“STEP,” one of the newest American documentary films to hit theaters, chronicles the true-story of a high school’s step dance team in the heart of Baltimore as they attempt to win a step championship, get into college, overcome challenges and chase their dreams in the wake of the highly published and controversial death of Freddie Gray - a 25-year-old African American resident who lost his life while in police custody.
The film documents the events of the team’s senior year by following three members of the Lethal Ladies step team at The Baltimore Leadership School for Young Women, along with their coach, college counselor, parents and teammates. These young women come from different backgrounds, have varying and struggling home situations, and may even be the first in their family to attend and graduate from college.
“STEP” tells a moving story using a number of appropriate themes in a thought-provoking way that will appeal to audiences and cause them to open their eyes to some of the harsher realities in our country today.
I had a chance to sit down with the three leading ladies, Blessin Giraldo, Cori Grainger, and Tayla Solomon, as well as the film’s director, Amanda Lipitz, the step team’s coach, Gari McIntyre, and the school’s Director of College Counseling, Paula Dofat.
Blessin, the step prodigy, who shines during performances but struggles at home and school, spoke about how step represents something bigger than just dancing. “It’s a platform, a way to communicate, stick together and stand up to talk about various topics that are most important to them. It teaches them about themselves, about discipline, confidence, and resilience.”
Blessin went on to say that “the film can unlock a lot of different doors for people around the world, it can bring you together, motivate you, and is all about the passion.” She also described “STEP” as “magical” and that as far as her future goes, viewers should consider her a “triple threat” and “business on wheels” as she pursues business branding and a career in film, TV, and theater.
Cori, the school’s Valedictorian, echoed that as an inner city student of color, she’s grateful to have a platform to express things most important to her, such as “Black Lives Matter and education.” In regards to overcoming obstacles to success, she said, “it’s not about where you came from or what you have, but it’s how you make the best out of situation.”
Tayla, who is described by some as “Beyonce with deadpan humor,” talked about how she never imagined the film to be as big as it is: “People love it. It’s an inspiring and relatable story.” She went on to say “everyone has something they go through, which is not always going to be easy, but that the answer is to seek support.”
When speaking with the film’s director, who is a Tony Award-winning Broadway producer and documentary filmmaker, Lipitz said, “For a long time, Baltimore had been given a bad name with only one side of the story being told, and that her goal with “STEP” was to change the conversation about the city she loved so much.” She added that it is her hope that the film breaks box office records and “sends a clear message of what kind of stories we want to hear, especially as woman, and the ways they want to be portrayed.”
I also spoke to the step team’s demanding Coach Gari, who spoke about the importance of being a mentor and having a support system in place for the success of young men and woman. “It takes a village,” she said, and “struggle is inevitable; you always need someone to help you get to the next level in life.” The student’s tenacious college counselor, Paula, expanded further on mentoring by saying, “it is an investment that everyone has the responsibility to make. There is never a bad return on investment. It’s something that will grow and mean something.” She further states that “the only barrier or obstacle to success is the girls themselves, and it is an opportunity to rise above circumstances.”
In addition to attending other festivals, “STEP” was accepted into this year’s Sundance Film Festival and won the U.S. Documentary Special Jury Award for Inspirational Filmmaking. Fox Searchlight liked the project so much that they have plans to do a feature film adaptation. A possible musical is being prepared for Broadway as well, and it appears as if the sky is the limit for this inspiring story. The film is now playing in select theaters.
“STEP” is rated PG for thematic elements and some language.