Augustana to host first professional step dance group, Step Afrika!

Olivia Allen Feb 10, 2023 Updated Feb 11, 2023

“Step Afrika! will perform Saturday at Augustana College’s Centennial Hall, highlighting the rich cultural tradition of stepping to celebrate Black History Month.

The event is free and open to the public. A preshow featuring local dance groups will begin at 6 p.m., and Step Afrika! will take the stage at 6:30 p.m. in Centennial Hall at 3703 7th Ave. in Rock Island.

Ashley Allen, director of Augie’s office of student inclusion and diversity, organized the event. Aside from highlighting Step Afrika!’s talents, she wanted to do the same for local dance groups.

Being able to see it come to fruition this weekend is something surreal,” Allen said. “It’s going to be a great opportunity for not only Augustana, but our surrounding communities, to come together and celebrate community and culture.”

Step Afrika! is the first professional stepping group, a dance style tracing its roots to traditional African cultures — something Dr. Monica Smith, Augie’s vice president of diversity, equity and inclusion, said has survived generations.

“When we think about the African diaspora … some of the culture that was not stripped away were expressive, communication patterns that took the form of dance and bodily expression,” she said. “There’s meaning, feeling and the rhythmic pieces that are passed back and forth between the performers … That’s a communication piece between the performers, but also with the universe.”

This complex, percussive dance style is often practiced by historically Black Greek fraternities and sororities. Many Step Afrika! dancers were members of Greek life at historically Black colleges and universities (HBCU). Those attending Saturday can expect to see performers use their entire bodies as instruments through a mix of footsteps, spoken word and hand claps.

“It’s wonderful that HBCUs and hip-hop culture has picked up on it (stepping), because it’s one of our traditions that continues to survive,” Smith said.

Allen shared the Step Afrika! founder is a member of the “Divine Nine,” a national council housing Black Greek-letter organizations; she’s president of the Quad Cities’ Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority chapter and feels a connection to the upcoming performances.

“This is just one aspect of diversity,” Allen said. “I really want students to know that no matter who they are or where they come from, their culture that they bring to the table is important, and something we can all learn from. We may all be different, but there’s different ways for us to come together to celebrate regardless.”

Smith notes the history many learn often glosses over marginalized communities. To her, school-sponsored events like these are a way to resurrect those portions of history.

“As a higher education institution, by definition, we have a responsibility to educate the community,” Smith said. “Sometimes that takes place in formal classrooms or formal curriculum; this particular performance is extra-curricular and co-curricular. It also means offering the community ways to see, experience and learn — from a very kinetic way – different cultures that exist.”

Smith hopes viewers leave Saturday’s event feeling “inspired” to learn more.

Step Afrika! is one of the top five African American dance companies in the U.S. and the largest African American-led arts organization in Washington, D.C. The group tours across the globe, performing as an official U.S. Cultural Ambassador.”

Read in the Quad-City Times.