STEP Tugs at Heartstrings and History

For these girls, it’s true that “Step is life.”

Step follows a group of African-American girls in Baltimore overcoming the stacked odds of that city, all the while pursuing their passion to dance. This larger narrative is interesting, but it’s the space in between where this movie shines.

Director Amanda Lipitz found a group worthy of our attention, a collection of young women from similar circumstances, but with wildly varying prospects and outlooks.

The three main recipients of attention–Blessin, Cori, and Tayla–are students at Baltimore Leadership School for Young Women. Not only that, they were part of the inaugural class, all set to graduate at the end of the school year. Each girl is also a member of the school’s dance team.

The “Lethal Ladies of BLSYW” is a step squad, a form of group dance popular in African-American culture. Percussive, choreographed movements create a spectacle for the eyes and ears. For these girls, though, it’s a chance to shine.

The backdrop of the film is a succession of competitions, pushing the girls to achieve in ways they don’t always have the opportunity to in other parts of their lives. It’s the living that takes place between these contests that makes Step a special documentary.

The star of the show–both the movie and the squad–is Blessin. After just a few minutes on screen, it’s clear she’s a natural, giving off the practiced nonchalance of famous people everywhere. Given the right circumstances and opportunities, Blessin could be (will be?) a star.

As it is, she struggles to confront her biggest obstacle: graduation from high school and admission to college. We see her mother watching her daughter struggle and realize the acorn doesn’t fall far from the oak. Blessin is going to have to overcome herself in order to move on to the next step of her life.

Tayla Solomon also has a very present mother, but hers works in law enforcement. The bar is high, and Tayla almost always meets the challenge. When Tayla and Blessin have a falling out, it is this mom that comes into the picture with wisdom and a call for patience and empathy.

The third leg of the stool is Cori, a whipsmart youngster with limitless potential in the classroom but a home life that isn’t as supportive as most valedictorians. Her mom and step-dad are great (as is her father, as we see in a bonus scene), but money is scarce and Cori wants to shoot for the academic moon: Johns Hopkins University.

Step ends with happy endings all around, both dance-wise and academically, but the struggle these girls go through to find collegiate homes underscores the sorry state of things for families without resources to afford this ever-more expensive endeavor. While these stories might have ended well, inequality remains and pervades the lives of people everywhere.

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