Stepping Up: Kids Learn the Importance of Arts and College Through Dance  

Step Afrika! and Washington Performing Arts collaborate in a summer camp that teaches young students the importance of education through an explosive art form.

Fritz Photographics

Feet flashing, hands clapping, hair swinging.

It’s a display of confidence, self-assurance … might I even venture to say swag.

This was what was on display Sunday at the National Building Museum as a weeklong summer step camp, a collaboration between professional dance group Step Afrika! and Washington Performing Arts came to an end with a resounding final performance before a packed house. Proud parents filled the floor until some had to go up into the balconies for a better view.

The camp, which was open to students from fourth grade to 12th grade, lasted from Aug. 4-8 at Washington, D.C.’s Anacostia High School. It introduced students to the dynamic and explosive practical side of the step art form, in addition to textbook knowledge about step, as well as the other arts to which step is connected.

The students, divided by age and experience into different colored teams, moved as one well-oiled machine, in sync, on beat, even breathing as one in their daily step classes. The sound coming from collective foot-stomping, almost defeaning. The chants coming from lips moving in unison, entrancing and heart-racing. Even the younger groups were amazing to watch in their determination to perfect the steps. One 10-year-old student rolled her eyes in frustration as she tackled one particular move which involved a rhythmic foot stomp, complete with clapping one’s hands under one’s feet, with her team. And yet they had come this far with four days of practice, looking like a step group that had worked together far longer. 

“Involvement in the arts is essential to being a well-rounded person. We hear about arts being a means, a strategy, for connecting with students academically. We know that it’s something that students and young students, in fact, do very naturally,” Michelle Hoffmann, director of education for Washington Performing Arts, tells The Root after one camp session last week.

“This is the first thing we start off our season with … so it’s always really cool for us. It gets [the students] motivated for the school year and just [instills] different things into them, teamwork, commitment, discipline,” one Step Afrika! instructor, Joe Murchison, adds. “It leaves a huge impression. Not only is it about stepping, but the thing that I see the most is that it develops character.”

Camp is not just about stepping, even though it is exciting to watch even the smallest kids get a routine down pat, chanting and roaring and stomping their feet as if there were no tomorrow.