Wittenberg is excited to welcome Step Afrika! back to campus as part of its Black History Month programming series. The group will dance into Springfield for a concert at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 7, at the 1929 Gymnasium, part of the Health, Wellness, and Athletics Complex.
Featuring a night of free entertainment and education centered on the African American tradition of stepping, the performance is open to the community and is being sponsored by the William A. McClain Center for Diversity, Build A Better Wittenberg, the Offices of Student Involvement and Student Development, and Residence Housing Association.
Founded in 1994 as the first professional company dedicated to the tradition of stepping, Step Afrika! made its first campus appearance in October 2019 as part of the Wittenberg Series. According to its website, the group has toured more than 60 countries across the globe and ranks among the top 10 African American Dance Companies in the United States.
A group of energetic performances that integrate percussive dance and African traditional dance with songs, storytelling, humor, and audience participation, Step Afrika!’s tradition of stepping has historic roots in South Africa and is like gumboot dance, which was developed by South African miners who were forbidden to use drums. In the United States, stepping arose in the early 1900s from dance rituals popular among black fraternities and sororities. Celebrating 30 years, Step Afrika!’s repertoire includes shows that incorporate these traditions, as well as contemporary interpretations of stepping and experimental multimedia pieces.
Step Afrika! headlined President Barak Obama’s Black History Month reception at the White House, performed at the first-ever Juneteenth Celebration, also at the White House, and was featured in the world’s first interactive stepping exhibit at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture, firmly establishing its place in the American performing and cultural arts scene.
Based in Washington, D.C., the company has received several Mayor’s Arts Awards for Outstanding Contribution to Arts Education, Innovation in the Arts, Excellence in an Artistic Discipline, and was inducted into the National Association of Campus Activities (NACA) Hall of Fame, the first dance company to earn this distinction.
Founder and executive director C. Brian Williams, who learned stepping as a member of the Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. at Howard University, began the company as an exchange program with the Soweto Dance Theatre of Johannesburg, South Africa. He is featured in Elizabeth C. Fine’s book on the history of the artform, Soulstepping: African American Step Shows.
In addition to performing nationally, including at more than 50 colleges and universities around the United States each year, Step Afrika! presents performances, residencies, and workshops worldwide. The company is dedicated to fostering a greater appreciation of the arts and to supporting the education of youth through its arts education programs, which include Step Afrika! Reads, a reading and creative movement program for young children; Step Up to College, for middle and high school students; and Step Afrika! Scholars Program, a scholarship program for college students.