Step Afrika! electrified the Pam Evans Arena on Monday, Oct. 21. Seven dancers leapt, stepped, and shook their bodies until the audience was pounding their feet on the bleachers in applause.
This performance was a part of the Wittenberg Series, and it introduced the majority of the audience to the art of stepping. This style of movement in the United States stems from dance styles practiced by historically African-American sororities and fraternities. Step Afrika! is the first professional dance company dedicated to stepping.
Keeping with the stepping tradition, the dancers used their routine of claps, steps and shouts to make their own music. Stepping focuses on percussive dance, and their bodies were their drums.
The audience became instruments as well with call-and-repeat songs, clapping challenges, and a dance-off between the male and female members of the company. The winner was determined by audience applause, and the ladies conquered both rounds. Audience members were then invited to the stage to learn a dance sequence with the group.
The performance paid tribute to the Zulu people of South Africa, with a section dedicated to Zulu costume, music and movement. This was the only part of the performance that used additional drums and percussion.
The men wore white feathery pieces around their arms, legs and torso while the ladies wore beaded belts and skirts, adding more fluent movements to their routine with enough shaking to rattle the beaded skirts in every direction.
The final tribute of the performance was to the Gumboot, a similar style of percussive dance created by South African miners. Slapping the boot became the miners’ way to communicate with one another and to create music in a space where drumming was forbidden. Step Afrika!’s interpretation included a touch of humor where miners cried over broken nails, made faces at one another behind the boss’s back and helped their boss flirt with imaginary members of the audience. Skits and audience snickers were scattered between intense dances and rhythms using these thick rubber boots.
Beyond this performance, community engagement and education have remained a vital part of Step Afrika!’s mission. The dancers offered a stepping workshop before their performance that was open to all students and community members. They offer several after school programs across the country, and all Wittenberg students who attended the performance are invited to apply for a scholarship on Step Afrika!’s website.