“Step”: Baltimore Girls Empowered Through Dance

Stories about young dancers hoping to make it in the world of dance are one thing. Stories about young dancers hoping to make it in the world, period, are something else. Step is a lively, heartfelt documentary of the second sort. Stephanie Zacharek, Time, reviewing Step

As described on Rotten Tomatoes, factual new film Step, directed by Amanda Lipitz, “documents the senior year of a girls’ high-school step dance team against the background of inner-city Baltimore. As each one tries to become the first in their families to attend college, the girls strive to make their dancing a success against the backdrop of social unrest in the troubled city.”

The turmoil surrounding Freddie Gray‘s death in 2015 serves as an intermittent backdrop. Peter Keough, Boston Globe: “Politics, though, is only part of what is being explored in ‘Step.’ Like ‘Hoop Dreams’ (1994), it tells the stories of young people from tough neighborhoods with a talent that might help them better their lives.”

What kind of school do the “Lethal Ladies” step team attend? Glenn Kenny, New York Times: “The Baltimore Leadership School for Young Women was founded in 2009 to help underserved girls, predominately African-Americans, prepare for college.” Walter V. Addiego, San Francisco Chronicle: “The idea is to provide opportunities for girls who’ve grown up amid poverty, substance abuse and violence to break out of the cycle and make a better life for themselves. Admission to the school is by lottery, and the vast majority of its students go on to college.”

Step focuses mainly on three seniors: Cori, the academic achiever with high hopes; Tayla, the only child of a single mom who’s a Lethal Ladies superfan; and Blessin, the team leader whose home life, including a mom who’s depressed and often unavailable, is perhaps the most challenging. If you’ve been watching the TV competition So You Think You Can Dance, you’ve already gotten acquainted with Blessin, as her audition was recently shown. Although she didn’t make the cut, she and the Lethal Ladies performed on the show at a later date.

Walter V. Addiego, San Francisco Chronicle, describes the essence of Step: “Lipitz alternates sequences of the girls’ school days and home lives, and plenty of footage of the team’s practices, all concluding in the teens’ performance at the big regional meet, on which a lot of pride — both the school’s and that of the girls and their families — is at stake.”

David Rooney, Hollywood Reporter, elaborates

The film’s depiction of different types of mother-daughter relationships is filled with lovely moments, many of them colored by sadness. And the investment of the school staff in their students’ success provides another heartening element — among them the principal, Chevonne Hall; tough step mistress, Gari ‘Coach G’ McIntyre; and most of all, college advisor Paula Dofat, whose big-sisterly concern for Blessin is extremely touching.

The Trailer

Selected Reviews

Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times: “Not for nothing did ‘Step’ win a Special Jury Award for Inspirational Filmmaking at Sundance. Heartening and unashamedly emotional, it’s a certified crowd pleaser that doesn’t care who knows it.”

 Robert Abele, The Wrap

‘Step’ looks like a dance film, but it’s really a rollercoaster ride about expectations, drive, and achievement. The weight in each rhythmic stomp produced by the young women featured in this movie isn’t just to produce a sound in glorious sync, but to signal a togetherness in an often-brutal world…
Start figuring out now how to clap and dab away tears at the same time; it’s that kind of experience.

Moira Macdonald, Seattle Times: “Like them, the film is inspiring and funny and lovely, and you may find the words of one of the girls lingering: ‘If you come together with a group of powerful women, the impact will be immense’.”

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