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Step Afrika Workshop Wows Students

May 24, 2007 — “Are you ready for some steppin’?” A deafening “Yes!” was the response from the 600 elementary and middle school students assembled in the Bertha C. Boschulte auditorium for a Thursday morning program presented by Step Afrika.
The workshop demonstration proved a huge hit with both students and adults, who responded enthusiastically throughout the entire program. It also served as a precursor to the group’s performance Saturday evening at the Reichhold Center for the Arts.
Step Afrika’s Brian McCollum asked who in the audience knew what stepping was, and at least half the people raised their hands. McCollum seemed genuinely surprised and impressed when one volunteer came up and performed — not just a few steps, but an entire routine. The crowd went crazy for the first of many times.
McCollum explained the origins of the dance form created by African-American college students. “We use our bodies as instruments to create rhythms and sounds through a combination of footsteps, claps and spoken word,” he said.
Although stepping is traditionally associated with colleges and grew out of the song-and-dance rituals practiced by historically African American fraternities and sororities in the early 1900s, the art form is universal and highly appealing to young people.
Stepping has been featured in well-known films like “Drumline” and “Stomp the Yard,” McCollum said, which many of the students in the audience had seen.
According to McCollum, stepping can now be found not only in colleges but also in high, middle and elementary schools across the United States as well as in churches and community-based organizations.
Through a series of challenges, the dancers showed their stuff in head-to-head competitions with McCollum, a highly amusing, charismatic and informative front man.
The audience got to pick the winners of each challenge by voice vote, and each time McCollum lost out as the auditorium exploded for each of his challengers.
The company demonstrated various styles of step dancing from the collegiate style to contemporary to South Africa's gumboot dancing, which evolved from the stomping patterns of workers in the mining fields.
Stepping came from a long and rich tradition in African-based communities that use movement, words and sounds to communicate allegiance to a group, McCollum said. After encouraging the students to stay in school and to get a college education, he and the troupe taught the entire audience a short routine.
To close out the morning, two students from each of the schools present went up to show what they had learned. They did themselves proud by tightly going through the moves.
In addition to the thrill of performing, each of the students on stage received two tickets to Saturday’s performance.
According to its website, “Step Afrika is the first professional company in the world dedicated to the tradition of stepping. Founded in December 1994, the company is critically acclaimed for its efforts to promote an understanding of and appreciation for stepping and the dance tradition’s use as an educational tool for young people worldwide. Step Afrika reaches tens of thousands of Americans each year and has performed on many stages in North and South America, Europe, Africa and the Caribbean.”
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