Starring: Paula Dofat, Blessin Giraldo, Cori Grainger
Directed by: Amanda Lipitz (debut)
One of the more complicated things in the world of documentary filmmaking is being able to not only make your subjects, topics and narratives interesting to watch, but to also be able to give them enough context to be impactful on multiple levels. With “Step,” director Amanda Lipitz takes a seemingly singular subject matter, a high school step dancing team, and deftly explores the socio-economic and political undertone surrounding its events.
As an all girls school in Baltimore, Maryland, The Baltimore Leadership School for Young Women has one goal in mind: for all of its attendees to be accepted into and graduate from college. Though academics are of utmost importance, for many girls, the step dancing (chants and vocals mixed in with creating percussive sounds with body movements like stomping or slapping) team is the primary outlet of artistic expression, frustration, and camaraderie. Through the eyes of several subjects, the school year is documented as some girls thrive and some girls struggle to find their next step in life.
When viewing “Step,” it’s hard to not pull parallels to 2011 Oscar winning documentary “Undefeated.” Like the football players in Manassas, this step dancing team is one of the only outlets for these girls. With the stresses of school, energy and emotion comes pouring out during practices and competitions and you can see the passion in every movement. Beyond that, their education is, for some, the only way out of not only the town that could be holding them back, but the cyclical nature of family history. Many of these girls are the first in their families to go to college, and some of the most effective scenes of the film show the gravity of just how important breaking this educational barrier is.
There are also subjects who run themselves ragged for these kids, often times when the students don’t quite understand not only the gravity of the situation, but the ways in which they are being helped. These counselors, coaches, teachers and parents are often brought to tears with the possibility that some of these girls maybe prone to getting in their own way of success, or not giving enough effort to make it into college.
“Step” is an enriching glimpse into a culture that is fiery, passionate, and at times, an expression of pent of frustration of very timely cultural and political situations. But beyond that, it’s a very humanistic story about not just the strive for excellence, but breaking cycles and going further than generations before you…all while being gracious towards the groundwork that has been laid.