Taking It Step By Step

Saturday night brought the thunderous rhythms of New York step troupe Soul Steps to the Phillips Academy campus, but with an unexpectedly inspirational message. Students witnessed the tremendous power and sound that four hard- working women can produce. Soul Steps is one of the few professional stepping crews in the world. Maxine Lyle formed the group in 2005 with hopes of pursuing stepping outside of a college career. The group held a workshop for PA students before the performance. “I think it gave a lot of people who are usually intimidated by the tryout session with SLAM a chance to experience it,” said Sam Burwell ’09, co-head of SLAM. A mix of SLAM members and inexperienced students came out, eager to learn something new. “I enjoyed it,” said Khadijah Owens ’11. “It was fun to get in the groove.” An hour later, the Soul Steps took to the stage again to fully demonstrate their capabilities. The four ladies were comfortable in front of the crowd, bantering with the audience and talking about their own step-history in the spaces between dances. “It was not just a performance. They gave a historical perspective and were able to weave in the history and the significance of steps,” said Linda Griffith, Director of CAMD. The group was eager to see what Phillips Academy’s own step group had to offer, and they finally got their wish when SLAM members took to the stage at the end of the performance. The team did not fail to impress with two routines they displayed. “I don’t think I would have made it past the tryouts,” laughed Soul Step member Fumni Olusonde. Lyle grew up in New Jersey where she began stepping at age seven. She went on to form the first step group at Williams College and did not want to stop stepping when she graduated. Soul Steps is an inspiration not only to steppers looking to pursue a professional career, but also to anyone looking to pursue a dream off the beaten track. “A lot of people thought it wouldn’t work,” said Lyle, but nothing stopped her from going ahead. Today, Soul Steps is a successful step troupe traveling across the nation, holding workshops and performing at colleges and conferences. Cindy Efinger, Director of Student Activities, spotted Soul Steps at one of these confereneces and thought to invite them to the PA campus. Griffith also helped to bring the group to campus. “I loved the personality of the young women, and they used step to empower themselves and empower others.” The group members attributed their routines’ unique sounds to their diverse backgrounds. Olusonde credited her competitive training with giving her a more serious style as she focuses on show techniques like transitions and quick movements, while Dionne Norson cited her education as a music major for helping her to work through rhythms. “We like to make sure there’s a song to it,” said Norson. The group’s pieces stood out for their strong introductions and closings and their use of movement, which stressed the importance of a family bond. “Step has a tradition rooted in family,” said Lyle. “From fraternities and sororities… mine workers in South Africa formed this dance through slapping their boots… a way of communicating with each other in the dark where they could only here each other. We try to incorporate that into our work.” “Me, I’ll never stop stepping,” said Lyle. “Our mission is to bring step all over the world.” Most recently, the group traveled to Kosovo, exhibiting their stepping and hosting workshops for the kids. “They didn’t know our language, and we didn’t know theirs, but we were able to communicate through stepping.” The group is planning to take stepping to Ireland later this year.