Kyla Lacey and Step Afrika! bring relatable energy to students

While some were viewing the presidential inauguration, Step Afrika! and spoken word poet Kyla Lacey were on their way to the mountains of North Carolina to perform in Western Carolina’s Bardo Arts Center.

Step Afrika! opened with a cheerful yet aggressive step seeking audience interaction right off the bat. The audience was happy to give a helping hand with claps, chanting, and finger snapping.

Volunteers from the audience and Step Afrika! performing together. Photo by Gavin Stewart.

Step Afrika!’s definition of step is a polyrhythmic, percussive dance formed by African-American fraternities and sororities. The performers were also able to share their other talents like rapping and singing.

For a portion of the performance, the steppers wanted some volunteers to learn a step and perform it for the audience. About six people were pulled from the audience and were taught step basics such as the basic march, blades, attention, and roly polys. Utilizing the basic movements, they were able to perform their own routine.

“On a college campus, the energy is always different – it’s very relatable, and it’s always fun to do what I love and call it my job and be around an audience that’s similar in age,” said Manny Chacon, member of Step Afrika!.

The setting of the stage was changed mid-performance to an African Zulu village when the performers presented African drums and took the stage barefoot in African clothing with beads. The men were shirtless and had shields that they utilized in their rhythms. The dancing non-step with African roots, though the drums emphasized many of the movements.

Performers of Step Afrika! (from left) Jeeda Barrington, Kiera Harley, and Manny Chacon. Photo by Gavin Stewart.

Step Afrika! provided a diverse collection of performances like a bragging rights battle between the men and women, the South African gumboot dance, as well as humorous solo performances that got the crowd on their feet.

“I love being able to adapt to whatever culture were in, being able to bring something new, being on the spot and being a professional dance company,” said Jeeda Barrington, member of group. “If people are like, ‘dab, dab!’ we’ll add in a dab or whatever that pop-culture is. It’s just being able to think quick on our toes and just make it more relatable for them while still keeping and maintaining hard choreography.”

When Kyla Lacey took the stage, she was able to change the mood but still hook the students and members of the community.

Lacey was personable and shared her stories to relate them back to the audience.

Kyla Lacey on stage in front of the WCU audience. Photo by Gavin Stewart.

Her poems had topics like friendships, relationships, domestic violence, homosexuality, break ups, and even hair – perhaps some of the most relevant topics for students.

“I think when I first started doing poetry, it was just free therapy. Just to know that people connect with your experiences and you make people heal and feel something is really great,” said Kyla Lacey, poet.

She was not only connected with the audience through her topics, but she was able to make the crowd laugh from her interactions with them. She singled audience members out several times throughout the performance.

“All of the members of Step Afrika! had high energy and were all really good performers,” said Tantania Phifer, WCU student. “Kyla was also really laid back and funny which is something I love about people.”


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