“Stepping Stone to College”: Dance Studio Life profiles Step Afrika!, centering the impact of stepping as an educational tool

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Stepping Stone to College

Traditional African-based dance sends a powerful message to teens
Written by Lisa Traiger for Dance Studio Life, published on March 1, 2009

“Kids come to Summer Steps to dance. And dance they do, all day, every day, for a week. When they leave, they want to go to college. Every last one of them. And that’s the point. At Summer Steps, the team classes and rehearsals take place under the watchful eye of Step Afrika! founder Brian Williams and his 12 dancer/ educators. The DC-based company is an anomaly in the dance world, focusing on professionalizing step dancing, traditionally a community-based art form.


Brandon Peel doesn’t mind. At 6′ 2″ he towers over most of the kids and teachers. And at 13, he’s got a few years before college applications come due. Long and lean in his black shorts and T-shirt, a baseball cap shading his eyes, he says, “I like learning the steps and being able to move with the rhythm. It feels pretty good.” But he also finds the college prep component helpful. “I was already planning to go to college,” says the ninth grader, citing Duke and Villanova as possibilities, “but this summer with Step Afrika! has clarified it for me.”

Step Afrika! is one of the only groups I know of that shows that it’s cool to be righteous, to uplift, and to empower. We do things that make a difference in people’s lives. It’s not just about entertainment on the stage. There’s a real message.” – Sumayya Ali, a former company member and opera singer.



And when Williams stands up to speak, the children listen. “We want to connect what we do in stepping with where it came from: college campuses,” he tells them. “We want you to know that college is a place for you to think about your future, to have a great time, to live and study, eat and take classes, and to have fun.”


June Idrissa, a parent volunteer, watches her 12-year-old son, Imran, make new friends and learn new steps. “It’s wonderful to see them working as a team,” she says. “They learn rhythm, which is extremely good for the brain. And it’s a good age for them to focus on discipline.” Idrissa, who lives in DC, also values the college push. “It’s an excellent approach to get these kids focused and thinking at an early stage about college. It’s better for them to have aspirations now and not wait until high school.””



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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