Step Afrika! earns critical acclaim in the USA

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In August of 1997, The Source published the article “Bringin’ it Home”, diving into Step Afrika!’s three-year foundational partnership with the Soweto Dance Theatre.


This is also the year that Step Afrika! formally registered as a nonprofit organization and welcomed Kirsten Ledford, the Company’s first Artistic Director. It was in 1997 that Step Afrika! began to merge the female and male stepping traditions together for the first time in history.


Bringin’ It Home

Written by Eisa Nefertari Ulen for The Source, published August 1997

“If music is a universal language and dance its universal response, then something in our collective unconscious has allowed South Africans and Black Americans to speak it with the same accent. From NYC to Soweto, several nearly identical dance styles have evolved independently despite the vast abyss called the Middle Passage. Every time we make the music with our mouths, bring in the noise, or soul clap to make sound, we celebrate the same beats. And each time we conjure up some new way to shake our bodies to the bass sound pumping, we reflect some long ago dance move created on the continent.



South Africa’s Pansula dancers lock and unlock their bodies without a sound, as South African house provides the beat. Their tight robotic moves pay homage to our own breakdancers, but Pansula keeps both feet on the ground, like popping. And from the dark pain of imported mineworkers, the singifyin’ song and dance called Gum Boot developed. Named after the footwear used by mineworkers, Gum Boot dancers tell tales about their own vitality and life among the mineworkers. Similarly, Black fraternities and sororities celebrate themselves via stepping. So, whether we are speaking of the whole body-shaking rhythms of DC sistahs dancing to Go-Go music or South African women grooving in any Zulu village, the message is the same.



Since such magic exists on both sides of the Atlantic, a group of twenty-somethings brought it all together. For the past three years, members of Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity and the Soweto Dance Theatre have collaborated in an effort dubbed Step Afrika!, which is fast developing Pan-African appeal. This past year, UK’s Isigi Dance Company introduced Atlanta’s own Bankhead Bounce, and Jamaican-born H. Patton dropped Dancehall sound and style. Every year, a free public performance in Soweto follows two weeks of workshops, where Black folk from all over learn regional variations on similar dance moves.


The ululation, the sistahs’ high call of praise among many African nations, sounds through the township community center whenever this synergy reaches its height. Like the “aiight” from the same crowd, this is a call of celebration and a call to represent where you’re from. And it is aiight. But it’s definitely all good when a mother leader of a South African village can see us young and dancing together, and say, “Now I know what has happened to my sons and daughters taken so long ago. You are doing well, my children.”



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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