Stepping to the Beat: Soul Steps Promotes Awareness and Appreciation for Step Dancing

Members of Soul Steps, pictured above, perform around the world to raise awareness for “stepping,” a traditional African-American dance.

Donning a black Nike cap and confident smile, Mark Ross, a member of Soul Steps, stomped rhythmically on the ground, shaking the floor. As the energy in the room escalated, the beat of the background music dropped and Mark raised his arms momentarily in a dab, causing widespread cheers throughout the audience.

“I felt so energized; I love step and it’s honestly just so exciting to have other people that feel my passion for step. Seeing [Soul Steps] perform and being able to perform on stage with them was so exhilarating and it was honestly like a dream come true to have steppers at Andover,” said Natalie Landaverde ’18, an audience member and co-captain of the SLAM team.

In a thrilling and interactive performance last Friday night, members of Soul Steps showcased a blend of dance styles and invited audience members to join them onstage in the modern dance studio. Created in New York City by artistic director Maxine Lyle, Soul Steps performs around the world to raise awareness for “stepping,” a traditional African-American dance originating in the late 1920s that uses the body to create sounds.

Lyle said, “Step has an even earlier history, going back to the late 1800s in the gold mines of South Africa. The mine owners were too mean and too cheap to actually drain the mines and get rid of the water, so instead they issued tall boots that came up to [the miners’] knees known as Wellington boots or gum boots. On top of everything, the miners were not permitted to speak to each other, so the miners decided to get resourceful. What they had at their hands to use were their boots, so they would slap the sides of their boots to create rhythms and those rhythms became a code.”

The dancers asked audience members, including those who had never had any experience with step before, to join the stage and learn a basic routine. The routine culminated in a four-stage rhythm with the audience members on stage, which included two groups composed of members of the SLAM team, and the seated audience producing varying sounds with their hands, feet and bodies.

“I thought it was really hard… By the end of that, I just had so much respect [for the dancers] because my hands hurt a lot from all the clapping,” said Jenni Lawson ’19, an audience member who participated onstage.

Besides step, the members of Soul Steps each incorporated their own specialty dance styles to create an intriguing solo performance. Natasha Markwick, a Soul Steps member from Denmark, combined hip-hop, house and break dancing to express her own passion for dancing.

“I definitely think within this kind of dance you’re able to really express yourself. If you’re feeling low or if you’re feeling high…you’re really allowed to express yourself with no filter. That fact that through step, you’re able to express yourself with your own body, create your own music and have a group of people who came together and build that energy together is something very special,” said Markwick.