Step Afrika! kicks off Black History Month at Northwest

Written by Jakob Prater, Published Feb 8, 2024

MARYVILLE, Mo. — Northwest Missouri State University’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion kicked off Black History Month with a special performance from Step Afrika! at 7 p.m. Jan. 31 at the Ron Houston Center for the Performing Arts.

According to diversity and inclusion coordinator Latonya Davis, Step Afrika! performed once at Northwest years ago and she was eager to have them back as the company began touring again.

“An educational event is a great opportunity for people to see outside the box and the different heritage months that we celebrate,” Davis said. “Different events that we have are ways to show the differences, but also that we’re not so different.”

Kicking off a series of events celebrating Black History Month at Northwest Missouri State University, Step Afrika! performs Jan. 31 at the Ron Houston Center for the Performing Arts.

Williams looked back on how far Step Afrika! has come and what the future will hold. The dance company has performed at the White House three times, during the Bush, Obama and Biden administrations. To celebrate the group’s 30th year, Williams said that Step Afrika! will be returning to its roots for a 30th anniversary celebration in southern Africa, including shows in South Africa, Lesotho and Eswatini.

“One moment I’m really excited about is that last year, Step Afrika! was just inducted into the National Association of Campus Activities Hall of Fame, and we’re the first dance company to be nominated and considered for that Hall of Fame,” Williams said. “So that kind of speaks to our love for performing on college campuses all across the United States.”

The eight steppers performed a variety of dances and sets during the 90-minute show. The group split up by gender, competed against each other, and even invited some students on stage before a final coordinated dance set. Each set had different styles of music and clothing, including one where the male steppers were dressed up like South African miners and tapped their boots. The steppers explained that during apartheid, South African mines were made up of a diverse African workforce, many of whom came from all over the continent with different languages and cultures. To communicate with each other, they would simply tap their work boots.

Williams said that he hopes that students who may not have had much exposure to stepping have a good time and come away with an appreciation of it as an American art form with African roots.

“They’re gonna get a chance to see the development of stepping as an American art form, created by African American college students. Stepping was actually created by college students and that’s always fun for us to remind students that this art form that is now a part of our country’s cultural heritage started on college campuses by students,” Williams said.