What Wendy's Watching: Stepping Into Black History
Lots of college groups do stepping—a form of body percussion based on slapping, tapping and stomping—but Step Afrika! is the first professional dance company to do it. They are currently at New York City's New Victory Theater, presenting The Migration: Reflections on Jacob Lawrence, a show based on the painting series by Harlem Renaissance artist Jacob Lawrence about The Great Migration of the 1900s, when millions of African Americans fled the Jim Crow South and traveled by train to the North for a better life. The Great Migration transformed the demographics of the country, and Jacob Lawrence's paintings became famous for their bold color and evocative power.
The show goes even further back to African drum beats, plantation dances and finally the waves of former slaves traveling north. Among the company's members are gumboot dancers, which is a form of body percussion that emerged from the diamond miners of South Africa.
When the Step Afrika! performers really get going, you can believe that the rhythms lifted up the people who were fleeing, and helped them start a new life. These rhythms make you want to dance; I found them contagious.
For this production, Step Afrika! which is based in Washington, DC, partnered with the Phillips Collection, a wondrous gallery in DC where Lawrence's Great Migration series resides.
Although this show is mainly for adults, hundreds of children from public schools around the city have been pouring into the theater to see the show.