USS ENTERPRISE, At Sea (NNS) -- Step Afrika!, the world's first professional dance company dedicated to the tradition of stepping, visited USS Enterprise (CVN 65) during the carrier's 22nd and final deployment, May 11.
Step Afrika! performed for the crew and promoted an understanding of, and appreciation for, stepping, a type of dance during which the body is used as an instrument to create intricate rhythms and sounds through a combination of footsteps, claps and the spoken word.
While aboard, members of Step Afrika! toured the ship, ate meals with the crew, and met with Sailors during a step workshop and lecture, all before ending the evening with an inspiring hangar bay performance.
"This is our first time aboard an aircraft carrier and we are extremely excited," said Jakari Sherman, the artistic director of the Step Afrika! dance company. "Upon arriving and stepping onto the flight deck, I got this sense of pride and community. Everyone was so unified under one goal."
The unity displayed by the Sailors and Marines aboard Enterprise in their day-to-day lives is a concept familiar to the members of Step Afrika!. It was the search for a unified purpose that inspired the creation of the dancing tradition now referred to as stepping.
According to Sherman, stepping was created by African American college students who were members of fraternities and sororities.
"It was a way for college students to escape the prejudices that they may have been going through at that time. So they joined these organizations to give themselves a common goal and purpose...to support each other on campus," said Sherman.
Through their performance, Step Afrika! was able to introduce the crew of Enterprise to the art form they love, one with which many Sailors and Marines were unfamiliar.
"A lot of the crew has never been exposed to this form of expression and type of dance before," said Chief Aviation Maintenance Administrationman Courtney Kitrell. "Being in the Navy, we come from everywhere. So many categories of people, environments and religions...it's a rainbow of people. Learning about other people's culture makes you a more well-rounded Sailor."
While the performance was meant to entertain and energize the crew, it also served another purpose.
"The Navy is diverse, [it's made up of] people from different backgrounds, religions, nationalities and countries," said Chief Aviation Ordnanceman Tabitha Gentry. "Events like this help Sailors broaden their horizons by experiencing different cultures."
Those in attendance to enjoy the show and learn about stepping were called upon by the members of Step Afrika! to show their appreciation for the performance through participation and excitement.
"The energy of the audience is so important during the show, it is the show," said Sherman. "We give 110 percent every time we step on stage. The more energy the audience gives to us is more we can give back to them. Our show is very interactive. We encourage the audience to make noise, cheer and clap."
The performance concluded with clapping and cheering from the crew who attended. The dance company then thanked the crew and expressed their appreciation for being able to perform aboard one of the Navy's most legendary ships.
"It's a great opportunity to be on this ship performing and doing the things we are doing," said Sherman. "If we made someone's day a little better, or if we gave someone a little flavor from home, then I feel like we have done our job. I hope that people not only enjoyed the show but that they have something they can take with them during the rest of deployment or even the next week or two. If they can ride the energy from our performance to help them do their job with a little bit more energy, then we did our job."
After departing Enterprise, Step Afrika! will visit guided-missile cruiser USS Vicksburg before returning home to the United States.
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