Lifestyle

African dance company steps onto Main Campus

Step Afrika! brought stepping and traditional dance during its first visit to Main Campus on Oct. 18 at Temple Performing Arts Center.

A booming shout of “brothers and sisters” resonated around Temple Performing Arts Center’s Lew Klein Hall as the Step Afrika! performance began last Thursday, Oct. 18.

Step Afrika!, a world-renowned stepping dance company from Washington, D.C., visited Main Campus for the first time, though it has performed in Philadelphia previously. After a brief description of the origination of stepping and of Step Afrika!, the performance began.

C. Brian Williams, a graduate of Howard University, who learned to step at his Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity, founded Step Afrika! in 1994.

Stepping is an African-American tradition that began in fraternities and sororities in the early 1900s, when African-Americans began to attend colleges and universities in larger numbers, and students were looking for a method of expression with their peers.

Williams researched cultural origins and background of stepping while living in Africa, and went on to found Step Afrika! to express the captivating dance for audiences worldwide.

The show kicked off with a traditional stepping dance by seven dancers, four men and three women, who displayed their athletic ability and skill with their art. Eye-catching movements kept the audience focused on every moment of the dance, especially as the Step Afrika! performers worked cohesively as a group to create intricate patterns with their own bodies. One movement involved the dancers lining up and balancing on each other, one woman on her male partner’s shoulders, and another perched on a crouched partner’s back, while rhythmically tapping drumsticks to create a unique beat.

During the show, rhythm was generated by the clapping, snapping and stomping of the dancers, and during one dance, skilled drummers created an African-style beat. Several costume changes and elements of acting livened the performance, giving background to the styles of dance being performed.

Jakari Sherman, the artistic director of Step Afrika!, said he joined the company in 2005 when he found Step Afrika! after college and went on a trip to South Africa with the company to learn about new styles of dance.

The company dedicates a substantial amount of effort to taking such trips in order to incorporate elements of African dance into its performances. This makes for a very entertaining and well-rounded show, offering styles created by influence from both stepping and traditional African dance. Along with the captivating performance that Williams called a “highly energetic experience,” it also kept the audience involved by taking volunteers onstage.

“It’s highly interactive,” Williams said. “The audience is the sixth man or woman…we encourage the audience to participate.”

Volunteers were taken onstage during the performance and taught basic stepping moves. In addition, audience members were encouraged to clap, call out and express their excitement or appreciation for stepping throughout the duration of the show.

Lauren Harris, a sophomore early childhood education major who volunteered to work the event, said she was thrilled to be a part of Step Afrika! coming to Main Campus.

“I’ve seen them six or seven times,” she said. “I absolutely love them.”

Step Afrika! is a vehicle of expression for college students like Harris who appreciate its energy and originality. Along with simply being entertaining to watch, the company recruits dancers from around the country, all of whom are college graduates.

Education is highly valued at Step Afrika!, which started Step Afrika! Scholars, a program that gives back to the community by providing scholarships to college students. Some students can even win scholarships by simply attending a show.

“We like to promote education,” Williams said.

The Step Afrika! show was an energetic experience for some audience members who couldn’t help but contribute to the enthusiasm provided by the dancers. The community felt resonated throughout the show, encompassed by Williams statement: “We share our culture with you, you share yours with us and we part as friends.”

Erin Edinger-Turoff can be reached at erin.edinger-turoff@temple.edu.

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