Global Graduations: the Company returns to the Virgin Islands and tours Vietnam for the first time

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Global Graduations

Written by Glen Dixon for WeekendPass, published May 31, 2007

Step Afrika! takes the college-derived dance on a world tour


“All explosive beats and military precision, the sound and style of stepping are unmistakable. Since the 1920s, the dance form has been a staple of African-American campus life. “The body is used as an instrument,” explained founder Brian Williams. “It’s a combination of hand claps, foot stomps, body percussion, where you’re slapping different parts of your chest, your arms, your thighs — whatever part of the body can make some good sounds, really.”


In 1994, the Howard University grad envisioned that the moves he learned as an Alpha Phi Alpha member could also provide a platform for cultural outreach. His Step Afrika! troupe, “the first professional company in the world dedicated to this tradition of stepping,” grew out of the Step Afrika International Cultural Festival, still held each December in Soweto. Williams and his dancers tour heavily, traveling to 50 cities a year. This week, as they hit the boards at the Atlas Performing Arts Center, they’re glad to be back in front of the audience that knows them best.


It’s like our homecoming,” Williams, said, “where, after a year touring all around the world, we come back to our home base, Washington, D.C., and put on our biggest production of the year. So we do things in this performance that we never do when we’re on the road.”

“And then, when we head to Vietnam for a historic tour of Asia, about a week after our Sunday performance, who knows what we’ll find there?””




Step Afrika! shares history of keeping the beat

Written by AYESHA MORRIS  for the Daily News, published May 25, 2007

Syncopated stomping, African chanting and choreographed hand-claps are part of the energy coming to the dance floor when Step Afrika! performs this weekend in the Virgin islands.

Founder Brian Williams, a Howard graduate and Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity member, went to South Africa in 1991 for a fellowship and recognized a similar style of dance. “He saw a young boy doing some gumboot and thought it was a little odd because it had a lot of the same’ characteristics of stepping,” Giani Clarkson, Step Afrika company manager, said. “There is a serious bridge between what African-Americans and Africans know as stepping.”



We’ve gone from a local sensation to an international phenomenon. We travel all over the world to 150 events and travel to foreign countries reaching over 75,000 people,” Clarkson said. “We’re entertainers and educators.”

“We just want people who have a love of stepping and want to be ambassadors of culture,” Clarkson said. “We interact so well and we always want to make the audience feel a part of what we’re doing.”




U.S. dance troupe eager to step on Vietnam’s stages

Written by Binh Nguyen for the Saigon Times, published on June 6, 2007

(FromL-R) Step Afrika members Sumayya Ali, Latonya Grant, Jakari Sherman, Delonte Briggs, Mfon Akpan, and Ryan Johnson posed for a photograph in HCMC yesterday. These members of the U.S.-based *stepping company told reporters that they were excited to perform their stepping dance that combines footsteps, claps, and spoken words to produce complicated rhythms.



Three more members of the troupe came last night to join their performances of traditional and contemporary step dancing at the Municipal Theater in downtown HCMC tonight, the Thua Thien Hue Center of Culture and Information in Hue City on June 13, the Haiphong Opera House on June 15, and the Hong Ha Theater in Hanoi on June 17. The world-renowned group will also run workshops for art students at cities in which they perform.



Step Afrika members will, of course, teach the audience how to dance on the stage with them. The group members said step dancing was a universal language so it was easy to learn and easy to appreciate this form of music. It is also a way for performers to express their different states of emotion. The U.S. Embassy in Hanoi and the U.S. Consulate General in HCMC will host the Vietnamese tour of Step Afrika. Having been founded in 1994, Step Afrika is acclaimed worldwide for its performances of unique step dances created by African American college students.




Reichhold Center Presents Step Afrika!

Written by the VI Source Network, published on May 16, 2007

The Reichhold Center for the Arts’ Family Series celebrates the handclapping, foot-stomping rhythms of Step Afrika! The dance troupe will perform at 8 p.m., Friday, May 25, at Island Center, on St. Croix.


This is a unique dance company that merges the African-American phenomenon of “stepping” with South Africa’s renowned gumboot dancing. Stepping is a rhythmic dance form that came of age in the 1900’s when Black fraternities and sororities developed signature moves. South Africa’s gumboot dancing evolved from the stomping patterns of workers in the mining fields. The fusion of these two dynamic dance forms led to the Step Afrika! International Cultural Festival in Johannesburg, South Africa.


Following the success of the festival, founder Brian Williams launched the dance troupe in the United States in 1996. Since then, the Washington D.C.-based ensemble has toured around the U.S. and the world. While on tour, the nine-member group gives a history of stepping and how it arrived in the Americas. Among the touring pieces is “Wade,” celebrating the merging of gumboot dance, collegiate stepping, and tap, all performed to African-American spirituals.


In “Sebenza” or “Work,” the gumboot story unravels out of the mining fields of then-apartheid South Africa. The gumboot sounds were used like a Morse code communication device among the workers who could not talk to each other. The steps then evolved as a way for the miners to create rhythms with their boots to pass time. The dance has become one of the most popular in South Africa.


Along with the cultural dances are the more traditional steps. “The Pledge Scene/1989” highlights the pledge process that has traditionally served as the foundation for Black college fraternities.
Various stepping styles are the subject of “Shhh!” The dance showcases the uniqueness within each of the African-American Greek organizations, such as Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity or Delta Sigma Theta Sorority.


The dancer troupe teaches step to students throughout the year through its “Stepping with Step Afrika!,” “Step Up to College” and “Forward Steps” programs, in conjunction with the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts’ Education Department. In addition, the group has been a Kennedy Center artist-in-residence since 1998.


Step Afrika! will hold a residency for public and private schools students at 9 a.m., Friday, May 25, at Island Center. The residency is sponsored by Virgin Islands Council on the Arts.
The performances are sponsored by First Bank, First Insurance, Marriott Frenchman’s Reef Resort, Tropical Shipping, Theodore Tunick Insurance Company, the V.I. Council on the Arts and Innovative Communication Corporation.”



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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