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Encore Series event has audience on its feet


The moment the claps, stomps and snaps of "Step Afrika!" hit the stage Saturday night, Encore Series audience members were hooked by the interactive, irresistible rhythms of the high-energy performance.

Using their bodies as instruments and visual art, "Step Afrika!", the first professional dance company to bring the tradition of stepping to audiences throughout the world, did more than entertain the Hays audience, it made the audience part of its performance.

The company was founded 20 years ago by C. Brian Williams. "Step Afrika!" celebrates the dance form which began in the early 1900s on college campuses, where African-American fraternity and sorority members used step to express themselves and create community. Combining tap dance Zulu tribal dance and hip-hop dance moves, the percussive rhythms of "Step Afrika!" also were reminiscent of the Broadway show "Stomp." More than just entertainers, members of "Step Afrika!" serve as cultural ambassadors for the U.S. at international festivals and events.

From the complex, classy "Chicago" to "the gumboot dance," which originated in the mines of South Africa, the dancers brought a new world to Hays.

There were athletic dance and rhythm "competitions" between the guys and gals, and narrations that filled in the blanks when the dancers took a breath. Add that to the colorful costumes and engaging slapstick humor, and there was no reason not to enjoy the evening.

A visually intense selection, "Indlamu," was like nothing I've seen before. The stage took on an eerie glow, as two drummers pounding on several drums, set the tone for a lone Zulu dancer who skittered across stage like an arachnid. The performance exploded as the dancer was joined by the entire team -- fiery and unrelenting with their wildly captivating energy.

But the evening wasn't just about cheering on the talented performers. It was about sharing the contagion of "Step Afrika!" fever. Ten volunteers from the audience joined the performance and caught their groove quite handily. Even those audience members with their backsides still in their rather cramped seats helped bounce energy back to the performers, with cheers and claps carefully orchestrated by the dance company.

There's just one more chance for audience members to catch an Encore Series event this season. "Memphis," a Tony-award winning Broadway musical, is set for April 23 at Beach/Schmidt Performing Arts Center.

Dawne Leiker is a frequent contributor to The Hays Daily News.