Step Afrika! premiere’s ‘Nxt/step’ by Jakari Sherman at Dance Place

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Stepping Into the Realm Of Art

Written by Sarah Kaufman for the Washington Post, published on November 13, 2006

A little goes a long way with percussive dance. Whether it’s tap, Irish step dancing or other forms of musical footwork, choreography generally takes a back seat to rhythm, the body is less involved than the shoes, and the sound can become overwhelming. Yet in an engaging, richly textured program last weekend at Dance Place, Step Afrika! demonstrated that the stomping, body slapping art of stepping has boundless expressive possibilities.


Step Afrika!’s work stems from both traditional African dance and its distant cousin stepping, a
competitive dance practiced on college campuses among black fraternities and sororities. The group was founded in 1994 by Brian Williams, a Howard University graduate and Alpha Phi Alpha stepper who was struck by the similarities between stepping and what he saw on his travels through Africa. Generally, his troupe performs stepping and African dance side by side, or mixes the two forms. For this program, however, he wanted to bring both dance forms into the 21st century, which is how “Nxt/step” came to be.



“Nxt/step” was the closer in an evening that showed the blistering power of percussive dance as well as its softer, more introspective sides. The group’s desire to see stepping taken seriously was reflected in “Can You Dance?,” in which one of the dancers displayed his smooth, slithery abilities while a recorded voice-over asserted that steppers are not just “Greeks from school days” but legitimate artists. The narration ended with a taunting shot at the audience: “Can you step ?” Ooh. Take that, skeptics. Except that it seemed strange to kick the show off with such a defensive posture — presumably, the ticket holders who sold out the performance had already accepted the troupe as an artistic enterprise. The weekend’s performances were sponsored by DancePlace and the Washington Performing Arts Society.




Step Afrika!’s Foothold in the Future of Dance

Written By Lisa TRaIcER for The Washington Post, published November 10, 2006

“On Saturday and Sunday at Dance Place, Step Afrika!, the company that brought step dancing out of the collegiate yard and onto the concert stage, will step into new territory. Company
founder and Executive Director Brian Williams says: “While we’re about preserving the tradition of stepping, we felt that it was time for us to try to take stepping in some new directions. We’re ready to lead and show others what might be possible.”


The premiere work, “Nxt/step,” is an experiment on a number of fronts. With choreography by Houston’s Jakari Sherman, a former Step Afrika! dancer who founded and directs the G-Force step team for the NBA’s Houston Rockets; video technology designed by Williams with technical input from modern dancers Art Bridgman and Myrna Packer; and an original score by Jonathan Matis, who directs the District’s chapter of the American Composers Forum, the work launches stepping into the 21st century.



‘Nxt/step’ is still an exchange at the core of the work. We’re still sharing with other communities; this time they’re just different art forms and different ideals,” Williams said. Choreographer Sherman began stepping in high school and joined Alpha Phi Alpha at the University of Houston. These days, he reports, stepping is thriving in the Texas city, with teams of dancers forming in middle school and earlier. For this new work, he fuses traditional stepping with what he termed “futuristic elements and movements.”


“You’ll see traditional things like the Alpha train, work with canes, work with chairs, and a lot of the traditional body movements and body positions from stepping,” Sherman said about the regimented movement and the riffs on popular culture and college life that steppers favor. He also changes time signatures, from the expected 4/4 to 3/4. “That,” he said, “brings out more unusual sounds and rhythm patterns than in typical stepping.””


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 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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