There is a deep ache embedded in Black femaleness — one not often considered when examining the experiences of brown hued women and girls. A mix of passion, fear and determination grips you and jolts you awake, settling deep into your person as you transition from adolescence to womanhood. Amanda Lipitz’s outstanding debut documentary STEP captures all of those feelings, provoking tears and electrifying the viewer’s soul.
STEP opens in Baltimore during the fall of 2015. Just a few months after the horrifying murder of 25-year-old Freddie Gray— the city and the rest of the country remained on edge. On Franklin Street, the Baltimore Leadership School for Young Women is a haven for some of the city’s most vulnerable. STEP centers on three young women in their senior year —all members of the school’s inaugural class, chronicling their personal lives, their educational endeavors and following them into the gymnasium where they lose themselves in the stomping and bolstering beats of step dance routines.
Effervescent step captain Blessin Giraldo started the team in the sixth grade, but her frequent absences (she missed 53 days of school the year prior) and rocky home life causes friction in the classroom and in her relationships with her teammates. Cori Grainger, a quiet straight-A student, uses stepping to tap into her alter ego. It’s a side of her that stays hidden away at home with her mother, stepfather and six younger siblings. Cori seems most comfortable coding on her laptop and striving for an acceptance letter to the prestigious Johns Hopkins University. Then there’s Tayla Solomon — who proclaims that she’s a notch down from Beyoncé when it comes to her step skills — her ever-present corrections officer mother keeps the deadpan teen in check.
As the “Lethal Ladies of BLSYW” press forward in pursuit of the ultimate prize, placement in the Bowie State step competition they must learn to confront every obstacle thrown their way. Life can be callous to Black women, so for younger girls, the challenges that they encounter often seem insurmountable.
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