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Campus News

From South African Mines to Warren Wilson College

By Leo Proechel, Staff Writer

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“We are the baddest team across the nation. We get down in every situation.”  So chant members of the Warren Wilson Step Team as they stomp and clap complex rhythms in unison.  After witnessing the Warren Wilson Step Team for the first time at her 2012 first-year orientation, all Amanda Wilson could say was “dude, they’re cool.”  Others who have seen the team perform have likely wondered who these incredibly talented stomping and chanting women came from. Step dance has its roots in the tradition of many African cultures to use movement, words, and sounds to communicate allegiance to a group. When drumming was banned in South Africa, stepping was created by miners as a sort of alternative, according to stepafrica.org.  Step is a close relative of Zulu, Gumboot, and Bermuda Gombey dance. African American step dancing became popular in the United States in the early 1900′s in African American fraternities and sororities.  It was soon adopted by Latino and Asian American Greek-letter organizations as well.  There are currently Step Teams across the country in colleges, high schools, cheerleading squads, and drill teams.  Step dancing has been featured in several Blockbuster films, at Bill Clinton’s inauguration, and at the Opening Ceremony  of the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta.  It has also been made a part of the World Hip Hop Dance Championships, based in Los Angeles.  


Five years ago, then Warren Wilson students Danniel Baumgatner and Lauren “Fox” Trowbridge came to Rodney Lytle, Director of Alumni Relations, requesting to create a step team.  He agreed to help them, under the conditions that the team have try outs and regular practices and that the team would perform at athletic events, in particular basketball games.  The team was originally lead by Koprano “KP” Watson of Botswana, alongside Gerrica Watson, a student from Charlotte, NC of Liberian heritage.  The team got its start performing at trustee meetings, special dinners, and other Warren Wilson community events.  Although the team has so far consisted primarily of female members, it has had male members in the past, and auditions are open to both male and female attendees.  Dean of Students Cathy Kramer and Athletic Director Stacey Enos nurtured and promoted the team’s growth in its infancy.


The number of members on the team has fluctuated over the years, but it currently has nine members.  It meets to rehearse twice a week, with rehearsals lasting about an hour and a half.  The team’s repertoire is made up of steps passed down since the first generations of the team, like “KP’s Step,” as well as new steps that are created from scratch by current team members.  This year, the Wilson Step Team was allowed to compete in UNCA’s homecoming step show.  This was the first show the team has ever been able to compete in, as competitions are normally reserved for Greek (fraternity/sorority) competition teams.  But one of the anticipated teams cancelled, so the Warren Wilson team was allowed to take its place and placed second out of four.  The team will be performing again during the Warren Wilson circus this spring.


Stepping can be physically demanding.  ”When we are learning new steps,” said co-captain Grace Hatton, “its easy to misplace a beat or learn something on the wrong foot etc.  You can also hurt yourself while really pushing yourself stepping.  After the UNCA show I had bruises all over my legs and on my hands and arms.” Yet the benefits of being on the team seem to outweigh the physical demands. Belle-Pilar, another co-captain, holds the team dear to her heart.  ”I have become friends with so many wonderful people that I likely wouldn’t have met otherwise,” she said.  ”Getting the chance to represent Warren Wilson is really cool, and connecting with other step teams and community partners has been so inspiring.  Plus, step is a great escape from the everyday stressors of academic life, not to mention an awesome creative outlet.”


Rob Shook, Assistant Athletic Director, finds the team to be an important part of the college and the greater community.  ”They have been a positive influence on the community outside of Warren Wilson, [and] they have found a way to do something that they enjoy and they are getting the benefits of exercise,” he said.


“The Step Team has been one of the best experiences of my Wilson career and I’m so proud to be a part of it,” said Hatton.  “I get to be part of a small group of amazing, strong, and badass women who love this art form and sharing it with the community.”


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