of stepping. The Soweto Dance Theatre, where Step Afrika! got its start, is located in Johannesburg, South Africa.
The company has developed and is now touring internationally. Step Afrika! has residencies and workshops worldwide. Over the past 19 years, Step Afrika! has grown to become one of the top 10 African American Dance Companies in the US.
Today, the company promotes appreciation for traditional stepping as a contemporary dance genre.
The company’s unique steps were presented to students and faculty of FAMU campus in Lee Hall.
The show opened with an introduction of the dance troupe and with information on an upcoming event. The Alumni Reunion, which will feature some alumni who have become big names, will take place on March 31-April 2 in the FAMU Grand Ballroom.
Throughout the performance, the dancers encouraged audience participation. For example, the dancers constantly inspired the audience to clap, repeat words, or sing along.
One specific highlight of the performance where the dancers encouraged audience participation was when they invited people in the crowd to join them on stage to learn a few of their steps.
“There is a lot of talent being displayed here on this stage,” Jeeda Barrignton, one of the Step Afrika! members said. “But, I think there has to be just as much, if not a lot more, sitting right here in these seats.”
The Step Africa! dancers were able to create great crowd reactions and encouraged high levels of crowd participation throughout the evening.
Not only did claps, dancing, and chanting keep the crowd’s attention, but also through comedy. The dancers performed small skits that kept the crowd laughing and engaged in the performance.
Also, at the end of the show, certain crowd members were able to relate to the dancers with their individual college accomplishes such as fraternities and sororities that were represented on stage.
The dancers also gave some background information on certain unique dances, such as the Gum Boot performance.
“In 1994, the founder of Step Afrika! was doing a study abroad in South Africa,” Anesia Sandifer, one of the dancers, said. “And while he was there learning the history and the culture of the people, he saw a little boy doing a funky little dance…and after having a conversation with him he learned the boy was doing the South African Gum Boot dance.”
According to the dancers, the Gum Boot dance originated in the diamond and gold mines of South Africa. The group demonstrated, through dance, how the Africans communicated with other workers from different countries with the Gum Boots.
“They would use their Gum Boots as a percussive form of communication,” Sandifer said.”
Before demonstrating the dance, the performers shared the group’s experience traveling to Africa and stepping with the Soweto Dance Theatre. After teaching the Africans the stepping they do, the Africans in return taught them a few dances including the South African Gum Boot Dance.
The show ended with the dancers introducing themselves, performing a final step, and thanking FAMU for inviting them to share their experiences and unique traditional stepping.