Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Step Afrika! dances into Northeast State

Northeast State Community College will welcome Step Afrika! to campus Feb. 17 for a night of traditional African step dancing.

The free performance begins at 7 p.m. in the Wellmont Regional Center for the Performing Arts on the college’s main campus, 2425 Highway 75, adjacent to Tri-Cities Regional Airport in Blountville.

Step Afrika! is the only professional dance company in the world dedicated to the tradition of stepping. The company is critically acclaimed for its efforts to promote an understanding of and appreciation for stepping and the tradition’s use as an educational tool worldwide.

Founded in 1994 by current Executive Director C. Brian Williams, Step Afrika! began as a cross-cultural exchange program with the Soweto Dance Theatre of Johannesburg, South Africa. As a young graduate of Howard University in 1991, Williams traveled to southern Africa through the late Rev. Leon Sullivan’s International Foundation for Education and SelfHelp.

While in Africa, Williams came across the South African gumboot dance — an art form created by mineworkers which greatly resembled the stepping he had learned at Howard University. He later met three members of the Soweto Dance Theatre. Together, they created the Step Afrika! International Cultural Festival, the first known attempt to link the people who practice stepping in America with Gumboot dance performers in Africa.

The first festival was held in 1994, just six months after the election of Nelson Mandela as president of a free and Democratic Republic of South Africa. Two years later they launched Step Afrika!’s first program in the United States.

Stepping is a unique dance tradition created by African-American college students. In stepping, the body is used as an instrument to create intricate rhythms and sounds through a combination of footsteps, claps and spoken word. The tradition grew out of the song and dance rituals practiced by historically African-American fraternities and sororities in the early 1900s.

Stepping comes from a long and rich tradition in African-based communities using movement, words and sounds to communicate allegiance to a group.

Step Afrika! reaches tens of thousands of Americans each year and has performed on prestigious stages in North and South America, Europe, Africa, Asia and the Caribbean. January of 2000 saw the first production of Step Afrika! at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, as a part of the Imagination Celebration Series. Step Afrika! conducts an annual 50-city tour of American colleges and universities from Maine to Mississippi.

The production is part of Northeast State’s commemoration of Black History Month throughout February.

For more information, call (423) 279-7669 or email jpkelly@NortheastState.edu.