'Stepping' art form practiced by professionals, students
MILWAUKEE - When it comes to the art form of "stepping," you don’t need any instruments. All you need are your hands and your feet.
Stepping is defined as a percussive dance form using footsteps and claps. It has been a part of African American history for over 100 years, beginning with African American sororities and fraternities. As they returned from war, students would take the discipline and precision they learned in the military and apply it to their organizations.
"You would see students gathering on campus, sometimes in a line or a circle around the flag pole," said Artis Olds, the Step Afrika director of arts education. "This is the precursor of where stepping originated."
Artis Olds, the Step Afrika Director of Arts Education
Step Afrika is the first professional dance company dedicated to the art form of stepping. They tour all over the world, including Milwaukee.
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"You’ve seen throughout the history of African Americans, this theme of the drum," said Olds. "At one point in time, the drum was taken away. We just could not stop that beat, so the drum was just changed. It was moved somewhere where you could not take it from us, and that was the human body."
Step Afrika is on to their next city, but you don’t have to wait for their tour to return in order to witness some "step" for yourself. Just head over to a Milwaukee Academy of Science basketball game. On the sidelines, you will find a cheer team full of rhythm and confidence.
"It allows our girls and our gentleman to be who they are. It’s fun, and that’s what we’re all about," said MAS head cheer coach, Tina Hannah.
Coach Hannah says the incorporation of stepping in their routines is what makes them different from other cheer squads.
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"I hope they feel us. I hope they feel our energy and don’t look at it as a cultural thing. Just look at it like, ‘Wow, they really love what they’re doing,'" said Hannah.
By game time, the crowd gets ramped up with energy, not only from the game, but the beat coming from the sideline. To the players, it may just look like cheerleading. For the cheer team, they’re stepping into their spot in history.
"We’re the upcoming people," said Cheer Captain Jenique Mitchell. "As Black kids, we’re next up."
"Black History is us being a family no matter what," explained Coach Hannah. "We are not only history, but we are future. That’s what our kids know and understand. It’s OK to be you. It’s OK. We have not always had this opportunity, so it’s OK to love the skin that you’re in and be who you are."