Despite wind, rain and flood warnings, UT students and the Knoxville community gathered at the Bijou Theatre to see "Step Afrika!"
The Cultural Attractions Committee hosted the event on Wednesday and invited the professional step dance company to Knoxville for a special performance designed for college students. Step Afrika! performed various step dance routines, ranging from modern to traditional dance, and the event showcased the company's ability to promote an understanding of different cultures and traditions.
"We wanted to bring something cultural and we liked that (Step Afrika!) mixed music and dance together and it's a historic tradition with the African American community, and it is definitely within our goal to bring cultural events like this to Knoxville," Elaina Spiekermann, president of the Cultural Attractions Committee and senior in logistics, said.
Tour manager of Step Afrika! Brian McCollum is in charge of venue logistics and details, such as designing specific lighting, organizing space on stage for the dance routines and preparing sound with microphones. McCollum said that step dancing began with college students in fraternities and sororities in the early 1900s.
"(Students) would gather round (at) school on their breaks and after class and they would start singing, and then stepping and then clapping their hands and that's really where stepping started, in the college arena," McCollum said. "Historically it started with African American fraternities and sororities but now you can see it everywhere. You have step ministries, you have it in commercials and movies, so it's not just for college students and it's not just for African Americans, it's for anybody who loves to dance."
The show was opened by a step dance performance by the African American fraternity, Phi Beta Sigma. Keith Thomas, junior in sports management, is the second vice president of Phi Beta Sigma and handles coordinating and assisting the president and the vice president. Thomas and his brothers said their opening performance's goal was to pay tribute to original step dancing roots from Africa.
"We just found it as a way to step out of our comfort zone. We're usually around college students and we do things for Greek organizations, but sometimes we try new opportunities for new experiences and we felt like it would be fun," Thomas said.
Twyneshia Vaughn, junior in special eduacation, said she was pleasantly surprised with the performance.
"At first I expected a lot of wilderness and wild dances, but I enjoyed the entire show," Vaughn said. "It was full of energy and it was back to back of them giving all they had, there were no parts where they were lacking anything. I love stepping and I figured this event would be something different and I enjoy different things, so I'm pretty glad they came."
The show, originally from Washington, D.C., attends NACA (National Assosciation of College Activities) to reach out to young college students and makes a point to perform at elementary, middle and high schools.
"(Grade school shows) are more education-based and we try to focus on the three most basic and major parts of stepping: teamwork, commitment and discipline," McCollum said. "We are here to share, expand and educate people about the art form of stepping, and we do that through workshops, and we have residencies and we have our shows."
McCollum said that his favorite part of performing is seeing the emotions that the audience experiences throughout the show and hopes that their performance will make the dance company memorable.
"I love when you can see different emotions in people, when we can take people from laughing to just crying to screaming to having so much fun. What we try to do is have people remember Step Afrika! as an experience and not just a show," McCollum said. "Once we perform we want to make friends, we want to give our all so that the audience will want to be our friends. We try to reach out so it's not just a show but ... an experience."
Concerned about weather conditions before the event, Spiekermann said the committee was excited about the large amount of people who attended the show.
"We were really worried about the turnout because my umbrella went inside out twice today," Spiekermann said. "A lot of people showed up, and we had a lot of tickets purchased by the Knoxville community, so we like that they can get involved as well. A lot more students showed up than we thought would."
Considering the flood and tornado warnings all across East Tennessee, McCollum said the event had a great turnout.
"It was an amazing crowd, I couldn't have asked for anything more," McCollum said. "I was a little concerned because I didn't know there was a tornado warning, and I looked out my window and I thought this is going to be interesting. Given all the circumstances, I think we had an amazing turnout and the crowd gave us so much energy and we just gave it all right back."
During the show, the dancers asked for volunteers to come on stage and encouraged the crowd to clap their hands and stomp their feet. Vaughn said she appreciated Step Afrika!'s extra effort to involve the audience.
"Most people don't really involve the audience," Vaughn said. "Throughout the majority of the show there was involvement with the crowd, and like one of the performers said, what you give us is what we give back so it was really nice."
Spiekermann said that her favorite part of the event was the audience interaction.
"Everyone was dancing and tapping their feet and clapping, it was so high energy and they really seemed to love what they were doing," Spiekermann said. "I think they loved the energy and they loved being involved. It had a little bit of the hip hop beats that everyone likes and it also had percussion that a lot of people liked too."
The dance company had just arrived back from touring in Spain and Italy before coming to Knoxville. McCollum said the goal with their performance is the same everywhere.
"We travel all around the world trying to share this dance, everybody loves to dance," he said. "We always say that people love to eat and people love to dance. That is one way that we reach out to other people, through dance."
Thomas said that the event as a whole was a "blast."
"The involvement with the crowd is something you don't really see with a step show, or any show really," Thomas said. "I got to see amazing steppers, the fraternity learned a lot and it was an honor to be a part of this."
The event's goal was to let UT students and the Knoxville community appreciate the tradition behind step dancing, said Spiekermann.
"I hope (attendees) took a better understanding of the history of the black fraternities and their transition into universities and how stepping became a cultural way for them to bond. We're really glad that they came, this is the kind of thing that Knoxville needs, and when it comes Knoxville loves it."