ECA Art News Briefs

Step Afrika! Goes Viral After Two White House Visits

Even after 21 years of world travel, rousing performances and public education, Step Afrika! continues to display the African-American tradition of stepping to audiences that have never before seen the dance form. Step Afrika! is exposing kids as young as three years old, to those as mature as 106-year-old Virginia McLaurin who recently danced a jig with the President and First Lady to stepping. Step Afrika!, too, was able to step it up in the White House this year to much acclaim – so much, that the company’s social media ratings went through the roof, going viral in just a few hours. But the company is aiming even higher than the White House.

“Our goal is to reach as many audiences as possible in order to teach and share with them the art form that is stepping,” said Step Afrika! Executive Director C. Brian Williams on the craft of using the body as an instrument to create intricate rhythms and sounds through a combination of footsteps, claps and spoken word.

“Our performance for the President, First Lady and over 500 attendees in the White House was historic and awe-inspiring – not only for us, but the country as a whole,” continued Williams on the company’s White House Black History Month program performance. “To be able to bring our gifts to such a platform gets us that much closer to our goal. Step Afrika! is all about exposing this art form to others. It’s time the world knows about this rich tradition born on American college campuses with roots in African traditional dance. And frankly, it’s time they know about Step Afrika!”

Williams was invited back to the White House the following week to represent Step Afrika! during a panel discussion focusing on successful HBCU graduates. A graduate of Howard University, Williams has made Step Afrika! one of Washington, D.C.’s premier arts education, cultural exchange and contemporary performing arts organizations, and one of the top 10 African-American dance companies in the U.S. Step Afrika! aims to teach the world about stepping while holding true to the company’s three tenets: teamwork, discipline and commitment.

Step Afrika! is currently on tour, having already performed in Massachusetts, Florida, Kentucky, Pennsylvania and South Carolina. It begins its international tour in Oman this month – the group’s second visit to the Arabian Peninsula. Earlier this year, the company performed in Bermuda, and this April, the company will again take 10 D.C. Public Schools students to Zagreb, Croatia, for its annual Step Afrika! International Youth Exchange.

“Step Afrika! believes that the arts are the perfect platform through which to bring cultures and people together,” said Williams. “Our daily work and cross-cultural collaborations support this ideal. Artistic and cultural exchange is the foundation for the company.”

In addition to performing around the world for dignitaries, students and everyone in between, the organization offers enrichment programs for youth at high schools and colleges. The organization’s education outreach includes a reading program for two to five year olds and the award-winning “Step Up to College” residency program for middle schoolers. Step Afrika! also offers scholarships to college students every spring.

Upon the culmination of its tour season, the company will host “Step Afrika! After Dark,” a posh, VIP gala. In previous years, attendees included Washington, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, and local and regional policymakers and business leaders. Support garnered will help the company create two incredible works, The Migration: Reflections on Jacob Lawrence and Duke Ellington’s Nutcracker, which will be performed in Washington, D.C. this fall and winter. The event will be held Thursday, June 9, at 6 p.m. in the trendy neighborhood of NoMa at Dock 5 at Union Market in Washington, D.C.

“This is a great opportunity for us to show our supporters what we’ve done over the last 21 years, and, more importantly, look towards an incredibly bright future for Step Afrika!” said Williams.

But, for Williams, step education in 45+ countries, for 500,000 audience members and 400,000 students is not enough.

“Learning about this unique performing art is not just a Black History Month thing, or something we should appreciate just once a year; it is an everyday dedication for us. To that end, we hope to visit 45 more countries, perform for one million audience members and be invited back to the White House – even when President Obama is no longer commander in chief.”

For more information about the Step Afrika! After Dark VIP Gala, contact Joanne Coutts, Development Director at 202.399.7993 ext. 112.

(via Step Afrika!. Photo courtesy of Step Afrika!.)