Conshohocken Elementary School students clapped and stomped and used their bodies to create rhythm during an interactive assembly recently that introduced them to the African-American dance tradition known as stepping on Feb. 3.
The tradition of using stomps, claps, chants and call-and-response was shared as part of the “Soul Steps” program delivered by presenters from Young Audiences. Students were taught how to put together a series of dance moves and also learned the history of stepping, which started as a means of unity and self-expression among African-American fraternities and sororities on college campuses.
The rhythmic elements of the dance are traced back to “gumboot dancing,” which originated in South Africa among workers in the gold mines in the late 1800s. Workers were not allowed to talk with one another, but they devised a way to communicate by slapping the sides of their boots while in the mines.
“Soul Steps” was part of the school’s celebration of Black History Month. In addition to the assembly, students have been invited to participate in free stepping lessons at Conshohocken every Wednesday night, as part of an offering from the Conshohocken Electric Force Track Club and Live and Direct Step Team.
Throughout February, students, faculty, and staff will be engaged in classroom discussions and activities related to Black people who have made an impact on the country, such as Dr. Martin Luther King, civil rights activist; Mae Jemison, first Black woman in space; Faith Ringgold, artist and writer; and Jacob Lawrence, artist.
Other plans include learning about local Black business owned businesses such as The Tricycle Cafe and Magical Trims. Students will also learn about cultural traditions, such as wearing dashikis, and read books by African-American authors. Conshohocken will also participate in a Unity Walk led by members of the Black Cultural Awareness Club from Plymouth Whitemarsh High School.