Step Afrika!

A large group of Black dancers on a colorfully lit stage step dancing
 
 
Feel the beat! A blend of the percussive dance styles practiced by historically African-American fraternities and sororities, traditional African dances, and contemporary dance makes Step Afrika! a joyous show. Songs, storytelling, and humor teamed with their pure energy will make your heart pound right along with them!

VIDEO TRANSCRIPT

C. Brian Williams 0:16

I first learned to step when I arrived at Howard University's campus through the pledge process of my fraternity. You know stepping at this time was that something you could access in an after-school program. The only way to learn this art form was by joining a historically black fraternity or sorority. Realized quickly that this was an art form that had a lot of potential, immediately upon graduating, I moved to the SU to my Cerro de su to, a small country, very close to Johannesburg, South Africa. And that's where I first came across the South African gumboot dance.

C. Brian Williams 1:03

The initial idea for Step Afrika was to bring stepping into South African gumboot dance together. To bring the two art forms together, we only thought it would happen in Johannesburg, we thought we wouldn't do anything else besides this really historic festival, in Johannesburg, South Africa. But when we got back to the United States, it became clear that there was more work for us to do.

Jakari Sherman 1:27

So I was the director at the time. And Brian had, you know, had some talks with the Phillips Collection, and they had the idea to do this work, you know, honoring the work of Jacob Lawrence.

C. Brian Williams 1:38

Jacob Lawrence for me is really one of America's great artists, I was shocked that they actually were so amenable to the concept because I knew how important this work was, and that they were willing to give us the opportunity, very little resistance I was very excited about.

Jakari Sherman 1:56

So he came to me, as he went many times, and we talked about it, and talked about how we should approach it.

C. Brian Williams 2:03

And we talked about how our work already resonated with these images that Jacob Lawrence had painted. And I was just excited by the chance to interpret his artwork to really bring his paintings to life.

C. Brian Williams 2:25

The heart of South Africa's work is cultural exchange, even in shows, like the show we created the migration, which is one of our most involved works, we still stay true to what Step Afrika really is, which is how do we connect with an audience.

Jakari Sherman 2:40

One of the most beautiful things about touring this work has been the connection that we've made with communities. Everywhere that we've gone, we get offstage and we get a chance to go out in the house and meet people. And they're so anxious to tell us about their family's story and their family's history about how they migrated. And you hear people while you're performing, and they push you and they drive you just like any other performance. But I think what makes this one different is the connection that you're able to make once we get off the stage.

C. Brian Williams 3:20

There's so many moments in the creation and the journey of South Africa that had been impactful. One moment, in particular, that was incredibly special was helping to create the first stepping interactive and then National Museum of African American History and Culture and getting to perform for President Barack Obama and the First Lady in the East Wing of the White House. I always had a goal that we wouldn't want to perform in the White House, you know, under those historic chandeliers and hopefully not bring them down with our aggressive performance. The way the audience responded was quite wonderful. And it's a day I'll never forget.

VIDEO TRANSCRIPT

C. Brian Williams 0:04

Stepping as an art form is very distinct. And stepping, we're basically trying to turn our collective movement into a percussive ensemble. So as much as we want it to be interesting to look at, we're also very concerned about the music that we're making.

Mfon Akpan 0:23

We have our claps, we have what we call a chip clap, where we're just like glancing the side of our hands, we have our base clap, which is a lower tone, you can have your snaps, you know, double snap, you have your thighs, you have your chest.

C. Brian Williams 0:42

Step Afrika is the first professional company in the world dedicated to the tradition of stepping.

Mfon Akpan 0:50

We have artists in the company that are trained in African tap, jazz, contemporary, modern, hip hop. We have actors and musical theater majors. But also we have people who have majored in business and journalism.

C. Brian Williams 1:06

The artists are not just great performers on stage. They're also very committed teaching artists. Wherever there are children, you'll find a Step Afrika artists giving his or her all to motivate and inspire young people. Stepping has its roots in early 1900s, when African Americans first began to attend colleges in greater numbers, and that's when they develop their own fraternities and sororities, as a way to express love and pride in these groups. And stepping was their way of expressing that love.

Mfon Akpan 1:40

They were created for academic excellence, for sisterhood and brotherhood, for community service. So all of these positive things, is where stepping was birthed from.

Mfon Akpan 1:52
Rebels.

C. Brian Williams 1:55

We really try to stress to students that stepping is an art form that really requires your team work, your commitment your discipline, but also requires that you make investments in your own education and in your own capacity.

Ayda Tuku 2:11

Step Afrika, they didn't just teach me stuff. They taught me about education. They taught me about HBCUs, actually, Historically Black Colleges and Universities and how they really wanted to, you know, teach young black minds. And it was just the first time that I had something in my life that kind of drove me somewhere. And so I started becoming way better in my classes. My C's and B's turned into all A's and I became high on a row by eighth grade, and it just kind of took off from there. And I ended up achieving my dream of going to Howard University. Being a first gen student, it's very hard to even imagine where I would be right now if it wasn't for Step Afrika.

C. Brian Williams 2:50

We've traveled about 60 countries around the world, almost every state in the United States, sharing this art form, and use it as a way to create understanding between different communities in different cultures. And the support we received from Wells Fargo allows us to serve children, allows us to employ artists, allows us to reach audiences. So every audience that we come in front of, every child that we touch, I take it very seriously.

C. Brian Williams 3:21

For me doing this work, it's more than a life's calling. This is what I'm here to do. This is the space I'm supposed to do the work here. This is how I'm supposed to reach people.