Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Sixty at Sixty - Step Afrika!

Just after I decided to do my Sixty-at Sixty challenge I saw a listing in the New York Times for a performance of Step Afrika! at Marcus Garvey Park  in the city.  At the time I had never heard of the dance company,  which according to the blurb, "presents its innovative merging of traditional African dance and step in which the performers - dazzlingly nimble and rhythmic - make music with their bodies."  It seemed worth checking out, especially given that one hour before the performance they were giving a technique class appropriate for all ages and levels.

I love to dance but have somehow managed to avoid formal dance classes which means that my ability to retain instructions and keep in step are not perhaps as sharp as they could be, but hey this was meant to be a challenge, and I could so easily have missed seeing the listing, so how could I resist?

I managed to persuade my daughter to go along with me for support. If you are going to make a fool of yourself, it's always nicer to do it with someone you know. It was a gorgeous summer evening, perfect for an outdoor event, so we turned up at the amphitheater in the park in good time for the class.

First surprise - the theater was quite a lot larger than I'd imagined.

waiting for the workshop to begin

Second surprise - the class was actually going to be held on stage. I'd had visions of us dancing on a lawn somewhere out of sight of all but the odd passerby. I wasn't so sure about getting up on stage, and started having second thoughts. Wondered whether I should just watch instead, but when they announced the class would begin quite a few people in the audience got up to join in. True, most of them were kids, but there were enough tall ones to allow most of the participating adults to hide away in the back rows. And the remaining audience wasn't that big. 

One of the dancers led us through a simple routine, teaching us four steps at a time. I was doing fine until we got to the point where we had to remember simultaneous leg and arm movements. I discovered the harder I tried the more I messed it up, so eventually I just relaxed, did the best I could and had great fun! So much fun that it was only when the class ended and we were told to take a bow that I realized the audience had grown somewhat!

There were slightly more people by the time the workshop ended.

I'm not sure nimble and rhythmic would be a fair description of our attempts - certainly not of mine - but I like to think we provided the audience with a good laugh. They certainly seemed appreciative!

After that, it was time to watch the professionals at work. To say Stepping is high energy is an understatement. I highly recommend checking out this video from their website which not only gives you a feel for what's involved, but also an insight into the origins of Step and the dance company.

Stepping is based on African traditions of using footsteps, clapping and voice to create rhythms and sounds, but was actually started in the US in the early 1900's by African American college students looking to create rituals honoring their fraternities and sororities.  Step Afrika! is the first professional dance company to showcase Stepping. Formed only in 1994, it began as an exchange program with the Soweto Dance Theater of Johannesburg and has grown into an international touring company, one of the top ten African American dance companies in America, and the largest African American arts organisation in its home base of Washington, DC. 

Having watched one of their shows, I can understand why. The talent of the performers is awe-inspiring. The fast paced movement and catchy rhythms sweep you up into the excitement of it all. Audience participation in the form of clapping and foot stamping are encouraged, turning the evening into an truly sensory experience. 

All in all, a wonderful evening. If you get a chance - go see them! From November 10 -26th they are performing at the New Victory Theater in New York. For other shows, check out their event calendar here. 

When Mel is not out exploring or checking out new activities for her Sixty at Sixty challenge she writes contemporary fiction with a twist of mystery and suspense. Her latest novel Trust No One is now available from Amazon. 


  1. It was, Karen, and the best part is that it was something that I might have seen advertised, thought that sounds interesting, but ultimately skipped for one excuse or another if it hadn't been for my sixty-at-sixty challenge. It's certainly an inspiration to get out and try different things.