Step Afrika! showcases foreign dance at the Byham

By Sierra Starks

Step Afrika!

Jan. 17 7 p.m.

Byham Theater

$27.50 Orchestra and Mezzanine, $10.50… Step Afrika!

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Jan. 17 7 p.m.

Byham Theater

$27.50 Orchestra and Mezzanine, $10.50 Balcony

When Spike Lee’s “School Daze” made its debut in 1988, he probably didn’t expect that the step dancing featured in the film would aid the preservation of the tradition of stepping.

Over twenty years later, Step Afrika!, named the first professional company in the world dedicated to the art of stepping, prides itself on the continuation of step as an art form.

Stepping is a form of dance that uses the body as an instrument. Handclaps and footsteps produce the beat and rhythm, with verbal expression as accompaniment.

African American fraternities and sororities began the tradition of stepping in the early 1900s. Step Afrika! founder C. Brian Williams is a member of the first fraternity established by African Americans, Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc.

“In its roots, stepping became a way to express pride in the African American organizations,” Williams said. He added that it’s been interesting to watch stepping expand as an art form since he’s been out of college.

Williams also made it his mission to see Step Afrika! expand step to all parts of the world. Not only have members toured all over America, but they have performed in South Africa, Tanzania, London, Amsterdam and most recently, Chile.

“It’s basically the first time many of these people have ever seen stepping,” Williams said about Step Afrika!’s travels abroad.

“The audiences responded so easily,” he said, explaining that Step Afrika!’s engagements around the world use the cultural exchange as a “means of creating friendship and building understanding.”

Therefore, in every country with which Step Afrika! shares the art of step, the organization obtains a piece of foreign culture as well. The culture is then merged into a portion of Step Afrika!’s production to be shared with audiences everywhere.

“[Step Afrika!’s] future looks so bright because there are so many different cultures to explore, and so many different people to meet,” Williams said of this process. “So who knows what our performances will look like after more tours around the world?”

Other organizations have joined in the effort to preserve the tradition of step. This includes Pittsburgh’s own Omicron chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha.

Calvin Mack, a junior at Carnegie Mellon and member of Alpha Phi Alpha, didn’t learn about the tradition of stepping from his family.

Instead it was the family he found in his fraternity that taught him the importance of step.

“The Alphas have been [stepping] for years, and they maintain a certain standard when it comes to stepping,” Mack explained. “[My brothers and I] wanted to preserve that standard.”

Both Williams and Mack learned how to step as brothers of their organization.

“Stepping is an expression of individuality in a fraternity,” Mack said, emphasizing that each specific fraternity has exclusive step dances signifying why their organization is meaningful to them.

Mack also believes that although it might not be as widely recognized as other art forms, the art of step itself is exclusive.

“Stepping differs from other dance forms because you have to make your own rhythm,” he said, comparing step to ballet, in which a rhythm is given to dance to and the audience watches the performance and applauds upon its conclusion.

Crowd engagement is essential to the art of step throughout the performance.

Step Afrika! plans to hold Pittsburgh’s attention this Sunday, Jan. 17, at Byham Theater. The step show includes seasoned step artists from all over the country.

“We can’t wait to share what we’ve learned from other countries with the city of Pittsburgh, as well as bring our highly engaging art form and show,” Williams said.