One of the treasures of Doc/Fest opens this week, the fantastic Step.
The film focuses on an inner-city school in Baltimore that exists solely for the education of girls from deprived backgrounds and offers them a real opportunity, teaching them that they can fly high in the future.
For many of the pupils at The Baltimore Leadership School for Young Women, they will be the first generation to attend university and as such the hopes of their extended families and communities weigh heavily on them.
The Step group, the ‘Lethal Ladies of BLSYW’, founded six years earlier by Blessin Giraldo when she was just 11, is an outlet for creativity, competition and, as the dance form dictates it is all about team work.
Step dancing is loud and powerful, with plenty of stamping and clapping, using the human body as a percussion instrument accompanying, and part of, the dance routines themselves.
While director Amanda Lipitz had actually spent five years with the group, the film focuses on the girls in their final senior year.
Following the Step group as they prepare for a major competition is, of course, a documentary format not unusual to us all but this tried and tested narrative proves once again to have the tension required to keep attention and the pay-off needed to fulfil expectations.
The young women in the group and their families are all very different and as they deal with the trials of school, growing up, friendships and stepping, we see their personal growth on screen over the course of the year.
As leader of the Step group, Blessin has the roughest ride and yet she wins over the hearts of the teachers – and in turn the audience – enduring us to her through her resilience and sense of humour.
It is hard to watch Step and not see comparisons with Anna Rose Holmer’s brilliant feature debut The Fits.
Released earlier this year, The Fits is a story about young women of colour navigating the teenage years and taking part in dance troupes that has clear relevance to Step.
Ultimately both films are about belonging, camaraderie and identity – themes that resonate with everyone.
After our 4pm screening of the film on Saturday, we’ll be hosting a fun, free Step dance workshop for all the family, in partnership with the Sheffield’s own Stepz Dance Academy.
Come along (with comfortable clothes and shoes to stomp in) and join us as we celebrate the power of dance and community.