Located inside the Atlas Performing Arts Center at 1313-33 H Street NE in Washington D.C., Step Afrika! is the first professional dance company in the world centered upon stepping, a percussive style of movement.
Founded by African-American choreographer and stepper C. Brian Williams in South Africa in 1994, this unique dance company arose from a blending of stepping and gumboot dance. Stepping is a type of rhythmic movement form rooted in African-American fraternities and sororities most often sourced at historical Black universities and colleges.
Gumboot dance is a type of rhythmic movement form performed by South Africans wearing Wellington boots, or “gumboots”, as they are more commonly referenced. This dancing has its origins from Black South Africans forced to work the gold mines. Barred from being able to even talk with each other, these miners converted taps from their gumboots, a la Morse code, as a way to communicate with each other. Presently and ironically, gumboot dance is considered to be one of the most expressive dance forms of South Africa!
Synthesizing these two dance forms, stepping and gumboot dance, the complex dance styles of Step Afrika! originated when dancers from the United States joined with those of the Soweto Dance Theatre of Johannesburg, South Africa. Two years after the founding of the company, it moved to America and in 2006, it settled in at its present location.
An internationally-celebrated, non-profit organization, Step Afrika!, according to its website, “blends percussive dance styles practiced by historically African American fraternities and sororities; traditional African dances; and an array of contemporary dance and art forms into a cohesive, compelling artistic experience. Performances are much more than dance shows; they integrate songs, storytelling, humor and audience participation. The blend of technique, agility, and pure energy makes each performance unique and leaves the audience with their hearts pounding.”
Under the helm of Williams, this premier dance company has performed in more than sixty countries worldwide. Step Afrika! also hosts residencies and develops workshops, actively promoting learning, collaboration and cross-cultural enlightenment, especially to young people.
Recipient of various honors, including the Mayor’s Arts Awards for “Outstanding Contribution to Arts Education, Innovation in the Arts, Excellence in an Artistic Discipline”, Step Afrika! premiered at The White House for a reception in tribute to Black History Month during the presidency of Barack H. Obama. Additionally, the dance company is highlighted for its incredible work by the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African-American History & Culture. This museum created the first ever interactive exhibit on stepping in the world!
Its outreach is extensive, as it annually conducts a 50-city tour of universities, colleges, cultural centers, performing arts centers and theatres. Ranked among the top African-American dance companies in the country, Step Afrika! is the singular Cultural Ambassador of Washington, D.C.!
Below are “Fun Facts” of Step Afrika! that are also highlighted on its site:
- Founded in 1994, as an exchange program with the Soweto Dance Theatre of Johannesburg, Step Afrika! is the first professional dance company in the world dedicated to the tradition of stepping.
- Step Afrika! is one of the top 5 African American dance companies in the United States, the largest African American led arts organization in Washington, DC and Washington, DC’s only cultural ambassador.
- There are 14 full-time dancers — all college graduates — many who attended Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) and are members of Historically Black Greek Fraternities and Sororities.
- The Company reaches tens of thousands each year through a 50-city tour of American colleges and theaters and performs globally as an official U.S. Cultural Ambassador.
- Step Afrika! engages 30,000 college students across the nation, teaches teamwork and discipline to 200 kids as part of the Summer Steps with Step Afrika! summer camp and expands culture-based arts education for more than 20,000 Washington, DC, Maryland, and Virginia school students each year.
- As part of the world’s first interactive stepping exhibit, thousands experience Step Afrika! at the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture each day as part of the museum’s Explore More! interactive gallery.
- Primary arts education activities include in-school performances for K-12 students; reading, exercise, and creative movement programs for pre-school students; and seven-week college preparatory programs for middle and high school students;
- Step Afrika! made its Broadway debut of The Migration: Reflections on Jacob Lawrence on November 10, 2017 which successfully ran for three weeks at the New Victory Theatre in New York City!
- In 2018 and 2019, Step Afrika! traveled internationally to promote cultural dialogue and exchange in Jordan (2018), Ghana (2018). Croatia (2019), Ukraine (2019), Zambia (2019), Angola (2019), and South Africa (2019).
- In 2020, Step Afrika! will premier its new feature-length work, Drumfolk which will be presented in ten major markets including a return to Broadway at the New Victory Theatre.