Step Review by Tanner Stechnij
After the death of Freddie Gray, thousands took to the streets of Baltimore to protest police brutality. These protests lasted weeks and on April 27th, 2015, Baltimore was put under a state of emergency. In the wake of these protests, director Amanda Lipitz saw the opportunity to create a more hopeful story of the city she was born in. These events were fresh in the inaugural graduating class of The Baltimore Leadership School for Young Women (BLSYW) when they entered their senior years. Step details the final year of grade school for the Lethal Ladies step team as they prepare for college and their next steps.
Step focuses on three first-generation college hopefuls by framing their step prowess with their academic success against a struggle of privilege. BLSYW is a public charter school that admits based on a lottery. The school’s mission is to see every single young woman attending get accepted into a college.
The breadth of the whole film is the cast of charismatic, driven girls on the step team. Three girls take the lead: Blessin, Cori and Tayla. Each of the ladies has different stories and family lives, but they all admit to not being in excess of physical fortune. They combat this with their personalities.
Blessin oozes charisma thanks to her well-spoken nature and leadership ability. She is the captain of the step team, but wasn’t able to perform with them her junior year: she had missed 53 days of school. She struggled with her grades in the past and as she sees her friends getting accepted into colleges, she begins to worry about her future.
Cori is one of the more reserved girls on the step team. She dreams of going to John Hopkins, but she has many siblings and her family can not take on the debt of the expensive school.
Tayla is a driven, fierce stepper who takes from her mom, a correctional officer who shows her support by attending all of the girls’ step practices.
Two ladies lead these young women through their schooling career: guidance counselor Paula Dofat and Coach Gari McIntyre.
It is easy to fall in love with this community and feel their triumphant highs as well as their unfortunate lows. When the ladies step there is something very cathartic about their performances as they showcase the strength and vulnerability of black women in the modern times. Their step routines are politically and location driven. The young women unite in their experiences as they drive forward towards a national step competition.
The 82-minute runtime covers a lot of ground while still progressing at a brisk pace. Each of the girls encounters struggles on their way to adulthood whether it be financial, familial, the workload at school and the impending certainty of life after high school.
The cliché “you can accomplish anything If you put your mind to it” frequently came to mind throughout Step. As acceptance letters start to roll in the young ladies futures take shape in front of the audience’s eyes. The tears are well earned, whether they are a reaction to the triumphs of the girls or the unfair struggles that they encounter as black women living in the inner city.
The care that the community has for each other runs so deep and is so uplifting. Dofat’s dedication and love for Blessin – a girl she has worked with since 2009 – is something every struggling and disengaged student could use as they find out whom they are.
What Step lacks in formal prowess, it makes up for with its warm heart and scope. Lipitz doesn’t just document a year in the lives of these girls, she finds their hardships and watches as they turn them into their victories. She contrasts the gritty side of Baltimore with the beautiful sides by showing that the city has always been at harmony underneath the national headlines. It is audacious and anyone can relate, but the importance is in the broadness of the experiences. The girls of The Baltimore Leadership School for Young Women don’t just represent themselves, but they represent a community of engagement that can serve to encourage a generation.