Step Afrika! steps into tradition
On Wednesday, Feb. 22 Radford University’s R-SPaCE presented Step Afrika! to the Bondurant Auditorium, located inside Preston Hall. The event was cosponsored by the National Pan-Hellenic Council (NPHC), the Diversity Awareness Program, and the Center for Diversity and Inclusion. Radford’s student body received free admission into the event, and Greek Life was encouraged to witness the history of many of the NPHC organizations. Historically, stepping has been a huge part of these organizations and the culture.
Step Afrika! mixes together the type of stepping created so popularly by African American sororities and fraternities, as well as several types of African traditional dance and other various art forms. Founded in 1994, Step Afrika! began as a collaboration between the Soweto Dance Theatre of Johannesburg, South Africa and the dancers from the United States. Based out of Washington, DC Step Afrika! holds many workshops and programs for the youth of the area, as well as up to college level students. They endorse stepping as an informative device that can be used to increase teamwork, communication, as well as multicultural education.
Entering the Bondurant Auditorium, you are sat down by the members of several NPHC organizations and the R-SPaCE team. Music played to get everyone excited and social until the show was programmed to begin. Opening up the show they performed a small number to get the crowd engaged, and it was met with awe from the crowd. Shortly after, one member of Step Afrika! took the stage to give a brief history and definition of ‘step’. A showcase of fraternity and sorority styles of stepping were displayed to show what many of the audience both engaged in and recognized as the dance form.
Following the showcase, the members broke off into a competition between the men and the women of Step Afrika! The men went first and astonished everyone until the woman began and took away the show with their confidence. The entire team of Step Afrika! moved to have crowd involvement by pulling up many members of the crowd to participate in learning a cultural dance. Upon seeing many of the student body participate in the dance, Step Afrika! moved into its gumboot dance, a form of African dance that requires wearing wellington boots, gumboots.
Gumboots could be covered in bells and other trinkets to pass along a message with their jingles. The many sounds that came from the boots would signal many different things to those around them. Communicating in the mines was difficult, especially when you didn’t want to be punished by the supervisor. Having these boots be a part of the show really honed in on the fact that this was indeed a cultural and educational show. While the entire showcase was fun and energetic, you felt a sense of understanding move across the auditorium. The members of the NPHC organizations knew of the deep-rooted history and the backstory behind it all, but those who had never witnessed stepping were shown something entirely new.
Step Afrika! was an astonishing show of education, culture, laughter, and freedom that was refreshing to witness. Every dancer had a moment to shine, show their talent and their own personality through their dance while still remaining one. Watching the performances you got a feeling that this team was a family, and the way they moved around the other was very natural.