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About the Show
They took the drums away, but they could not stop the beat! Drumfolk will be taking its final bow this November at the Charleston Gaillard Center in Charleston, SC.
Inspired by the freedom movement known as the Stono Rebellion of 1739, Step Afrika!’s Drumfolk explores this little-known event in history that would forever transform African American life and culture. The largest slave insurrection in British North America, the Stono Rebellion resulted in the passing of the South Carolina Negro Act of 1740. The Negro Act prohibited enslaved Africans from growing their own food, earning money, and learning to read. It also prevented them from gathering and using drums, horns, or other loud instruments. The provisions of the Negro Act, including the ban on drums, quickly spread across the United States. When Africans lost the right to use their drums, the beats found their way into the body of the people, the Drumfolk. New percussive forms took root leading to the development of some of our country’s most distinct performance traditions like ring shout, tap, and stepping.
Drumfolk is a rhythmic storytelling of the development of African-American percussive dance and movement traditions. The performance, co-presented by the International African American Museum, will take place only 20 miles from where the rebellion began 284 years ago.
Founded in 1994 by C. Brian Williams, Step Afrika! is the first professional company dedicated to the tradition of stepping—a polyrhythmic, percussive dance form that uses the body as an instrument. Under Mr. Williams’ leadership, stepping has evolved into one of America’s cultural exports, touring more than 50 countries across the globe. Step Afrika! is one of the top 10 African American dance companies in the world. Step Afrika! promotes stepping as a contemporary dance genre through critically acclaimed performances and arts education programs. Creatively engaging audiences in this nascent art form, the Company creates full-length productions that expand on stepping’s unique American history.
Step Afrika! blends percussive dance styles practiced by historically African American fraternities and sororities; traditional West and Southern African dances; and an array of contemporary dance and art forms into a cohesive, compelling artistic experience. 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.
The Company reaches tens of thousands of Americans each year through a 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); Innovation in the Arts (2008); and Excellence in an Artistic Discipline (2012); and performed at the White House for President Barack Obama and the First Lady.
Critically Acclaimed works, such as The Migration: Reflections on Jacob Lawrence and Drumfolk, tour to major U.S. cities. Step Afrika! is prominently featured at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History & Culture with an interactive exhibit on the art form of stepping.
To learn more, visit www.stepafrika.org.
Student & Teacher Tickets
The Charleston Gaillard Center’s Education & Community Program is pleased to announce student and teacher tickets are available for this performance. Limited availability. Limited to two tickets per person with valid student/teacher ID.
Tickets available in advance: Tickets are $15 (plus applicable fees) for Orange seats on seatmap. Ticket purchasers must pick up their tickets at Will Call the night of the performance.
Day of Rush: Tickets are $20 (plus applicable fees). Available two hours prior to show time, best available.
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FULL | Pre-Show Panel | 5:30PM – 6:30PM
Location: Gaillard Center Performance Hall Lobby
Please join us prior to the Charleston premiere of Step Afrika! for an eye-opening discussion on the freedom movement, the Stono Rebellion and its role in the transformation of Black lives and culture. This hour-long panel will be led by the Founder and Artistic Director of Step Afrika!, C. Brian Williams, International African American Museum Director of Education, Dr. Felice Knight, and Interpreter for the Charleston County Parks, Toby Smith.
C. Brian Williams, Founder and Executive Director of Step Afrika!, is a native of Houston, Texas and graduate of Howard University. He is a National Heritage Fellow as designated by the National Endowment of the Arts, the nation’s highest honor in the folk and traditional arts. Brian first learned to step as a member of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. — Beta Chapter, in the Spring of 1989. While living in Southern Africa, he began to research the percussive dance tradition of stepping, exploring the many sides of this exciting, yet under-recognized American art form and founded Step Afrika! in 1994. Williams has performed, lectured and taught in Europe, Central and South America, Africa, Asia, the Middle East, the Caribbean and throughout the United States. He is the founder of the monumental Step Afrika! International Cultural Festival in Johannesburg, South Africa.
