April 2, 2003 – Step Afrika! USA, a percussive dance ensemble based in Washington, D.C., will bring professional stepping and other ethnic dance forms to the Virgin Islands this weekend with performances on Friday at Island Center for the Performing Arts on St. Croix and on Saturday at the Reichhold Center for the Arts on St. Thomas.
Founded in December 1996, the not-for-profit company showcases the African-American fraternity and sorority art form of stepping and its links to dance traditions around the world, notably in South Africa. The company is affiliated with the Step Afrika! International Cultural Festival held each year in the Johannesburg of Soweto in South Africa.
Stepping has its historic roots in the Gumboot dance, a form of social and physical expression created by South African mine workers. (The name comes from the high rubber, or "gum," boots the dancers wear.) With its focus on precise foot movements and hand-clapping, Gumboots, as it is commonly called, "bears an incredible resemblance to the rhythms and sounds created by young black men and women stepping across America," publicity states.
Brian Williams is the founding director of SAUSA. A native Texan and a graduate of Howard University, Williams learned to step in 1989 as a member of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity. He then began to delve deeply into this under-recognized but increasingly popular American art form. He co-founded the Step Afrika! International Cultural Festival and has stepped and taught the art form around the world..
The company's repertoire spans stepping, tap, South African dances including Zulu and Gumboot, modern, hip-hop, house and freestyle dancing.
SAUSA is described by a Washington Post reviewer as "by turns a kind of drill team, tap company and interpretive modern dance group" — and one that "is always visually and musically exciting." Other reviewers have cited the company's "high energy brand of precision stepping" and its performers as "an enormously powerful ensemble of dancers."
Step Africa! USA has performed throughout North America, Europe and South Africa. In collaboration with the Soweto Dance Theatre from Johannesburg, SAUSA produced a show for children as part of the Imagination Celebration series at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C. The production played to 11 sold-out performances and received rave reviews.
SAUSA also works in the field of arts in education, presenting stepping as a motivational and educational tool for students and in communities across the United States. The company, which recently completed a 60-city tour of U.S. colleges and universities. It has conducted step residencies and clinics at the Kennedy Center, with the Young Audiences program and at the MOJA Festival, an annual celebration of African-American and Caribbean arts in Charleston, South Carolina, as well as in schools and community-based organizations across the United States.
The company's appearances in the Virgin Islands are being presented by the V.I. Council on the Arts, Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation and the V.I. Law Enforcement Planning Commission.
VICA's Betty Mahoney said she approached LEPC about collaborating in bringing SAUSA to the territory because of the agency's involvement in supporting youth at-risk prevention programs, especially its annual step exhibitions and work with more than 10 school-based step teams. "It was a natural match," she said.
The "opening act" will showcase step groups from Bertha C. Boschulte Middle School; Montessori School; Eulalie Rivera, Joseph Gomez, Joseph Sibilly, Lockhart, Michael J. Kirwan, and Ulla F. Muller Elementary Schools; and the Zeta Phi Beta Sorority Steppers.
"The talent of our young people will be showcased," Flemon Lewis, LEPC director of juvenile justice programs, said. "They will have the experience of working with a professional dance company. This will broaden their focus and let them know that step performance isn't just a show; it has deep roots in African traditions and is an integral component of fraternity and sorority systems in the United States as well as the Virgin Islands."
Further, Lewis said, SAUSA's visit "gives our young people an opportunity to explore career options in the arts and exposes them to the bigger picture of arts and entertainment."
David Edgecombe, Reichhold director, noted that "stepping is an art form that has captured the attention of the Virgin Islands young people. He added: "We are happy to partner with VICA and LEPC to further expose them to such a vibrant group."
The company also will conduct workshops on both islands.
On St. Thomas, sessions will be held Thursday at 9:30 a.m. at Ivana Eudora Kean High School, at noon at Lockhart Elementary School, and at 6 p.m. at the University of the Virgin Islands Recreation Center (located behind the golf course).
On St. Croix, sessions will take place Friday at 10 a.m. and again at noon at Island Center.
For information about taking part in the workshops, call the V.I. Council on the Arts at 774-5984.
To learn more about SAUSA and view a video of the company in performance, visit the Step Afrika! USA Web site.
The shows both at Island Center on Friday and at the Reichhold Center on Saturday begin at 7 p.m. Admission at both venues is $10 for general admission and $5 for students with I.D. including UVI students.
Tickets for the Island Center performance are on sale at the Island Center box office, the University of the Virgin Islands bookstore, Parrot Fish Music and People's Drug Store (Sunny Isle).
Tickets for the Reichhold performance are on sale at the Reichhold box office, both Modern Music shops, Parrot Fish Music and Crystal and Gifts Galore on St. Thomas; and at Connections on St. John.
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