Sunday, August 15, 2010

onstage tonight

About 60 dancers – ranging in age from elementary to high school – turned the Millennium Stage of The Kennedy Center into an acoustic surface. They had spent one week learning the rhythms and percussive patterns of stepping, taught by members of Step Afrika, one of DC’s dance gems.

In a stellar program moderated by artistic director Jakari Sherman, four teams of steppers divided by age performed polyrhythmic phrases punctuated by sharp freezes. They included boys and girls, which is somewhat unusual since traditionally stepping is performed by university students grouped in fraternities or sororities. Step Afrika is a cultural jewel because it preserves and presents the history, artistry and athleticism of the dance, and provides a phenomenal show.

Sherman explained the similarities – and differences – between South African gumboot dancing and stepping. Step Afrika company members then demonstrated gumboot dancing in a scene that was simply awesome.

Teaching Dance History last semester at GMU we not only discussed dance through time and around the world, but also looked at the intersection of dance and popular media – a hot topic today. When MTV2 hosted the “Sprite Step Off” there was controversy surrounding the judging and in Dance History class, conversations were enriched by Jordan's perspective since she is both a GMU dance major and a stepper. She filled us in on stepping protocol and traditions, and  recently sent me this video to show how audiences for stepping are expanding.

One of the best things about tonight’s show on the Millennium Stage (viewable here) is the respect for the roots of the dancing that Sherman honors and passes on. It is something I miss in programs like “So You Think You Can Dance.”
Another great thing about Step Afrika: the performers are extraordinary. Gorgeous movers, crisp technicians and beautiful. There were several older women sitting behind me tonight who (at first) made me think of my grandmother. Then some of the men came on stage shirtless to perform gumboot dancing, and I overheard one tell her friend “I see why they call them washboard abs.”

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