30 Years of Step Afrika: Bringing the Art of Stepping to the Masses, Honoring its Roots

30 Years of Step Afrika: Bringing the Art of Stepping to the Masses, Honoring its Roots

by Micha Green

Inspired by the sacred and celebrated traditions of African American sororities and fraternities, Step Afrika! has revolutionized the art of stepping and exposed the world to historic, powerful and beautiful Black narratives and culture.  Celebrating its 30th year, the D.C.-based arts company has not only brought step beyond college yards and to the masses, but also continues to emphasize the importance of using art to spread joy.

“I think that’s one of my big things, to bring joy into spaces,” said C. Brian Williams, Step Afrika’s founder and executive producer. “Step Afrika! has performed in every corner of Washington, D.C., and whether we walk into a school in Southeast, D.C., or wherever, we’re trying to bring a little joy to the space.”

Since its inception in 1994, Step Afrika! has been an innovator in exposing the art of stepping to the District, nation and world.

Williams told The Informer Step Afrika! started with “a strong belief in African American history and culture and trying to bring that forward in new and exciting ways.”

“The motivation was to really preserve and promote stepping as a uniquely American art form,” he explained. “And, now we’ve preserved and documented [stepping], which is important because we had to do it ourselves. And then the rest of the world kind of caught up.”

Step Afrika! audiences learn and celebrate Black narratives through performances such as the company’s holiday spectacular, “Drumfolk,” and “The Migration: Reflections on Jacob Lawrence,” which is returning to Arena Stage June 7-July 14.

“It tells the story of The Great Migration… and interprets Jacob Lawrence’s fantastic collection called ‘The Migration Series,’” Williams said. “You get the chance to see his beautiful work on the stage. And also Step Afrika’s performance and interpretation, bringing his paintings to life.”

More 30th anniversary celebrations include a gala on June 4 and the organization is currently raising funds to tour southern Africa in September.

“I love that Step Afrika! is now one of the largest African American dance companies in the world today and one of the most celebrated,” Williams told The Informer. “I love that we have a team of 18 full time artists, with all the benefits of employment. And we allow them to really develop and hone their artistic practice, and also be amazing teaching artists to our community.”

Over the years, Step Afrika! has never wavered from its mission of supporting Black artists, introducing step to the community, and showcasing the brilliance of Black culture. Wiliams said staying true to its values has been the secret to Step Afrika!’s survival and success.

“I feel like that is why we survived 30 years is because we really have centered artists and the art form,” he said.

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