Step Afrika’s Holiday Show Breaks the Mold

Step Afrika! company member Joe Murchison and assistant artistic director Mfon Akpan show some holiday style.

Every December Washingtonians have their fill of holiday chorales, Nutcracker performances, Black Nativity productions and reprises of A Christmas Carol, but this year we’ll be treated to something truly unique: A Magical, Musical Holiday Step Show. Our own Step Afrika! celebrates the season doing what it does best: bridging a panoply of musical styles and cultures to bring whole families—from toddlers to grandparents—to their feet.

The show will be a welcome departure from performances, even at children’s theaters, that open with instructions for how kids need to behave. “Who wants to sit still and be quiet for the holidays?” asks Step Afrika! founder and executive director C. Brian Williams. “Step is magical and musical. It allows kids to celebrate in a very percussive, loud and fun way.”

Since coming to the District 18 years ago—and more recently taking residence at the Atlas Performing Arts Center—Step Afrika! has been captivating audiences of all ages here and around the world. Rooted in a dance tradition created by African American fraternities and sororities in the early 1900s, step combines movement, words and sounds; the dancers themselves are the musicians, synthesizing jazz, symphonic, African and even marching band influences. 

“My goal is to get bright eyes and big smiles,” says Williams. “Kids will party from the time they walk into the theatre to the time they walk out.” In the lobby, Faithfully Sweet will be conjuring ice cream, produced in a billowing cloud of liquid nitrogen. In the theater, Step Afrika’s troupe of 12 dancers will be joined by DJ Frosty the Snowman and several “furry friends from the Arctic Kingdom.” “We’ll see if we can teach them to step,” Williams says.

But furry friends won’t be the only ones joining in. “Audience participation is so critical,” Williams says. “We always tell kids: The more energy you give the more you’ll get back. The more interaction the better!” The whole audience has plenty of room to dance at their seats, and in the middle of the show they can come on stage for a step workshop.

The show joins an array of holiday events at the Atlas, including the 7th Annual Holiday Concert and Sing Along on December 9 and Drumming With Dishes: Holiday Edition—part of the Theatre for the Very Young for pre-school-aged children. “We want to be the artistic heart of this community,” says Atlas executive director Sam Sweet. “To do that we have to bring new things, but also honor our community’s traditions.” The Atlas’ mix of musical and theatrical productions for all ages attracts audiences from the entire Washington region while fueling the arts in the immediate H Street neighborhood.

A Magical, Musical Holiday Step Show will be at the Atlas Performing Arts Center from Wednesday, December 12, to Sunday, December 23. Find out more and get tickets for the holiday programs at

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