September 9, 2020

‘Stono’, Step Afrika!’s first Dance Film, is released to critical acclaim

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The virtual world premiere of Stono took place on Wednesday, September 9, 2020 – the 281st anniversary of the Stono Rebellion.


On September 9, 1739, the largest insurrection of enslaved Africans in North America began in South Carolina on the banks of the Stono River. Twenty Africans marched south toward a promised freedom in Spanish Florida, waving flags, beating drums, and shouting ‘Liberty.” This extraordinary act of rebellion in colonial America predates the famed Boston Tea Party of 1773, the first significant act of defiance to British rule over American colonists. Although the Stono Rebellion was suppressed, this little-known event in American history forever changed African American life and culture.



When Africans lost the right to use their drums through The Negro Act of 1740, they began to use their bodies as percussive instruments in response. This act of survival and activism earned them the name of “Drumfolk,” coined by famed folklorist Bessie Jones. Their percussive movement gave rise to some of the country’s most distinctive art forms, including the ring shout, tap, hambone, and stepping.


Stono honors the spirit of resistance and activism that remains a critical part of American freedom. The virtual premiere was immediately followed by a live panel discussion moderated by Lesli Foster (Evening Anchor, WUSA) and joined by C. Brian Williams (Founder and Executive Director, Step Afrika!), Dr. Aimee Cox (Associate Professor of Anthropology and African American Studies, Yale University), Kendall Thomas (Nash Professor of Law, Columbia University Law School) and Mayor Bruce Teague (Mayor of Iowa City, IA). Panelists explored the Stono Rebellion and its relevance to issues regarding political protest and structural inequities that dominate American conversations today.


Lead Commissioning Support for Stono is provided by Hancher Auditorium at the University of Iowa. Additional commissioning support provided by AARP, Arts Emerson, ASU Gammage, Capital One, Krannert Center for the Performing Arts/University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, Lied Center for Performing Arts (University of Nebraska-Lincoln), Strathmore, Verizon and the Younes and Soraya Nazarian Center for the Performing Arts at California State University, Northridge. Step Afrika! extends deep gratitude to Events DC and the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities for operating support as Washington, DC’s largest African American arts organization.

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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