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Stepping Up: C. Brian Williams is profiled for New Vision (NV) in Business Magazine

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In the July 2003 edition of New Vision (NV) in Business Magazine, C. Brian Williams was profiled in a piece titled “Stepping Up”, receiving the publication’s Civic Community Award.

 

Stepping Up

Written by ASJYLYN LODER for New Vision (NV) in Business Magazine, published July 2003

“A MAN WITH A PASSION FOR STEPPING MAKES LINKS TO AFRICA, LOCAL COMMUNITIES AND COMMUNITIES

 

Commerce and choreography both require a shrewd eye for unlikely combinations. Bria Williams, co-founder and director of Step Afrika! USA, united his passion for stepping with a businessman’s ability to package an upstart trend. Step Afrika! has entertained and educated audiences around the world under Williams’ guidance as an educator, performer, and entrepreneur. Williams aims to continue to inform audiences about the history and values behind the step tradition by reaching out to a broader population and expanding the seven-year-old company’s commitment to mentoring and education. “I see Step Afrika! going on to develop a company that can promote and present this art form, well beyond my performing years.

 

With big ideas but little time or money, Williams struggles to piece together the capital and business plan necessary for Step Afrika!’s growth. Step Afrika! came out of Williams’ experience with traditional dance in South Africa. He graduated from Howard University with a B.A. in marketing. After graduation, he received a fellowship that took him to Maseru, Lesotho, a town on the eastern border of South Africa. There, Williams observed similarities between South African dances and the stepping he had learned in Alpha Phi Alpha, his college fraternity.

 

A percussive dance form based on rhythmic footwork, stepping resembles the gumboots dancing Williams saw in Lesotho. He returned to South Africa in 1991 and began collaborating with the Soweto Dance Theater. Three years later, their joint effort produced the Step Afrika! International Cultural Festival. Step Afrika! now includes ventures in the US, UK and South Africa. Highlighting that cultural connection remains an integral part of Step Afrika!’s performance. “We like to share the culture that created the art form,” said Williams from his Washington, D.C. home where he was enjoying a brief respite between performances.

 

At the first national conference on stepping, held earlier this year, researchers presented evidence that traced stepping back as far as 1906. “Stepping is starting to be viewed as an art,” Williams pointed out, “It’s traditional, it’s folkloric, and it’s just as legitimate in form and function as ballet.” Williams would like Step Afrika! to lead the research and documentation of stepping’s historical roots. The troupe just finished a 50-city, Maine to Mississippi tour, putting their performance to use as an informal mentoring opportunity between performers and student audiences. “We want to make sure we stay connected to small communities, rural communities,” Williams explained.

 

Williams has made taking the show further afield a priority. In addition to small-town performances, Williams hopes to bring Step Afrika!’s annual festival, which has been held in both Soweto and London, to the U.S. Williams believes it is important to give stepping the widest possible exposure. “African-Americans need to show a new face,” Williams said, “T.V. doesn’t really represent us as fully as it should. Gangsta rap and hip-hop pretty much dominate the scene for African-Americans.”

Williams pointed to five elements of stepping that make it a useful educational tool. Stepping offers an opportunity for group work and group identification while allowing for individual flare. Girls and boys participate equally. Stepping provides a high-impact workout. Children encounter college students and professionals who act as mentors. Most importantly, stepping is linked to academic and collegiate success. Since stepping is largely a part of the fraternity and sorority system, children who want to participate will have to gain admission to college. As other groups replicate the success of Step Afrika!, Williams hopes that the African American community keeps hold of the tradition.

VIEW THE FULL 2003 ARTICLE HERE

Be A Part of Our History

Founded in 1994 by C. Brian Williams, Step Afrika! is the first professional company dedicated to the tradition of stepping. Under Mr. Williams’ leadership, stepping has evolved into one of America’s cultural exports, touring more than 60 countries across the globe. To share your Step Afrika! story, visit stepafrika.org/about/. Step Afrika!'s 30th Anniversary Timeline is made possible by the generous funding of Bloomberg Philanthropies, with additional support from the Mellon Foundation and the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities.

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