Step Afrika!

Step Afrika!
September 21, 2017 paperlesslion

The great migration of Americans of African heritage from the rural south to the cities of the industrial north early in the 20th century is depicted through the arts of dance, music and painting when Step Afrika! performs The Migration in Detroit: Reflections on Jacob Lawrence. The performance is Friday, Oct. 13 at the Detroit Institute of Arts, beginning at 7 p.m.

The Migration in Detroit: Reflections on Jacob Lawrence is inspired by the iconic series of tempera paintings by renowned American artist Jacob Lawrence. The works depict the mass migration of African Americans from the rural south to the industrial cities of the north. The 90-minute performance is funded by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

The global ambassador for the tradition of stepping, Step Afrika!’s The Migration blends body percussion, dance, spoken word, projected images of an epic series of 60 tempera paintings by artist Jacob Lawrence, and live and recorded music to chart the story of African-American migrants moving from the South to the North. Each piece of The Migration uses the images, color palette and motifs of one or more of the paintings to tell the migration story through body percussion and dance.

After the performance, audience members are invited to view one of Jacob Lawrence’s Migration Series panels as well as attend a panel discussion in the African American Gallery starting at 8:30 p.m.

Tickets are $35 for General Admission; $20 for Children under 17; and $25 Students, Seniors, DIA Members. For reservations, click here.

Prior to 1910, ninety percent of African Americans lived in the south. From 1910 to 1920 the African American population in the North increased 65 percent. It was a movement on an epic scale with an impact similar to the migration from southern and eastern Europe into northern US cities decades earlier. Both migratory historical events are universal and shaped the cultural landscape of America. The tradition of stepping originated on the campuses of Historically Black Colleges and Universities during the same time period captured in Lawrence’s paintings.

Following the performance, audience members are invited to attend a panel discussion hosted by Detroit CFO, John W. Hill and featuring Step Afrika!’s Founder, C. Brian Williams, Choreographer and Director, Jakari Sherman, DIA Curator of African American Art, Valerie Mercer and historian, Jamon Jordan of the Black Scroll Network. An exhibition of selected panels from Lawrence’s Migration Series will be on view September 25, 2017 to January 7, 2017 at the Detroit Institute of Arts.

When the performance completes in Detroit, The Migration will move to the New Victory Theater in Broadway’s legendary Theater District for a three-week run.

Step Afrika!’s production of The Migration: Reflections on Jacob Lawrence at the DIA is made possible in part through an award from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation’s Knight Arts Challenge which funds ideas that engage and enrich Detroit through the arts. The Migration is presented in partnership with the DIA and the Detroit 67 Project: Looking Back to Move Forward.

Tickets are $20 for children under 17, $25 for seniors, students and DIA members and $35 for General Admission. To purchase tickets, visit or now.


In conjunction with the performance, Step Afrika! will host five interactive workshops spread throughout the city of Detroit teaching residents of all ages the basics of stepping as practiced by historically African American fraternities and sororities. Step Afrika!, promotes stepping as an educational tool for young people, focusing on teamwork, academic achievement and cross-cultural understanding.

Although the paintings depict events from the early 20th Century, the themes of migration and displacement continue to resonate in 2017, with immigration and refugee crises at the forefront of world events. The interactive workshops are open to the public with a first-come, first-served basis. All workshops are free to attend, but registration is recommended: for details.

About Step Afrika!  

Founded in 1994 by C. Brian Williams, Step Afrika! is the first professional company dedicated to the tradition of stepping. It now ranks as one of the top ten African American dance companies in the United States. The company blends percussive dance styles practiced by historically African American fraternities and sororities, African traditional dance and influences from a variety of other dance and art forms. Performances are much more than dance shows; they integrate songs, storytelling, humor and audience participation. The blend of technique, agility and pure energy makes each performance unique and leaves the audience with their hearts pounding.

Step Afrika! promotes stepping as an educational tool for young people, focusing on teamwork, academic achievement and cross-cultural understanding. The Company reaches tens of thousands of Americans each year through 50-city tour of colleges and theatres and performs globally as Washington DC’s one and only Cultural Ambassador. Step Afrika!, has earned Mayor’s Arts awards for Outstanding Contribution to Arts Education (2005); innovations in the Arts (2008); and excellence in an Artistic Discipline (2012); and most recently served as the featured artist at the White House’s African-American History Month Reception in February, 2016 under President Barack Obama.

Step Afrika! is featured prominently in the Smithsonian’s new National Museum of African-American History and Culture with the world’s first stepping interactive exhibit.

To learn more about Step Afrika! their 50-city tour and The Migration performance at the DIA, visit

About the DIA

Founded in 1885, the museum was originally located on Jefferson Avenue, but, due to its rapidly expanding collection, moved to the current site on Woodward Avenue in 1927. The Beaux-Arts building, designed by Paul Cret, was immediately referred to as the “temple of art.” Two wings were added in the 1960s and 1970s, and a major renovation and expansion that began in 1999 was completed in 2007.

The museum covers 658,000 square feet that includes more than 100 galleries, a 1,150-seat auditorium, a 380-seat lecture/recital hall, an art reference library, and a state-of-the-art conservation services laboratory.

The DIA’s collection is among the top six in the United States, with about 66,000 works. The foundation was laid by William Valentiner, who was director from 1924 to 1945 and acquired many important works that established the framework of today’s collections. Among his notable acquisitions are Mexican artist Diego Rivera’s Detroit Industry fresco cycle, which Rivera considered his most successful work, and Vincent van Gogh’s Self-Portrait, the first Van Gogh painting to enter a U.S. museum collection.

A hallmark of the DIA is the diversity of the collection. In addition to outstanding American, European, Modern and Contemporary, and Graphic art, the museum holds significant works of African, Asian, Native American, Oceanic, Islamic, and Ancient art. In 2000, the DIA established the General Motors Center for African American Art as a curatorial department in order to broaden the museum’s collection of African American art.

About the Knight Foundation

Knight Foundation is a national foundation with strong local roots. We invest in journalism, in the arts, and in the success of cities where brothers John S. and James L. Knight once published newspapers. Our goal is to foster informed and engaged communities, which we believe are essential for a healthy democracy. Learn more at