Step Afrika!

Step Afrika!, which performed this past Saturday at Kingsbury Hall, is the first professional dance company dedicated to the practice to stepping. Step-dancing uses the body as an instrument to create complex, percussive rhythms. I could go into detail about the structure of each individual piece, or talk about how talented the dancers in this company are, with their high energy and flawless technique. What was more important about this performance was how Step Afrika! made a 2,000-person theater feel as intimate as a small black box. This nine member dance company was able to bring every audience member into their community. You felt like you were at home and like the dancers were your friends.

In the opening work, Tribute, Step Afrika! paid homage to the roots of stepping. This African-American dance form was birthed in East Coast college sororities and fraternities. Introducing this history was vital in bringing the audience in. Dressed in matching fraternity sweaters and performing unison choreography and simple, readable rhythms; they broke the wall of intimidation that’s often felt in dance performances in the United States. Everyone started having fun right away.

Throughout the performance I never noticed a transition between dances. Everything was seamlessly blended together. The audience was as awake and energetic as the dancers themselves.

During the second half, Step Afrika! took audience involvement to a new level. They brought up about twenty volunteers and taught them a short step combination. As an audience member, you felt like it was you on stage learning the combination. It developed a huge sense of community. The volunteers not only stayed on stage for about ten minutes, learning and quickly performing the combination, but the performers used them as a backdrop during Indlamu, a Zulu dance that refers to the company’s origins— Step Afrika! began during an exchange program twenty years ago that brought American students to visit the Soweto Dance Theatre in Johannesburg. They had the audience volunteers sit in a semi-circle around a pile of drums and watch the piece from the stage. This made the sense of community even stronger because the audience felt like it completed the circle around the dancers. Everyone was clapping and cheering along as Step Afrika payed a tribute to the Zulu people of South Africa.

I think there’s a risk involved with putting traditional dance forms such as these onstage in a concert venue. You can lose the context and the initial motivation behind the movement. However, Step Afrika! was very successful in introducing the audience to history. They made it all entertaining and they kept the sense of community that comes with stepping alive.

Temria Airmet is a choreographer and dancer based in SLC. She’s recently been seen in the work of Ashlee Vilos, Shira Fagan, Ching-I Chang and Anne Marie Robson. She works administratively at Millennium Dance.



I want to call Doris Humphrey up and let her know that not all dances are too long. In fact, The Rambler, presented this evening at Kingsbury Hall, was just the right length. Keeping me engaged with the thoughtful performance for one hour and then setting me free into the night before the predicted snowfall.

It’s perhaps foolish to write a critical review in total earnest since the show only ran one night. Additionally it’s toured all over the country so it’s not as though the Joe Goode Performance Group is desperately searching for a critical opinion on the record.

But I would be remiss not to reflect on the experience as a unique imprint on the Salt Lake dance scene which can be rich but often incestuous. Having a national guest reminds me where Salt Lake exists in relationship to other ways of making and seeing dance.

The performance centered around simple logic — vertical and horizontal traveling curtains framed small portals where vignettes emerged. The curtain might expand to further reveal the scene or it might stay confined around small happenings.

The vignettes ranged from theatrical monologues & sculptural interactions to more traditional movement composition alongside live singing. Each developed different ideas about the concept of rambling but left the audience with the comfort that the curtain would take us to the next scene.

Simple logic allowed for more complex experiences to emerge. Because each scene was freshly framed there was the freedom to go along for the ride without anxiety or expectation. This feeling extended to the very beginning of the piece where Joe strolls out in a cowboy hat, identifies that the day before he’d fallen off the stage in front of school children, and the dancing begins as he reads poems (more or less) about “felt movement”, something he’s known for teaching.

This casual approach, I have to point out, is also employed in Salt Lake at the Mudson performance series I run as part of loveDANCEmore. And the same way I find it demystifies art-making in that venue, it certainly demystified the evening’s performance for me. In a form where so much is unclear (where our paychecks will come from, how we will find resources to make work and how we persuade digital-age audiences to sit with us) it is nice to have a person walk before you and simply invite you to partake in what they’ve made.

There is a lot of freedom in rambling and this means the dancing, singing and acting are also free to be unapologetically intermingled. While his website refers to dance-theater and blurring boundaries the dance is really more an expression what dance can include rather than what dance is not. It deals with the limitless potential of the body to express ideas and identities whether with traditional partnering or the strain of a song.

This is another lesson that some Salt Lakers could learn — using elements of theater in a work is not an act that requires explanation and justification. It’s also not something that’s revelatory but rather, is a natural extension for the potential of the form. Living here I often I see work where the “more theatrical” elements don’t seem quite right and it’s because their inclusion isn’t always as organic as the Rambler might make it appear. They seem hesitant and careful but this evening suggests that hesitance is not the course.

I know this because even in this production there are things I’m not super keen on. A lit cyc has never been something I love, monologues that incite uncomfortable laughter give me nausea, old stand-by partnering lifts give me even more discomfort and the list goes on. But The Rambler creates and sticks to it’s own convoluted pathway, no apologies. I don’t find myself making a catalogue of my likes and dislikes as I might normally. I’m noticing instead the nuance of physicalized floundering in romantic or interpersonal relationships, the ways to seek adventure among a field of abstract cacti, a luscious disappearance and re-emergence into a field of hokey smoke.

This dance wasn’t too long but this writing is. I could go on and on, which in the case of a one-time show is probably a good thing.

Ashley Anderson