Howard Grad’s Vision Steps Into History: Step Afrika! Celebrates 30 Years of Artistic Triumph

 Howard Grad’s Vision Steps Into History: Step Afrika! Celebrates 30 Years of Artistic Triumph

At full-throttle, Step Afrika! is gearing up for a monumental 30-year anniversary and the celebration has already commenced. Founder C. Brian Williams spoke to the Buckeye Review with high-anticipation for all that’s in store.

Photo Credit Keith Major

C. Brian Williams introduced the country’s first dance company dedicated to the tradition of stepping in 1994. Step Afrika! strived to disrupt traditional gender roles and actively promote equity within the artform. Amid South Africa’s apartheid, Step Afrika! tapped into the spirit of unity, and the celebration, which many times took the form of African “gumboot” dancing. 

From South Africa and beyond, Step Afrika! pioneered how to take the art of stepping to the American theater. Williams also harnessed his Alpha Phi Alpha roots and humble dance beginnings to birth an artistic experience. 

Photo Credit stepafrika

“For any entrepreneur, you have to love the journey as much as you love the end result,” Williams told the Buckeye Review. “I danced for many years in the company, but then decided that it was best for me to step off the stage and create opportunities for others to take the stage.”

He continued, “I’m really happy about the innovations that we have done in the art form and will continue to do.” 

To bring forth his vision, Williams learned the business of the arts at Howard University as much as he had to learn the business of producing impressive art on stage. Since its inception, Step Afrika! has been driven by empowering young children in Johannesburg, South Africa through arts education. The non-profit continues to offer in-school programs and workshops about stepping. 

“Arts education is foundational. It is foundational to South Africa. It’s like breathing for us. We can’t imagine performing without creating space for young audiences.”

Today, Step Afrika! is a US cultural ambassador touring over 60 countries worldwide, teaching tolerance. These incredibly resilient artists showcase the power of teamwork, strength and physical dedication on stage at prestigious events like the White House’s inaugural Juneteenth celebration.

Step Afrika!, the children of the diaspora, are an embodiment of “percussive dance styles practiced by historically African American fraternities and sororities; traditional African dances; and an array of contemporary dance and art forms,” according to the organization’s website. In the 2024 season, the non-profit employs 18 full-time dancers on a 11-month contract to kick off the celebratory 30 year anniversary of Step Afrika!

“I decided many years ago that I wanted to create enough work where the dancers in my company could focus exclusively on taking care of their bodies to be able to provide excellent performances on stage and amazing programs to children all around the world,” Williams said.

“We have several examples of people moving from within the company to other roles in the company after the dancing career is over,” he further explained. 

Photo Credit stepafrika

Along the 2024 journey, Step Afrika! is excited to embark on a 60 city tour celebrating 30 years. The group will celebrate sponsors and supporters at the 30th anniversary gala before participating in a six-week run of the organization’s most celebrated performance, The Migration: Reflections of Jacob Lawrence, which is based on Lawrence’s iconic 60-panel painting series that shares the story of African-American migrants moving from the South to the North in the early 1900s.

“As we interpret the artwork of Jacob Lawrence. It’s a very special show. And if you haven’t seen the Immigration Series by Jacob Lawrences, you got to go check it out. And then of course, come see the show,” the Howard alumnus enthusiastically stated. 

Following their extensive performance schedule, Step Afrika! will return to South Africa in the coming months to pay homage to the country’s independence. Williams said he’s excited to perform and show off all they’ve accomplished over the course of two weeks.

“This trip will dictate what Step Africa! does for the next five to 10 years. We’ll be in South Africa for about two to three weeks performing, rehearsing, exploring, because this is where we started the company 30 years ago in 1994.” 

Atiya Jordan

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