Student brings Stepping to school

Olivia Feb 12, 2023

“Augustana College senior Andrew Leon Sanchez was one of many steppers on the Centennial Hall stage Saturday night, preceding a performance by the global stepping talent Step Afrika! — the first professional dance group dedicated to the rich African tradition of step dancing.

But he’s not new to stepping.

“In high school, I also was part of the step team; I was president the last three years,” Sanchez said. “When I came to Augie, I saw all the different dance groups on campus. … I didn’t really see anything similar to step.”

In short, he missed it. Sanchez, a Naples, Florida, native, shared that he would often practice stepping in his dorm and later took it upon himself to inquire about starting a club at Augie.

“I felt like there was this huge part of dance that needed to be explored here,” he said. “During homecoming week, there’s this thing called ‘Yell’; the Greek life here would put on a performance of steps that consisted of repetitive, similar beats and styles, so that also sparked my interest. I wanted to showcase how (step) is actually performed and educate them a bit about the cultural significance.”

Sanchez acknowledged stepping’s ties to traditional African culture, and the value of bringing the art form to a predominantly white institution.

“Step was a form of expression,” he said. “A way for them (African Americans) to express their aggression in a way that didn’t harm others. I think it’s cool that this form of dance was used in that way and still performed like that to this day.”

Ashley Allen, director of Augie’s office of student inclusion and diversity, said the student steppers — particularly Sanchez — were instrumental in bringing Step Afrika! to campus.

“About a year and a half ago, he mentioned that there was this group called Step Afrika!,” she said. “I continued talking with him about that, and seeing the heavy involvement the step team had at Augustana, I was like ‘OK, let’s try this event.’ “

Allen said she worked to schedule Step Afrika! and did so after feeling inspired working with the students. Sanchez said he’d been a fan of Step Afrika! since high school, and felt Black History Month was the perfect time to host their performance — which he hoped to be “eye opening” for his peers and others who attended.

“I’m really excited about it,” Sanchez said, adding that he hopes Augie’s step team teaches the cultural significance of the dance as the group progresses past his graduation.”

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