Step: A Dance Doc About The Importance Of Community
Review by Aaron Haughton
Step is a documentary from Amanda Lipitz that follows three high school seniors, Blessin, Cori, and Tayla, as they prepare for graduation, apply for college, and gear up for their final step competition. While it's a dance documentary on the surface, the real focus is on these young women and whether or not they'll get into college, which may be their sole ticket out of Baltimore and the only gateway to bigger and better things. The film reminds me of an old saying, which still holds much truth: "It takes a village." The academic focus reveals that there are so many people rallying behind these women to help them achieve their goals and dreams. And, if you're anything like me, the documentary will have you rooting and applauding them throughout their up and down journey.
In the aftermath of Freddie Gray, it would appear that Baltimore is still trying to pick up the pieces. At one point in the film, while standing in front of the Freddie Gray memorial, the step coach tells the girls that as black women they’re viewed as the bottom of the barrel and so they have to work that much harder. It’s one moment out of many that will absolutely shatter your heart.
As the trailer mentions, these girls come home to a house with no electricity or food, in some cases no refrigerator at all. That’s just the kind of environment and reality these girls live in and aspire to ascend from. Clearly, these girls have a lot weighing on their mind, yet stepping offers a means to escape that reality, as well as serves as a creative outlet for them to forcefully express what’s on their mind, but it will only get them so far. Enter college, which proves to be a chief hurdle for one of the three women.
Like many documentaries, this one is all about the characters, all of which are personable and relatable; however, of the three members of the high school step team, the main focus in on Blessin Giraldo, the founder of the school’s step team. While Blessin is a leader on the step team, she’s a blatant sideliner when it comes to academic, which leaves her future dreams of college hanging by a thread; her grades and school attendance are rocky, and her home life is far from ideal. It’s through her, as well as the other two young women, that we see a community rise behind them to help them achieve their goals.
There are plenty of moments that hit you like a haymaker, but the film is not wholly full of woes. Not at all. It’s an all encompassing joy, a true pleasure to watch these young women do something from the heart with so much passion and enthusiasm. It all builds into a compelling narrative in which you genuinely want to root from them and see them succeed. The film will have you clapping and cheering loudly before leaving you feeling incredibly inspired.
There's so much to champion and cheer for with this film -- I can't say that enough -- and director Amanda Lipitz manages to incorporate so much into the film's 88 minute runtime, which at some points leave you wanting more. For instance, Tayla’s mother is a correctional officer and this is touched on but never fully explored. There are a few instances of that, and I think that the film could’ve been stretched a little longer, but I think keeping it tight and mostly focused on the three girls was the right move.
Another point of success is that Lipitz's camera never once feels like an intrusion. Nothing feels forced, staged or disingenuous. Even the interviews play like candid conversations that the viewer is having with the subjects. There are a few blurry moments that you can tell caught Lipitz off guard, but like one of the girls says in the film, "You gotta make the best out of what you got."
It’s a film about young women who work hard to achieve their dreams and aspirations even though all odds are stacked against them, all the while shining a light on those supporting pillars that help them get to where they want to go. In the case of Step, it’s the community that serves a the backbone for these young women, and it’s an empowering slice of life that I would encourage everyone to go see.
Rating: 4 embarrassing mom moments out of 5.
What do you think? Did the documentary fill you with inspiration? Was an eye opening experience for you? We want to know! Share your thoughts and feelings in the comments section below, and, as always, remember to viddy well!