Could not stop the beat—An Amazing Performance Brought by Step Afrika!

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On February 7, Step Afrika!, a non-profit dancing company that focuses on the African American traditions of “steppings”, brought Drumfolk to Colwell Playhouse at the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts. The performance explored the historical events and developments of African American culture and eulogizes the fight for freedom and liberty.

Written by Yushan Guo

The creators and performers of the show

Bodies as Instruments

The historical background for this performance is that enslaved African Americans were deprived of the right to use and play drums. However, just like what was repeated throughout this performance, “They took the drums away, but they could not stop the beat”, they used their bodies as the instruments. And this can be seen throughout this performance too.

The performers made extensive use of body movements as percussive instruments. Most of the movements consisted of clappings and steppings. Sometimes they clapped and stepped in unison to make them sound more uniform and powerful. And sometimes they were divided into different sections and did it differently between sections to add complexity to the sounds.

There were other ways the performers used their bodies as instruments. For example, the use of beatbox was one of the most impressive elements of this performance. Besides, they also used other tools to help them, such as tapping the ground with long sticks on their hands.

The ticket and the booklet of the show.

A Sense of Community

The sense of community among performers was the most salient when the movements were in unison, for example, their stepping, their dance movements, the repeated “They took the drums away, but they could not stop the beat”, and so on. Those uniform movements brought up a sense of community that made them sound more powerful and aggressive.

The sense of community can also be seen from the interaction between performers. They didn’t just stand there and playing their parts, they interacted with each other. For example, in the center of the stage, the beatbox player and a dancer turned to each other and started to move in unison along the beat. In this way, as audiences, it became pretty obvious that the characters on the stage were driven together to the same community by the beat, even though they had different costumes.

This was taken before the performance began. The audiences were gradually filling the seats of the Colwell Playhouse.

Resistance and Freedom

The ideas of resistance and freedom were the central theme of this performance. Although the drum is only a music instrument, prohibiting the use of drums was one of the many acts in the history that put unfair treatments onto African Americans, minimized them as a group, and denied their cultural roots and their freedom. Therefore, the resistance of this act was ingrained in this performance. There were drums on the sides of the stage. However, the use of actual drums was only a minor portion of this performance. Most of the time, the performers used their bodies, tools, and their dance movements, sending a message that, “you may take away our drums, but the beat is deeply ingrained in our flesh and bones, and you can never stop it”. Thus, the performance reached its climax when all the performers repeatedly shouted: “They took the drums away, but they could not stop the beat”.

The end of this amazing and impressive performance

For more information regarding this performance or about Krannert Center for the Performing Arts, please visit:

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