On a cold, rainy night, a small number of people gathered into the Lied Center for Performing Arts to catch the premiere of “Stono,” a film by Step Afrika!, a step dance group created in 1994 at Howard University. The film shows a dance performance about the Stono Rebellion of 1739, which took place 281 years ago on the same day as the premiere. The performance provided the audience with exceptional dancing and an educational look at the rebellion’s effect on today’s society.
The film opens with a grainy filter, taking the audience back in time to 1739, where many dancers laugh and chant, accompanied by a boisterous djembe, having the time of their lives. The music is lively, and the dancers give off such a joyous feeling that the viewers can’t help but feel that same joy and tap their feet to the beat.
One of the many appealing aspects of the movie is that the dancers transitioned through time. In one scene the dancers would be wearing what appeared to be handmade, primitive dresses and skirts in grassy areas, and in the next they’d be wearing modern clothing, walking the streets. It gives the audience a powerful message about how some people still feel like they’re fighting for the same things 200 years later.
Another aspect of the movie that stuck out is the style of the dance performed: step dancing. Step dancing or stepping can be described as dancers using their whole body for dancing. In doing this, dancers make musical instruments out of their feet, voices and hands by creating rhythms.
It was interesting to see a different type of dancing from a different culture being used and how it integrates into American history. The performers did an amazing job and were able to make the audience feel their anger and frustration through their voices and facial expressions. Even though it was simplistic in terms of visuals, they were able to make the story clear.
A live panel discussion followed the film. During the panel, various professors and public officials joined the founder and executive director of Step Afrika! C. Brian Williams to discuss a variety of subjects such as the Black Lives Matter protests, the influence of the Stono Rebellion and how influential art can be.
The moderators discussed how fine arts are important for teaching people about culture and how they can be interpreted and created in many different ways. Additionally, the panelists emphasized that fine arts give others a glance at other cultures they’ve never experienced before.
“Stono” provided viewers with a new light on history. It told a valiant story about sacrifice and resilience through stepping. It shows how determined the dancers and Step Afrika! are for filming this film during the pandemic to give people the story of Stono and to give voice to others who need to be heard.
For those who missed the premiere, the film and panel can be seen on Step Afrika! website.