They took the drums away, but they could not stop the beat. Beginning Sept. 19, renowned dance company Step Afrika! will immerse the Clemson campus and community in the world of traditional stepping. Founder and executive producer C. Brian Williams created the company in 1994, when he was living in Southern Africa. Williams recognized similarities to stepping in the South African gumboot dance and was determined to explore the cross-cultural and artistic exchange between these percussive dance forms. Williams is a 2022 NEA National Heritage Fellow, a high honor in folk and traditional arts; recognized for his artistic excellence, lifetime achievement and contributions to our nation’s traditional arts heritage.
Step Afrika! is the first professional dance company in the world dedicated to the tradition of stepping. Williams promotes the art form of stepping as an educational and motivational tool for young people — focusing on teamwork, academic achievement and cross-cultural understanding. Through the company’s blend of percussive dance styles, traditional African dances and contemporary movement, Step Afrika! energetically communicates the story of African American life and culture throughout American history.
In their week-long residency, Step Afrika! will present feature-length performances, student matinees, master classes and workshops. Brooks Center Executive Director Janice Crews speaks on this upcoming programming. “The Step Afrika! residency will touch every corner of our community with opportunities to engage with expert visiting artists throughout the week. In addition to sharing the vibrant artistry of step dance with us, Step Afrika! brings so much cultural and historical context to their work, making their time with us especially meaningful.”
Some of the events scheduled include a beginner step class with middle school students at Littlejohn Community Center. Students in a Global Black Studies course will speak with Williams about his 30+ years of promoting, studying and performing step. Company members will lead a masterclass with the Clemson University Dance Company and students from the National Pan-Hellenic Council. At the end of the week, performing arts majors will sit down with Williams to learn about careers in the industry.
These experiences will culminate with the South Carolina debut of “Drumfolk,” the company’s production inspired by the events of the Stono Rebellion of 1739. “Drumfolk” explores this little-known event in history that would forever transform African American life and culture. The company details how enslaved Africans were prohibited from assembling or using their drums, which were used to signal the uprising. Without their drums, the beats found their way into the body of the people, the “Drumfolk.” Following the performance on Thursday, Sept. 22 at 7:30 p.m., Director of Global Black Studies Kaifa Roland will lead a talkback with the Step Afrika! company. This event is open to the public.
For more information, visit clemson.edu/brooks or call the Brooks Center Box Office at 864-656-7787.
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