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Step Afrika! visits Boston for a colorful three-night run

Kassmin Williams | 11/6/2013, 11:44 a.m.
Professional stepping company Step Afrika! is bringing the noise to the Cutler Majestic Theatre at Emerson College and the company ...
Step Afrika! will showcase its stepping style of dance with three nights of performances from Nov. 7 to Nov. 9 at Emerson College’s Cutler Majestic Theatre. The professional dance company was formed in 1994 in Washington, D.C. (Photos courtesy of The Napolean Complex Project) (Photos courtesy of The Napolean Complex Project)

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Step Afrika! will showcase its stepping style of dance with three nights of performances from Nov. 7 to Nov. 9 at Emerson College’s Cutler Majestic Theatre. The professional dance company was formed in 1994 in Washington, D.C.

Professional stepping company Step Afrika! is bringing the noise to the Cutler Majestic Theatre at Emerson College and the company expects the audience to return the favor.

Step Afrika! founder C. Brian Williams describes the company’s performance style as interactive where audience members don’t have to sit quiet and wait for the right moment to applaud.

“We want the audience to clap, cheer and make as much noise as possible because that energy will drive the performance,” Williams said. Step Afrika! will be performing at Emerson on Nov. 7, Nov. 8 and Nov. 9.

To go along with the beating of drums, Step Afrika! performers will use their bodies to create the music they move to throughout the show.

The energetic performance pulls from the stepping style of African American fraternities and sororities, traditional African dance and other various art forms, Williams said.

“Our performance is really focused on an art form that is about 100 years old, but most people in America didn’t know [stepping] existed until 30 years ago at most. It’s a relatively young art form in terms of American awareness but it has its history. It’s rooted in American history,” Williams said. “Step Afrika! has really been studying this tradition and connecting it with other cultures. Not just African culture, but different art forms, different artists so we’re glad to bring our production to Boston this year.”

While Step Afrika! has performed at universities and colleges and with other programs in and around the city, this performance marks the company’s first major production in the city.

Williams founded the performance company based in Washington, D.C., in 1994 as the first professional dance company dedicated to traditional stepping, according to stepafrika.org.

Williams came up with the concept for Step Afrika! after receiving a fellowship that allowed him to live and work in a small country in the center of South Africa, called Lesotho, for a year after graduating from Howard University.

While there, he discovered the South African Gumboot Dance, which was formed by men who lived and worked in the mines in South Africa.

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Step Afrika! models its stepping dance routines after the stepping style of African American fraternities and sororities, traditional African dance and other art forms. (Photo courtesy of The Napolean Complex Project)

The style brought him back to his time at Howard where he was introduced to the stepping tradition as a member of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity.

“When I first saw the Gumboot Dance, I was shocked because it also uses your hands and feet to make music and create complex rhythms,” Williams said. “And to some degree, it’s also done mostly primarily by men, at least historically, and coming from a fraternity I felt lots of similarities. I was stunned by those similarities and more shocked that I’ve never been able to connect with this art form.”

The exposures to an unfamiliar dance style pushed Williams to create what he referred to as a “cultural exchange program” and educate the world about stepping.

“Step Afrika! was my idea of how I would bring these two cultures together and as a result, the people,” Williams said.

Williams called the connection between stepping and traditional African dance a major component of the show.

However, the upcoming performances won’t solely focus on the traditional stepping and African Dance.

Audience members can expect to see some contemporary styled dance to illustrate what Step Afrika! predicts stepping will look and sound like in the future.

Tickets range from $25 to $65 and can be purchased online at www.artsemerson.org or by phone at 617-824-8400.