Photos by Pooja Pasupula.
From the first moments of Step Afrika!’s Saturday night performance in the Popp-Martin Student Union, the troupe’s best assets were apparent: Their synchronization is airtight, their sense of rhythm is fail safe, their energy is unmatched, and they’ve got a likable, mischievous sense of humor. But it’s only after seeing their performance in its entirety that one can appreciate a perhaps more important quality. These dancers are committed to a mission of preserving the traditions of their art form.
Drawing from stepping’s strong history of community, Step Afrika! immediately encouraged the audience to participate and show their support by any means necessary, even if it meant doing a back flip. Within ten minutes of the start of the show, a step-off was conducted between the ladies and the fellas. It was the crowd’s responsibility to pick the winning team by applauding and cheering for who they thought had the best performance. It was difficult to tell which side got more cheers (the first round was declared a tie), but the fellas took the second round, gaining extra cheers with their impressive acrobatic moves.
Shortly thereafter, a handful of audience members were invited onto the stage for a workshop during which they were taught steps, one after the other, until there were enough to form a whole routine. Although those on the stage were the ones actively participating, the audience was not left behind. We were taught the names for the various steps – the roly poly, hop-step and the march, to name a few – and we were entertained by those who were unable to keep up with the routine and one student who replaced the traditional 5-6-7-8 count-off with 1-2-3-4.
The second was a gumboot dance. This form of dance was developed by South African miners who, because of their language barriers, needed a new form of communication and used their boots to pass on orders or have conversations. This form was taught to the group’s founding member by a boy in South Africa, but it’s remarkable to see how closely it resembles the stepping we’re accustomed to seeing stateside.