Step Afrika! Stomps into its 30th Year. See Exclusive Pics from the New Season!

Written by Delaina Dixon, Published March 22, 2024

tep Afrika!, one of the world’s most celebrated African American dance companies, is celebrating a birthday! The Washington, D.C.-based professional dance company—the first dedicated to the art form of stepping—has performed in over 60 countries across the globe since its inception in 1994. Now a touring company with 18 full-time performers, its engaging performances and innovative arts education programs have touched more than 500,000 young people across three decades.

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“Thousands learn to step with Step Afrika! each year as part of the world’s first virtual stepping interactive hosted as part of the permanent exhibition at the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C.,” declares C. Brian Williams, the company’s founder. The National Endowment of the Arts named Williams a National Heritage Fellow and recognized stepping as a critical part of America’s cultural heritage. EBONY spoke with Williams and Step Afrika! Artistic Director Mfoniso Akpan to talk about the momentous anniversary and the company’s impact on the art form of dance.

Step Afrika!_3 Image: Keith Major.


EBONY: Why did you start the organization 30 years ago? 

C. Brian Williams: I learned to step on the campus of Howard University when I pledged to the Beta Chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. Immediately, I became fascinated by the tradition of stepping and started investigating more into the art form while on campus. When I graduated, I received a fellowship to live and work in Lesotho, a small country in Southern Africa. It was there that I first saw the South African gumboot dance, a percussive dance created by men who worked in the gold and diamond mines of South Africa. I decided to create Step Afrika! to bring those two art forms together, stepping with the gumboot dance, and use the two traditions to connect people and communities. Step Afrika! is, at its core, dedicated to cultural and artistic exchange. For the past 30 years, Step Afrika! has committed to fostering creative exchanges with diverse cultures worldwide.

Can you share the history of stepping and how it has infused itself into current African American culture?

Williams: Step Afrika! has developed its own distinct definition of stepping, which we proudly showcase in schools and on stages worldwide. We characterize stepping as a polyrhythmic, percussive dance form originating from African American fraternities and sororities. The roots of stepping trace back to the late 1800s and early 1900s when Black students, facing exclusion from campus activities, formed their own supportive groups, laying the groundwork for Black fraternalism in the United States. Initially, stepping was a means for these students to express love and pride in their organizations. It evolved from simple line and circle steps accompanied by communal songs in the 1920s to the dynamic dance style practiced by fraternities and sororities today. Step Afrika! seamlessly blends percussive dance styles from historically African American organizations with traditional Western and Southern African dances and contemporary art forms, creating a captivating artistic fusion. Our performances transcend mere dance shows; they incorporate songs, storytelling, humor and audience participation to convey pivotal moments in American history, such as “The Migration” or “Stono Rebellion.” Our ultimate aim is to infuse the joy and rhythm of our immensely talented artists into the hearts and minds of our audiences.

What’s this year’s theme and how is Step Afrika! celebrating its 30th milestone? What are the dances based on for this special season?

Williams: Step Afrika! will celebrate our 30th anniversary with a 60-city tour across the country, bringing our signature performances to communities in Florida, Georgia, California, Iowa, Missouri, New Jersey, North Carolina and so many more. In Washington, D.C., Step Afrika! will launch a 6-week run of its most celebrated performance ever, The Migration: Reflections on Jacob Lawrence. Using its hallmark style of percussive dance-theater, Step Afrika!’s The Migration: Reflections on Jacob Lawrence tells the story of one of the largest movements of people in United States history when millions of African American migrants moved from the rural South to the industrial North in the 1900s to escape Jim Crow, racial oppression and lynchings. Inspired by Jacob Lawrence’s iconic 60-panel The Migration Series (1940-41), this signature work from the award-winning dance company uses the images, color palette and motifs in the painting series to tell this astonishing story through pulsating rhythms and visually stunning movement. Step Afrika! will also return to Southern Africa in August 2024 with a three-country tour. Beginning in Johannesburg, South Africa, Step Afrika! will then journey to Lesotho and Eswatini to perform in major cultural centers and theaters.

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Mfoniso, how does Step Afrika! keep the legacy of Black culture at the forefront? 

Mfoniso Akpan: At the heart of our work lies the rich heritage of historically African American fraternities and sororities, whose founding principles revolve around empowering African American collegiate and surrounding communities, education and public service. Through stepping, we have a unique platform to amplify these values and share our stories with audiences on a global scale. With each performance and teaching opportunity, we are showcasing the art of stepping and shedding light on American history and celebrating the vibrant tapestry of African American culture. Step Afrika! is more than just a dance company; we are ambassadors of heritage, education and cultural exchange, leaving a lasting impact wherever we go.

What’s the opening date of the new season of the opening show?

Akpan: Our 30th anniversary season is in full swing, running from August 2023 through 2025. We’ve got some major highlights, like our 30th Anniversary Gala and 42-performance run of The Migration: Reflections on Jacob Lawrence at Arena Stage this June and July. But that’s not all; we’re also hosting our Summer Steps with Step Afrika! camp in Washington, D.C. It’s a week-long intensive where we teach students our core values of teamwork, commitment, discipline and academic achievement.