Steppin’ Forward delivers with exuberance, spirit

Tufts’ Blackout step group won the ‘9th Annual Steady Steppin’ Forward Step’ Competition hosted at the College by Sankofa. Photo courtesy of youtube.com
Tufts’ Blackout step group won the ‘9th Annual Steady Steppin’ Forward Step’ Competition hosted at the College by Sankofa. Photo courtesy of youtube.com

Last Saturday night, four step teams from around the Northeast participated in what has now officially become the “9th Annual Steady Steppin’ Forward Step Competition.” The teams, coming from as far as Boston, Mass., were gathered not only to provide an exhibition of step for the College community, but also to further the goals of the College’s Black Student Union (BSU), including increased awareness of diversity issues and race relations in and around Williamstown.

The event started out with a performance by our own Sankofa team, a group who, although they did not participate in the competition portion, got the energy of the already rowdy crowd as high as it could go. In the words of one of the emcees, Sankofa “set the bar so high [it’s] above the ’62 Center.”

Next came the actual competitors, beginning with Siena’s Solid, a group which attempted to put a narrative spin on the structure of its performance. Setting the piece in the world of a waitress and her boss, its dance emphasized the relationship between the working class and its superiors and the reclamation of the body as a site of individuality and autonomy, a decidedly different approach than those that many of the later participants would take. Solid was also, interestingly enough, one of the only predominantly female groups, a fact that had a significant effect on the content of its performance versus that of later performances in the night.

After Solid left the stage, the University of Albany’s Organized Chaos, took over, setting its performance in the context of the masculine world of James Bond and emphasizing technical proficiency and raw percussive power over narrative. The performers added chanting  to their dance, professing that they knew that they made “the other steppers sweat” and the “sexy ladies wet,” a mantra emblematic of the force and hubristic power they displayed in their dance.

After the first two performances, however, the event took a different turn, and the very active crowd was told to settle themselves down for the performance by SpeakFree, Williams’ student-run spoken word poetry collective. All four poems focused on the issues of racial heritage and empowerment, themes whose subtlety and more refined emotional content contrasted nicely with the step groups’ active and physical messages. Of particular note was the performance of Cinnamon Williams ’16, whose poem “Double Date” about her relationship with the College itself sparked a lively response from the crowd, and, despite a small glitch in memorization, encapsulated most effectively the spirit of the event.

After the poets left the stage, the dancers came back out, this time in the form of Tufts’ small group Blackout which impressed the crowd with well-rehearsed and funny banter and a rendition of the “Naenae” that was simply unforgettable. What it lacked in numbers, Blackout more than compensated for in tightness and technical acumen, marking it as the clear favorites going into the awards ceremony.

MCLA’s Nexus, a group whose ’90s themed performance had the members decked out in white overalls and torn t-shirts, closed out the competition portion of the event. Met with an explosive reaction from the sympathetic local crowd, MCLA’s performance didn’t disappoint, keeping the bar high with the choreography and originality of its steps and commanding the receptive and friendly Williamstown audience.

As the judges deliberated, Sankofa took the stage once more, delivering a performance that, to say the least, rivaled the performance of any competing team, and kept the energy of the crowd up for the announcement of awards. When the judges still hadn’t finished deliberating, the emcees, in a bold move, called the “two best dancers” from each participating team, including Sankofa, to come out and participate in an informal “soul line,” a decision that, once again, entertained the audience, and showcased the talent of the Williams team against some of the best step teams in the Northeast region.

Finally, the judges announced the winners: The University of Albany’s Organized Chaos came in second place, and in first, in a decision that shocked no one, came Tufts’ Blackout.

As the BSU thanked the ’62 Center for hosting the event, and students filed out of the auditorium, audience-member Wilfred Guerrron ’17 commented that he was “very glad [he] came,” because it was one of the “most entertaining things [he had] seen all year.” And, after sitting through the 90-minute show, I would be hard-pressed to disagree.