By George Basler

When people come to a Step Afrika! performance, they shouldn’t expect to stay quiet, the troupe’s founder, C. Brian Williams, says. Not by a long shot. He wants them to applaud, make noise and “feel free to interact” with the performers from the time they go on to the stage through the finale.

The whole point is to provide a compelling experience, said Williams, who founded Step Afrika! in 1994 as the first professional company dedicated to promoting and sharing the tradition of stepping.

Step Afrika!’s appearance at 7:30 p.m. Saturday (Sept. 30) at Binghamton University is one stop on a national tour. The performance opens the 2023-23 season at the Anderson Center for the Performing Arts.

Stepping is a form of percussive dance in which the entire body is used as an instrument to produce complex rhythms and sounds through a complex mixture of footsteps, spoken word and hand claps, Williams said in a recent interview.

The art form has a long history. Its roots go back to the 1739 Stono Rebellion in South Carolina when enslaved people used drums to attract crowds. After authorities crushed the rebellion, they banned drums, forcing slaves to use their bodies to communicate.

The modern version of stepping dates from the early 1900s when Black college fraternities and sororities began to practice the art form to celebrate initiations into their various organizations.

Williams founded Step Afrika! three years after graduating from Howard University in 1991 to bring the tradition to new audiences. Since then, it has toured across the U.S. and more than 60 countries worldwide. It is ranked as one of the top 10 African American dance companies in the U.S., its website states.

“It’s a great show for audiences who know nothing about this percussive art form,” Williams said. In addition to stepping, the 11 performers perform traditional Western and Southern African dances and an array of contemporary dance forms. Drumming accompanies the dances.

The show features audience participation and storytelling, Williams said. “It’s designed for families,” he noted, adding, with a touch of humor: “It’s interactive and lends itself to young children who can’t sit still.”

The company is currently based in Washington, D.C. Performers undergo competitive auditions to become part of the troupe, Williams said, followed by six weeks of rehearsals before the company hits the road for annual tours of some 50 colleges and theaters. The company has also gone overseas as cultural ambassadors.

Besides performing, education is a big part of Step Afrika’s! mission, Williams said. The company helps students in schools and after-school programs to focus on  teamwork and cross-cultural understanding. The work has earned the (D.C.) Mayor’s Arts Awards for Outstanding Contribution to Arts Education, Innovation in the Arts and Excellence in Artistic Discipline.

The troupe performed at the National Tree Lighting Ceremony in Washington, D.C., and for President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama in the White House. It returned to the White House earlier this year to perform as part of the first-ever Juneteenth celebration.

Williams hopes audiences leave a Step Afrika! performance impressed with the skill of the performers and excited about the art form of stepping. To learn more about stepping and Step Afrika!, visit the company’s website,

Step Afrika’s! appearance at Binghamton University is part of the Anderson Center’s commitment to offer a diverse set of programs for the 2023-24 season, Christopher Bodnarczuk, marketing director, said.

“We’re evolving to the next generation of the Anderson Center,” he said. “We want to provide something new to get new audiences. We’re trying to do something not being done in the community.”

Upcoming concerts this fall will include appearances by “Ranky Tanky with Ms. Lisa Fischer,” featuring songs of the Gullah culture; a screening of the film Coco with a musical score performed ty the Orqiuesta Focloirica National de Mexico; Daka Brakha, a music quarter from Ukraine. and the Vienna Boys Choir.  For more information, visit Anderson Center’s website,

IF YOU GO: Step Afrika! will perform at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 30, at the Anderson Center for the Performing Arts at Binghamton University. Tickets for the public range from $25-60 with 10 percent discount for seniors, veterans and Binghamton University faculty, staff and alumni. Student and child tickets cost just $10 for any seat in the house. Tickets are on sale now through the Anderson Center box office, online at or by calling 607-777-ARTS.