African dance team steps for culture, education

The nationally acclaimed step team Step Afrika tour the country, seeking to expand students’ cultural view of the African form of dance known as stepping.

Group member Delaunce Jackson auditioned for Step Afrika, which was started by college fraternity students, and has been a part of the team for two years.

“It’s not required that you have to be Greek, but you do have to love to step,” Jackson said. “This is my second season. Every cast member has a different number of times they can participate from one to five years.”

Step Afrika performed for St. Thomas students on Wednesday night in Brady Educational Center auditorium as a part of Black History Month.

Senior Anthony D’Ambrosio came to see the team to compare them to previous step shows he has attended.

“I really wanted to broaden my cultural horizons,” D’Ambrosio said. “Actually, my high school has a step team, and they were pretty sweet, so I thought a professional version of it would be pretty cool to watch.”

Audience interaction builds energy

Before the show, a member of Step Afrika introduced the team and encouraged the audience to get involved. The team said that the more energy the audience gives to them, the more they will give back.

“I really liked the energy and the humor of the show,” D’Ambrosio said. “The guys had a ton of energy and a lot of enthusiasm, and that’s pretty hard to do.”

During the show, volunteers came on the stage to learn a step routine and perform it for their friends.

“It was a little embarrassing trying to get energy but really cool,” D’Ambrosio said. “We didn’t do anything too difficult, so I wasn’t too scared. And the crowd was really warmed up at this point. I didn’t feel like it was a judgmental atmosphere.”

Two volunteers remained onstage to be part of the traditional African segment of the routine in which the members exhibited dances of the Zulu tribe, which started the art of step dancing.

Cultural traditions add to the show

Although the moves performed by Step Afrika are modern, they originated from dances performed by African tribes.

During the second half of the show the team showed dances including the Gum Boot dance, which involves slapping on rubber boots. This technique was created by coal mine workers from Johannesburg, South Africa.

Step Afrika also performed a tribal dance using spears and shields similar to the kind Zulu warriors would have used.

“I really enjoyed the tribal warfare dance,” D’Ambrosio said. “It was really intense and warlike, aggressive even.”

Professional training, varied art forms

Some of the Step Afrika members have been taking professional dancing lessons since the time they were able to stand.

“[Member] Ryan Johnson has been tapping since he was born, and I’ve been training in African dance for 10 years,” Jackson said. “We encourage people to have dance experience because we have many varied forms of dancing that are displayed in the show. So, everybody brings their own flavor to the mix.”

The team members exhibited many different forms of art, including ballet and drumming.

Stepping out to reach many

Step Afrika travels extensively in order to touch as many lives as possible, performing mainly for young people.

“We have shows six to seven days a week give or take the city we’re in, so we keep a very busy schedule,” Jackson said. “It’s a mix of audiences, but we love to do a lot of children’s shows.”

Despite the hectic schedule, Jackson enjoys seeing new places and people.

“My favorite part is to travel,” Jackson said. “We get to see more of the country than I would have ever imagined. We reach five to 10 thousand children through schools or university shows in a given year.”

Dancing only to the music of their stomps, the members of Step Afrika aim to teach a valuable lesson to young people.

“We teach the message of education and pursuing your dreams through school,” Jackson said.

Ellie Galgano can be reached at