Stepping as a dance form is approaching its 100-year anniversary as an African-American tradition, though its foundations in various African dances have been around much longer. Stepping is primarily performed in historically black fraternities and sororities, but it seems to have also found an unlikely home in Sankofa, the multiethnic, co-ed squad here at Williams, which aptly takes its name from the Ghanian vernacular for “one must return to the past in order to move forward.”
“The Blueprint,” Sankofa’s most recent program, was, in short, fiercely sharp, vibrant, energy-filled and technically sound. There was an agenda that made this particular show different from the shows the group has done in the past. In her introduction, drill sergeant Marin Randall ’03 said, “We took out all the stuff that was clouding the basic steps.” With such an intention in mind, the stage for the show was set. The group stripped the program down to the basics and delivered six performances that delivered one punch after another.
For the first time in the last two years, Sankofa performed on Lasell’s hardwood floors as opposed to the special dance flooring in the studio. This change allowed the squad to sound louder and reverberate clearer than they ever have before.
The show was made up of three different sections: “Building Blocks,” “Innovation” and “Fraternities and Sororities.” Each segment was divided into two separate dance routines. To open the show, the “Building Blocks” section illustrated stepping focusing on simplicity of both set and choreography. Both opening routines were simplified to basic sound and step, unclouded by music, props or overly elaborate steps.
The first routine was a fusion of steps from squads past. Sankofa keeps such amalgamations in the repertoire as a tribute to the tradition and evolution of stepping at Williams over the years. The second routine of the section was called “The Blueprint,” which showed what happens when a routine is stripped down to the absolute basics. The straightforward steps â€“ in combination with the dynamic usage of several highly visual formations, changing tempos and verbal sounds â€“ had the audience screaming in applause and stomping in the bleachers.
The second section, “Innovation,” was composed of “Blue Haze” and “In a Minute,” with special guests Nuttin’ But Cuties (NBC). They and Sankofa came on stage all decked out in their respective company uniforms, both looking ready for battle. It seemed that the long-anticipated showdown between the two groups was finally about to happen. There was the feeling that one of the two companies was about to be embarrassed in front of the audience.
However, those waiting for the showdown had to wait until another day, because instead of showing the differences between the genres of hip-hop dancing, consistently epitomized by NBC’s range, and Sankofa’s stepping, the groups came together to show how the styles complement each other, dipping into each other’s genres in order to accentuate their own style.
In “Blue Haze,” the women of Sankofa came out in glittering blue tops and stepped using not only their bodies, but chairs and sticks as well. The title might have easily been changed to “Oooooh Girl!” because these ladies had attitude, looking very independent and confident of their presence on the stage.
In the “Fraternities and Sororities” section, the audience was introduced to the Men of Sankofa in “Testosterone.” Sankofa is mainly female and influenced by sorority stepping. However, this program gave the men the chance to provide a taste of frat stepping.
Kappa Phi Alpha’s steps seemed to be the routine’s largest influence. The gentlemen stepped out looking suave and dapper in long-sleeved white dress shirts and canes, which were skillfully incorporated into the performance. In one of the individual introductions, Ricardo Woolery ’05 stated, “Ladies, we’re about to give you some testosterone.” And hormones are clearly what the audience got. This step routine showed clearly how male fraternity stepping differs from sorority stepping. The routine was strong, loud and distinctly masculine. Hopefully, the men of Sankofa will continue to perform in the years to come, as the energy they brought to the show was undeniable.
The evening closed out robustly with the last routine of the night, entitled “You Love. . ..” It was a distinct illustration of the strength and sass of the women of Sankofa.
However, sadly missing from the show for the first time in the last two years was the presence of the Lil’ Steppers. During the intermissions of previous years, the elementary school squad has taken the stage and blown away the crowd with a mini-performance that was more impressive than merely cute. No explanation was offered as to what has become of the junior squad, but their absence was noted.
The performance was riveting in the tradition of the strong performances of past years. This semester’s squad took those traditions up to an entirely new level. If Sankofa continues with this type of leadership, creativity and ingenuity, then the squad’s future seems promising.