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Step Afrika! shook up Oxford

Dance company Step Afrika! made its way to Hall Auditorium in November with its blend of dancing, singing, and storytelling.
Dance company Step Afrika! made its way to Hall Auditorium in November with its blend of dancing, singing, and storytelling.

Nationally-touring dance company Step Afrika! stomped into Miami University’s Hall Auditorium on Friday, Nov. 11.

The traditional African style of ‘step’ dance combines bodily percussion, singing and movement in a rhythm-centric form of storytelling. Each dancer soloed at least once, but the night mostly involved group numbers, which ranged in costuming from heavy tribal wear to sophisticated modernized outfits.

Kat Ullery, a senior music education major in the audience, saw the show for her Beginning Jazz (THE110) class. She said she especially loved its zulu sequence.

Ullery also shared a personal connection with the performance.

“My boyfriend is actually South African, so it was cool to see the culture of where his dad grew up,” Ullery said. “Also, my grandpa did a lot of traveling around Africa and would always come back with so many stories which I grew up with.”

The dancers encouraged viewers to participate in the fun, allowing Ullery to disobey the proper performance etiquette of her classical training by clapping and snapping along.

“The use of polyrhythms and how in sync they were was really impressive,” she said. “It was always a consistent tempo, and that’s really hard to do.”

Patti Liberatore, director of the university’s Performing Arts Series, collaborated with Miami’s Center for Student Diversity and Inclusion, Office of Institutional Diversity and Inclusion and Black Alumni to successfully publicize the event.

“People were cheering from the very beginning, which was a good sign,” Liberatore said. “I heard it before I even sat down.”

Liberatore chose Step Afrika! about a year ago in an effort to promote diversity, equity and inclusion within the performing arts series. Helped by her advisory board, she retains her goal of engaging Miami’s students of color.

“I would say that the diversity of the audience surpassed my hopes and expectations,” Liberatore said. “Step Afrika! was incredibly exciting and accessible.”

Cheryl Hampton, director of marketing for The Knolls of Oxford, which sponsored the show, approved of the ensemble.

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“A large percentage of our residents are retired academics and loved the combination of education and entertainment,” Hampton said. “Our community enjoys high energy programming and also very much appreciates the opportunity to support diversity and engage in cross-cultural learning.”

Alongside The Knolls’ shuttle transportation for its seniors, people of all ages nearly packed the venue. Many wore African garb or their historic Black Greek life apparel, which the dancers celebrated in their battle-of-the-best scene of fraternity brothers vs. sorority sisters.

They even let volunteers onstage, leading to a long and loud standing ovation for its finale.