News: Steepers bring rhythm to GTMO
Story by Sgt. Christopher Vann
GUANTANAMO BAY, Cuba - Residents of Naval Station Guantanamo Bay were treated to a performance from the dance troupe Step Afrika! at the Downtown Lyceum, April 2. Founded 20 years ago, Step Afrika! was the world’s first professional dance company solely dedicated to the art of stepping. They promote the appreciation for stepping and use it as an educational tool for young people to help motivate and teach a healthy lifestyle.
Jakari Sherman is a performer, percussionist and has also served as the artistic director since 2007. He subscribes to the message of furthering ones education.
“Everyone in Step Afrika! has gone to college and graduated,” said Sherman. “We believe it is vital to a person’s success.”
Step Afrika! started out as an exchange program with the Soweto Dance Theatre of Johannesburg, South Africa, and has since expanded to become a national and international touring company offering residencies and giving performances and workshops worldwide.
The group came to GTMO to help build esprit de corps and provide entertainment to those stationed on base.
“I used to step in college, so to see them here was a nice treat,” said Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Leah Perdue, a J4 housing noncommissioned officer. “I really enjoyed the show.”
Stepping comes from a long and rich tradition in African-based communities that use movement, words and sounds to communicate allegiance to a group. It draws movements from African foot dances, such as Gumboot, originally conceived by miners in South Africa as an alternative to drumming, which was banned by authorities.
The stepping tradition in the United States grew out of song and dance rituals practiced by historically African-American fraternities and sororities, beginning in the early 1900s.
In addition to their performance, the team also held a workshop at W.T. Sampson School where students were able to learn the beginning moves of stepping. The students were taught a simple cadence and given an opportunity to practice and perform a whole routine.
Step Afrika! incorporates dance with a military influence through angular movements and the idea of discipline to help ensure timing and structure.
“Like in the military, we focus on the mission,” said Jacqueline Washington, a performer from Houston, Texas. “We’re here to entertain, uplift people’s spirits and teach the youth. Ultimately, that is our goal.”