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Community Spotlight: Step Afrika!

Step Afrika! is many things. The company is the first in the world dedicated to the art of stepping. It’s a Smithsonian feature at the National Museum of African-American History & Culture. The members performed at the White House for former President Obama and the First Lady, Michelle Obama. And it’s even a 501(c)(3) non-profit dedicated to using stepping as a tool for education. 

Stepping is an artistic expression based on song and dance rituals practiced by historically African-American fraternities and sororities. These rituals date back to the early 1900s. When Step Afrika! was founded in 1994, they began integrating stepping with tap, modern, and hip-hop dance styles. Today, the company is one of the top ten African-American dance companies in the United States and performs in over 50 cities each year. 

In addition to their artistic achievements, Step Afrika! uses their dance form as an educational tool for grades K-12 and beyond. This month, we spoke with founder C. Brian Williams to ask some questions about how they’re educating the community.

What are some benefits of teaching step traditions to students?

Step Afrika! is a leader in the use of stepping as an educational and motivational tool for students ages K-12.  Each year, we serve over 20,000+ in the DC area alone and our highly-skilled teaching artists stress three important words:  teamwork, discipline and commitment.  We also stress the incredible opportunities provided by a college education.  This summer, Step Afrika! will hold its annual Summer Steps with Step Afrika! Summer Camp in Washington, DC.  You can get more details at www.stepafrika.org.

What skills do you teach in your arts education classes?

Teamwork, commitment and discipline! Step Afrika! uses these three words as the focus of our time with young students.  We believe that if students incorporate these words into their daily lives, there really is nothing they can’t accomplish.  Step Afrika! has also created a Step Up to College Journal with a curriculum designed specifically for elementary, middle and high-school aged children.  We also believe that it is never too early to start talking about college with young people.

Can you describe a typical session for grade school students?

A typical Step Afrika! session begins with a mini-performance of the artists where we introduce the art form of stepping.  We then provide a basic definition for stepping that is used throughout the class.  After a short, physical warm-up, we teach the movement and technique for stepping and always provide an opportunity for reflection and debrief at the end of class.

How do sessions differ for older kids and college students?

Older sessions with high-school students in particular allow for even deeper conversations about college, the admissions process, financial aid and beyond.  Since each and every Step Afrika! Teaching artist has attended college, students get firsthand knowledge about the benefits (and fun!) associated with college life.

Who teaches the educational sessions?

All Step Afrika! dancers are also highly-skilled teaching artists.

It looks like you have quite a few in-school programs. Can you describe a few of them?

Go here for a comprehensive review of all of our award-winning arts education programs: www.stepafrika.org/arts-education/in-school-programs/

What do students learn in your summer camp?

Summer Steps with Step Afrika! is the Company’s flagship arts education program providing intensive daily instruction in stepping, the South African gumboot dance and other percussive dance forms.  In just one week, students work together in teams to create a 5-7 minutes performance for their peers and family.  The week culminates with a Summer Camp “Step Show” at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.  Go here for more details and video about summer camp:  http://www.stepafrika.org/arts-education/summer-camp/

How can students apply for your Scholars Program?

We established the Step Afrika! Scholars Program over 5 years ago in order to help young students complete their college education.  Any college student who attends a Step Afrika! performance on their campus/university can compete to become a Step Afrika! scholar. To date, Step Afrika! has awarded over 20 scholarships to students all across the United States.  For more details, visit www.stepafrika.org/arts-education/scholars-program/.

How can the community support Step Afrika?

This June, Step Afrika! is bringing its Off-Broadway production, The Migration: Reflections on Jacob Lawrence, to Washington, DC for two weeks of performances at The Hartke Theater (on the campus of Catholic University.)  Purchasing a ticket to this performance June 8-17 and/or bringing a group to see the Company perform will be the best way to support Step Afrika! today! Tickets can be purchased at www.stepafrika.org.