Photo: William Perrigen

Washington, DC-based dance company, Step Afrika! is set to make its Detroit debut on October 13 at the 7 p.m. at the Detroit Institute of Arts in the heart of Detroit’s Midtown with a performance of “The Migration: Reflections on Jacob Lawrence.” The 90-minute show is based on Lawrence’s famous series of paintings called “The Migration” that depict the historic 20th century migration of millions of African Americans from the south to the north. After the performance, a panel discussion hosted by John W. Hill, City of Detroit CFO with include special guests C. Brian Williams, founder of Step Afrika!, Jakari Sherman, choreographer and director, Valerie Mercer, curator of African American art at the DIA and historian Jamon Jordan of the Black Scroll Network.

Founded by C. Brian Williams in 1994, Step Afrika! is the first professional dance company in the world dedicated to the tradition of stepping, the percussive dance style as practiced by African American fraternities and sororities.

“Step Afrika! transforms the theater into a space where everyone can make music and dance. The world is Step Afrika!’s favorite stage and the Company enjoys performing everywhere from opera houses to community centers,” said C. Brian Williams, founder and executive director of Step Afrika!.

The Step Afrika! experience, with its origin based in African spiritual and cultural tradition incorporates the educational, artistic and cultural legacy that ties together both the African and African American cultural heritage. Williams, a graduate of Howard University and member of Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity was inspired to create Step Afrika! after traveling to South Africa where he identified the connection between the form of stepping as seen on Historically Black Colleges and Universities campuses and traditional African dance styles.

“We saw the enthusiasm that South African children had for stepping. We thought we should start to do the same work in the United States,” Williams said. “It’s socially motivated work. It’s a way to teach and inspire children, rather than just perform.”

As one of the largest African American dance companies in the world and one of the top ten in the world, Step Afrika! currently has a roster of more than 15 performers, including Detroit native, Jabari Jones who is excited to perform at home.

Jones, a graduate of Morehouse College and proud member of Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Inc., began dancing at 8 years old. He credits R&B star, Usher as one of his major influences. Before joining Step Afrika!, Jones has performed for artists such as, Aloe Blacc, Detroit 1-8-7, Elijah J, Jacob Latimore, K Jay Music, and The Music Factory.

“I am a member of Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Inc. and while I was in college, a friend told me about Step Afrika!. I auditioned in May of 2016 and I was blown away by the experience. It was so different! It was not only stepping, but the creativity and what you can do with stepping,” Jones said of being a part of Step Afrika.

“Being able to come back home and to share the Step Afrika! experience feels great! A lot of people look at Detroit or people from Detroit like there is not a lot we can do. It just feels great that I’m able to show that you can make it out, but you also can still show your Detroit side outside of Detroit.”

Tickets for “The Migration: Reflections on Jacob Lawrence” are $20 for children under 17, $25 for seniors, students and DIA members and $35 for General Admission. To purchase tickets, visit http://www.dia.org/events or http://www.stepafrika.org.

In addition to the October 13 performance, Step Afrika! will host five interactive workshops spread throughout the city of Detroit to teach people of all ages the basics of stepping. Step Afrika!, uses stepping as an educational tool for young people with a focus on teamwork, academic achievement and cross-cultural understanding.

The workshops are free and open to the public on a first-come, first-served basis. To register for the workshop, go to stepafrika.org.

The production is made possible in part through an award from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation’s Knight Arts Challenge, which funds ideas that engage and enrich Detroit through the arts. “The Migration is presented in partnership with the DIA and the “Detroit 67 Project: Looking Back to Move Forward.” An exhibition of selected panels from Lawrence’s Migration Series will be on view September 25, 2017 to January 7, 2017 at the Detroit Institute of Arts.

After the Detroit performance, Step Afrika! will have a three-week run at the New Victory Theater in Broadway’s legendary Theater District as part of the company’s 50-city tour.

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