BOULDER, Colo. — Brian Williams has a request of anyone planning to attend Colorado’s first full dance concert by Step Afrika! at Macky Auditorium Sept. 19: Get loud and get moving.
“We love the ballet,” says Williams, who founded the first dance company dedicated to African American stepping 20 years ago, “but we aren’t the ballet. We don’t want you to sit and be quiet. We want you to make as much noise as you want, yell, scream, clap and holler. The more energy you have, the more energy we have.”
The group also will offer a free public workshop in stepping from 10 to 11:30 a.m. the day of the concert in the Charlotte York Irey Theatre on the CU-Boulder campus.
“We’re all about the relationship with the audience, so we really do want everyone to make music with us,” Williams says.
Step Afrika! fuses the unique, percussive tradition of stepping — in which multiple dancers use clapping, footwork, athletic maneuvers and calling out to create music and high-energy rhythmic dance — with strikingly similar traditions that developed independently in southern Africa.
Stepping traces its roots to campus marching bands, military drill teams and traditional religious call-and-response in African American churches. It came into its own as a ritual for fraternities and sororities at traditionally black colleges and universities in the early 20th century. The form was virtually unknown outside those communities until it was shown in Spike Lee’s 1988 musical film, “School Daze.”
“Stepping is a uniquely American art form that’s just now starting to get recognition as a serious dance style,” Williams says. He first learned how to step while a student at Howard University in Washington, D.C.
He founded Step Afrika! in 1994 after seeing South African workers performing “gumboot” dancing, a close cousin to stepping even though the two styles developed independently on opposite sides of the world.
“The idea was to use the arts to build bridges between different communities together,” he says. The company has performed thousands of times around the world with Appalachian cloggers, Irish step dancers, jazz musicians, symphonies and gospel choirs.
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Friday, Sept. 19
WHERE: Macky Auditorium, University of Colorado Boulder campus
TICKETS: $14 and up
FREE PUBLIC WORKSHOP: 10 to 11:30 a.m. Friday, Sept. 19, Charlotte York Irey Theatre, CU-Boulder
INFO: www.cupresents.org or 303-492-8008