Step teams stomp in Kofa’s backyard

It’s Saturday night and you don’t know what to do. Should you study? Should you go to the party you heard about from a friend of a friend of some other person you don’t really know? Or should you show some love to Sankofa as they host the fourth annual Steady Steppin’ Forward Competition on the MainStage of the ’62 Center? If you did not choose the latter, then you missed out on a captivating, energy-filled show.

To begin the intercollegiate step competition, hosts Janay Clyde ’10 and Ifiok Inyang ’11 introduced the College’s own Sankofa. Although it did not participate in the competition, Sankofa prepped the audience for a night of stepping, stomping and clapping. Beginning with the entire squad, Sankofa rocked the stage with its classic opener declaring its presence and purpose: “Let’s drop some Kofa history. In ’96 we came to be. We’re all about the family and step.” And step they did. The women showcased slower movements, allowing the audience to witness every foot-to-floor, hand-to-foot connection, while the men turned up the heat with more aggressive moves. They also threw in some politics and comedy: To begin a step, drill leader Derrick Robertson yelled, “Obama!” “You can’t start no step with Obama,” said Inyang, to which Michael Nelson ’12 responded, “Yes we can!” The audience recognized the slogan and cheered approvingly in such a state that it was easy to forget that the competition had not even started.

The conclusion of Sankofa’s act opened the floor to the four competitors: Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts’ (MCLA) Nexus, Westville State’s So Seductive, Tufts’ Blackout Movement and Siena’s S.O.L.I.D. Each team brought forward original themes, costumes and step sequences.

The first competitor of the night, Nexus thought that it was “too hot,” which at first seemed like an overstatement. Their hand movements were intensely complicated, but their energy was lacking. It wasn’t until they conducted an entire step on the floor, first sitting up and then lying on their backs, that their skill began to show. The finale proved their talent when three members blindfolded themselves and did a step that required them to hit the hands of their adjacent partners and then jump straight up in the air, legs spread in a V-shape.

The next performer’s problem was that it lacked energy throughout the entire performance. Siena’s S.O.L.I.D., a six-member all-girl group, tried too hard to make itself appear both tough and sexy. The “all up in your face” attitude did not work, and the jungle-themed outfits and lighting were clever at first but eventually became uninteresting. Their sassiness did shine through in a battle sequence of call and response between members of the team, but in the end, it was not enough to carry the group’s performance.

Westville State’s fittingly named So Seductive chose a different approach: its comical theme of “when dolls play” matched with black and red tutu costumes, saw each “doll” stepper come to life to Gwen Stefani’s “Wind It Up.” Beginning with mechanical movements, So Seductive moved into a formation in which all the members began a fast-paced rhythm. As the largest group, comprised of 15-20 females and two males, So Seductive’s success was largely based on the impressive, complex structure of its formations, the most complicated of the night. One particularly striking portion involved the creation of three lines, in which the steppers ingeniously switched places, formed new lines, side-clapped and stomped, all in synchronization with strong and hard footwork.

Blackout had the burden, or in this case, the advantage, of performing last. As an all-male team, every stomp, shake, clap and wiggle held an assertive statement, which was likely a result of the members’ extensive experience in stepping competitions and as reigning champs. Blackout’s dynamic opening sequence of “O, Fortuna,” with its commanding drums and crashing cymbals, was heightened by the crew’s stylish black suits complete with white suspenders. Their steps were crisp, smooth and passionate, and their comical moves involved leg juggling and an intermediate period when all members broke out into individual routines. This was stepping at its best: not only were the group’s callouts, in which the members denounced the idea of using themes and costumes, entertaining, but the steppers’ facial expressions were also priceless – their tongues were out and their eyes popped. Blackout executed every movement with purpose and authority, and as one member called out, “We came to do what we do, how we usually do it.”

For the most part, the outcome of the night’s events was agreeable. MCLA’s Nexus placed third, Westville’s So Seductive placed second and Tufts’ Blackout ultimately claimed the victory. So Seductive came close to overthrowing the male-dominated sport of stepping by proving that women are just as powerful, while S.O.L.I.D. proved that there is power in numbers. Nexus needs to step up (pun intended) their moves, and Blackout – well, the judges have already spoken.