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Morning Sun
  • Step Afrika! - Dancers give spirited performance

  • At first glance, stepping would seem to be a traditional African dance transported to America. That would be wrong, according to Mfon Akpan, assistant artistic director of Step Afrika!

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  • At first glance, stepping would seem to be a traditional African dance transported to America. That would be wrong, according to Mfon Akpan, assistant artistic director of Step Afrika!
    The first professional company in the world dedicated to stepping gave a high-energy, drum-fueled performance Tuesday in Pittsburg Memorial Auditorium as part of the Pittsburg State University Performing Arts and Lecture Series.
    “Stepping is a percussive dance form that developed in African-American fraternities and sororities,” Akpan said after the show. “There may be some similarities to some African percussive dances, but there is no direct lineage between them. Stepping is an American art form.”
    She auditioned for Step Afrika! after earning a degree in biochemistry with a minor in dance from the State University of New York at  Stony Brook.
    “I’ve always had a passion for the arts and the sciences,” Akpan said. “This is a nice departure from lab work.”
    Brian McCollum is tour manager who said that he advances all the shows and handles travel logistics, which must keep him busy since the group, based in Washington, D.C., will perform next at the University of Kansas in Lawrence, then heads for California and Washington State before swinging back through Colorado and Texas.
    “Step Afrika! started in 1994.” McCollum said. “After I graduated from Morehouse College I moved back to Washington, D.C. I had stepped in college and wanted to go on doing it. I auditioned in 2002 and got into Step Afrika. Before that, I had been a pharmaceutical representative. I went from selling medicines to performing and teaching step around the world.”
    Teaching is a vital part of the program, including the “Unity Step Workshop,” in which volunteers from the audience come on stage and are coached in the basics of step.
    While step is American, the group did perform the South African gumboot dance, which probably originated with South African gold miners. They wore the boots as protection for their feet and as a form of percussive communication because they were forbidden to talk in the mines.
    McCollum confided that the steppers have to protect their feet, too.
    “We have to replace the gel insoles in our shoes at least once a month,” he said. “Our bodies are our instruments, and we have to take good care of them.”
    There was also competition, with the audience choosing whether the women or the men were the better steppers. The result was a draw.
    The dancers asked the audience if they had had a good time, and got a roar of approval.
    “We had a good time here, too,” Akpan said. “Everybody has been so nice, from the hotel to the restaurant to the people here at the theater. I hope we get to come back here some day.”
    Page 2 of 2 - McCollum was half-time with the group from 2007 to 2010 while earning a master of divinity from the Princeton Seminary.
    “Now I’m back full-time, because performing is like a ministry to me,” he said. “We form connections and use dance to break down barriers. With all the college degrees all of us have, we could be doing something else, but we choose to do this.”
    END
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