Steady Steppin’ Forward contest ignites ’62 Center crowd

More than 500 people filled the MainStage of the ’62 Center for Theatre and Dance’s last Saturday night to watch five college step teams compete in the Steady Steppin’ Forward Step Competition. Sienna College’s S.O.L.I.D.,  Tufts’ BlackOut, SUNY New Paltz’s Shades, Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts’ (MCLA) Nexxus and the University at Albany’s Organized C.H.A.O.S. all battled for the eighth annual step title.

Hosts Tirhakah Love ’15 and Alexander Deaderick ’15 announced that the College’s own Sankofa would “set the tone” for the show. Love and Deaderick exited, and the lights went completely out as audience members cheered and called for individual steppers. A large screen backdrop lit red made dramatic silhouettes of the female members of Sankofa. Stage lights then lit up the 15 women’s faces as they stepped to Lil Wayne’s “No Worries.” Seven Kofa men followed the women, repeating the silhouette effect against the solid background.

Love and Deaderick returned to introduce Pittsfield’s Youth Alive step and drumming team. While not competing, the six young drummers and steppers held their own against the older college teams to come. Dressed in argyle sweaters, the three female steppers first danced together, then individually, with and without accompaniment from the drummers behind them. Before the steppers exited, one of the drummers stood up from his chair tapping his drumsticks and playfully challenged the steppers to perform blindfolded. The youngest of the three charismatically accepted the challenge, and the drummers affixed black blindfolds over each of the steppers. The girls impressively proceeded as if nothing had changed, blindly stepping in unison and separately, but always on beat.

Love and Deaderick then introduced the “lovely ladies of Sienna College” to start the competition. The all-female S.O.L.I.D. crawled in to “Run this Town” by Jay-Z, dragging two apparently struggling members across the floor. The team of eight employed lighter stepping and smoother moves in comparison to their competitors. Donning silver masks with black hoodies, the eight women created a striking effect when they ended songs staring out at the audience. The women eventually removed their masks for their last number, stating that they “don’t do us no justice.” To end their set, the women performed so rapidly that four members seemed to collapse on stage. The  women certainly set the bar high for their competition.

Following the all-female group was Tufts’ all-male BlackOut. Their white shirt sleeves against black suit vests and pants and a black background created electrifying visuals as the men swung their arms in windmill and other patterns. BlackOut initially employed a call and response pattern reminiscent of army training under the direction of a sergeant, but the team was notable for the men’s sense of humor. Dramatic dialogue between members of the team arguing to change the set mid-performance added comedy to their captivating stepping. At one point, the facetious team called a “BlackOut huddle” to discuss additions to their performance. BlackOut’s steps were original and refreshing, reflecting the carefree attitude of its members. Incorporating moves from PSY’s “Gangnam Style” and even executing a “Harlem Shake,” BlackOut proved itself the most entertaining and inventive team of the night.

Shades, from SUNY New Paltz, followed BlackOut. The team proved highly mobile, moving around the stage and creating unique formations. Dressed as construction workers, the team was the first to teasingly “trash talk” the other teams. Their sole male member theatrically passed out and cleverly required “shade” to revive him from apparent heatstroke. Shades also proved innovative when they lifted members on shoulders and formed staggered formations by height, but ultimately proved slightly slower than other teams and provided a less coherent theme.

Several highly enthusiastic audience members supported MCLA’s Nexxus. The group wore khaki cargo shorts with denim vests and matching t-shirts. Marked by heavy stomping, the group also slapped the floor to emphasize the percussion of stepping. The final team and reigning champion, Organized C.H.A.O.S. from the University at Albany distinguished itself with the incorporation of moves from street dancing. The six men bantered among themselves and varied quick stomping with slides across the floor and other smoother moves.

Love and Deaderick came back to announce Sankofa’s return to close the competition. Demonstrating the College’s skill, the team brought high energy and exuberance. At one point, the men moved their arms so quickly the audience saw only blurs. Sankofa prompted the most enthusiastic cheering of the night.

While the judges deliberated, Love and Deaderick creatively killed time, allowing an MCLA student to dance on stage, resulting in positive reactions from the crowd. Audience waiting time culminated in a massive “Wobble” on stage, led by Love and Deaderick. Love then demanded the results, asserting, “we have done the ‘Wobble’ and we have done the ‘Yes Dance.’” Finally, they were allowed to reveal the winner: Tufts’ BlackOut reigns champion once again this year, with Sienna’s S.O.L.I.D. as runner up.