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Drumfolk Is A Stomping Fight For Liberty

Step Afrika! explores the resilience of African American life and culture in high-energy dance performance.

by Latoya Elle

Somewhere on the Atlantic coast, before the island sea and between the rice and indigo plantations, was a group of slaves known as Gullah Geechee. These Africans have been reported to be stolen from West and Central Africa. Due to the isolation of the coastal plantations, they were able to retain aspects of their culture while creating a hybrid language and culture.

Today, dance companies like Step Afrika!, a traditional stepping dance company, honour the resilience of their ancestors from Georgia, Carolina, and Florida as they take audiences through the liberational movement of the Gullah Geechee people through Drumfolk, an enthralling dance performance. The stomping sensation of this performance is inspired by the Negro Act of 1740, when the drums were stripped away from Africans, so instead, they used their bodies as drums.

“African people, some could say, are the first freedom fighters in American history,” says C. Brian Williams, the founder of Step Afrika. “(The performance) will go from 1739 in British South Carolina, all the way to the current day. And the audience will get to see that when the drum was taken away from Africans, how they worked to bring it back.”

In 1994, Williams established the first traditional step dance company. A variation of the dance style originates from enslaved Africans denying American culture and preserving their identities. It’s derived from African tribal dances. Years later, in the 1900s, the stepping iteration was birthed as more Black students started to attend post-secondaries. Black college students used poly-rhythms to show pride and love for their sorority or fraternity.

“This is not a show where you have to be quiet. This is the show where Step Afrika! really wants to connect and hear from the audience, encourage them to make music, and let them throughout the performance. So come ready to watch and participate in the performance,” says Williams, who helps to lead Step Afrika! through a 50-city tour that reaches tens of thousands of people every year.

Join Williams and the dancers of Step Afrika! on Wednesday, April 26 at 7:30 p.m. at the Jack Singer Concert Hall (Calgary, AB) for the Canadian debut of Drumfolk. If you want to learn more about the historical roots, Arts Commons and Step Afrika! are offering an engaging workshop so folks can experience the joyous movements for themselves | TICKETS & INFO