Step Afrika! brings the rhythms of Africa to Edinboro for BHM

Category:  The Arts
Wednesday, February 14th, 2018 at 7:40 PM
Step Afrika! brings the rhythms of Africa to Edinboro for BHM by Livia Homerski
Photo: Livia Homerski

The Step Afrika! dance company performed at Edinboro University on Feb. 10 in honor of Black History Month. The Washington, D.C. based entity is the first professional dance company dedicated to the tradition of stepping and has been around since 1994. There are a total of 15 dancers in the Step Afrika! troupe. The seven dancers that performed on the stage of Cole Auditorium were Jerel L. Williams, Emanuel Chacon, Deatrice Clark, Vincent Montgomery, Matthew Evans, Olabode “Buddie” Oladeinde and Kiera Harley. 

Step Afrika! promotes education, the celebration of diversity and the exchange of cultures through their performances and the Step Afrika! scholars scholarship.

The show began with a “fraternity vs. sorority” step-off competition, with the girls winning both rounds before all the steppers performed together. 

After the dancers introduced themselves, the Zulu segment began. The piece was especially dynamic due to the pounding drums, whistles, and of course, the rhythmic stepping and slapping of the dancers in addition to the young audience members that were brought on stage alongside them. They were given traditional attire to wear and followed the dancers in a follow-the-leader type of game. 

Kiera Harley, a performer in Step Afrika!, explained,“Those are actually authentic South African garments that the founder of the company and some company members went to South Africa and actually got them.”  

Harley went on to say that “Zulu” is her favorite piece due to her background in dance. 

“My favorite part is ‘Zulu,’ where I was the one who came out first and started dancing,” she said. “That was the most dancey part of it, so I get to do what is my passion. I love to step, but I’m a dancer first. It’s very energetic, and I like the community feel. That’s why we have everybody come on the stage and create a village.”

Stepping is a dance tradition rooted in defiance and freedom of expression. It started when drumming was banned by authorities in South Africa, and the miners of the area needed an outlet in order to communicate and keep the tradition alive, so they began to stomp rhythms out with their boots. This history was told in the “Dance of the Gumboots.”

The beginning segment also included a song with a three-part harmony and a skit about the history of the Gumboot tradition and the development of percussive communication. 

The emphasis on community and teamwork was highlighted in this segment as the performers wove around each other and even got into a line where they slapped each other’s boots. 

Much like how live music encourages ad-libbing, the same idea is utilized in the Step Afrika! show. There were different “yeahs,” “uh huhs,” and “ayys!” during the performances that filled the spaces where the thumping of their feet and drums did not. 

Later, there was another skit about trying to impress a girl that led into another dance-off. The performers’ animated movements, the use of expressions and the blend of modern moves with step, like the incorporation of the “Milly Rock,” invited the crowd to keep clapping. 

They encouraged the audience to clap, stomp, chant and snap along, making the show more interactive than typical dance performances. 

“Honestly, I love the crowd’s participation,” performer Matthew Evans said. “When I’m onstage and have the mic, their response and energy is just an overwhelming feeling. That, and the addition of having audience members come up on stage and learn steps with Step Afrika [is what I love].” 

Performer Manny Chacon performed one of the solos, citing that piece as one of his favorites in the show, in addition to the “Zulu” dance segment. 

“I just love to entertain a crowd and make people laugh and I’m glad everyone gets my jokes. The ‘Zulu’ piece: it’s the most tiring piece, but it’s my favorite to perform,” he said. 

The event was organized by Caleb Richardson III, a communications grad student. He got the idea after he attended the NACA Conference in Buffalo last semester and saw Step Afrika! perform. 

 “I saw Step Afrika! and decided right then and there that I would bring them to Edinboro for Black History Month. I was really pleased with all the people; it was a diverse crowd. Even president Walker and the first lady of Edinboro were here, and it was great to see everyone I knew come out,” stated Richardson. 

There are several Black History Month events, titled “Living Museums,” that are coming up on Feb. 15, 19, 22 and 26. In addition to this, the next performance for EU’s Black History Month celebration is reggae musician Reggie Wayne Morris performing on Feb. 28 at 7 p.m. in the Pogue Student Center Cyber Cafe. 

Livia Homerski can be reached at ae.spectator@gmail.com.

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