Through Williams’ leadership, stepping has evolved into one of America’s newest cultural exports and inspired the designation of Step Afrika! as Washington, D.C.’s official “Cultural Ambassador.” Williams has been cited as a “civic/community visionary” by NV Magazine, a “nation builder” by the National Black Caucus of State Legislators and a “minority business leader” by the Washington Business Journal. He is the recipient of numerous Artist Fellowships; the Distinguished Arts Award from the Coalition for African-Americans in the Performing Arts; the Pola Nirenska Award for Contemporary Achievement in Dance. He is also featured in Soulstepping, the first book to document the history of stepping. He also earned the 2008 Mayor’s Art Award for Innovation in the Arts and has led the company to multiple Metro DC Dance Awards for “Outstanding New Work,” “Excellence in Stage Design/ Multimedia” and “Outstanding Group Performance.” In 2018, Williams received the Mayor’s Arts Award for Visionary Leadership from the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities.
Dr. Felice Ferguson Knight is a native of Charleston, South Carolina. She is the Director of Education at the International African American Museum. Her professional mission is to retrieve and share unheard stories from marginalized, ethnically diverse, and understudied communities. This includes applying her extensive track record in academia to support non-profit agencies or educational organizations as they build community engagement, motivate teams, and optimize project management. She has been employed as an Adjunct Faculty member in the Department of Humanities at Columbus State Community College, a Visiting Assistant Professor of Black Studies at Denison University, and a Diversity, Inclusion, Equity, and Accessibility consultant with Leilani Brown, LLC. She is also the past Co-Director of the Truth, Racial Healing, and Transformation Center at The Citadel and former Chair of the History and Culture Subcommittee for the City of Charleston Special Commission on Equity, Inclusion, and Racial Conciliation. Her most recent full-time employment was as an Assistant Professor of African American History at The Citadel (2019-2023).
Dr. Knight received her Bachelor of Arts (History) degree from Furman University and has a Master’s degree from the Joint M.A. in History Program at The College of Charleston and The Citadel. Her doctorate is in African American History from The Ohio State University.
Toby Smith was born in Charleston, SC, but grew up in Philadelphia, PA. She’s a graduate of the University of South Carolina and has done graduate work at American University and Colorado Christian University. She began her professional career at the Central Intelligence Agency, where she served domestically and abroad. After eight years with the Federal Government, she returned home to Charleston and began working at the Charleston County School District as the public relations officer with the late Superintendent, Sydney “Chip” Zullinger. Dr. Zullinger selected Toby to organize and coordinate the school district’s first bond campaign to repair dilapidated schools. That campaign marked her first foray into politics and, although that first attempt ended in defeat, Toby’s enthusiasm for the political process was cemented. After the bond campaign she joined the Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce as the first African American director of the Public Affairs Group, where she served before moving to Georgetown, SC.
Radio broadcasting has been a big part of Toby’s life since the 90s. She has hosted radio programs on Charleston’s legendary station, WPAL, and briefly managed another radio station, WLMC, in Georgetown. In 1999, Toby was recruited to manage volunteers for Joe Riley’s mayoral campaign. A few months later, she discovered the wonderfully frustrating but always meaningful world of nonprofit organizations. Since that time, Toby has helped organizations find grant money, put together strategic plans, and trained boards. In 2003, she had a unique opportunity to review grants for the first round of the Compassion Capital Fund, which provided insight into the funding end of the grant making process.
Ministry was the very last arena Toby expected to be involved with, but an unexpected opportunity to fill in at Tuesday Night Bible study opened the door to the greatest love of her life. In December 2006, Toby was ordained and licensed at Mt. Olive Missionary Baptist Church, where Rev. Willis Glover, Sr., is the Pastor. Now, in her 17th year of service as an Associate Minister, Toby has taught the weekly Bible study, Sunday school classes and worked with the Youth and Women’s Ministries.
In September 2007 Toby joined the staff of Origins as a credit and housing counselor. During the foreclosure crisis she taught financial literacy classes, first-time homebuyer, pre-and post-bankruptcy and mortgage default classes throughout the state. Two years later, she began writing for the Columbia-based IMARA Woman magazine, covering education and financial literacy. In 2011, Toby married and moved to Greenville, SC, where she worked briefly before returning to Charleston. From May 2013-2016, she served as the Executive Director of Midland Park Community Ministries. Toby managed the daily operations of the food pantry and clothes closet; expanded services to Berkeley, Charleston, and Dorchester Counties and generated an additional $40,000 in grant dollars to expand programming and services.
In May 2015, Toby, who is three generations from slavery on her Mother’s side, became the first African American woman to run for mayor of Charleston. Her platform included racial reconciliation and engaging communities in need. After that campaign Toby joined the Advisory Board of Jenkins Institute (formerly Jenkins Orphanage) and continued her work as a Cultural and Educational Consultant for Project Okurase, which facilitates a yearly cultural immersion trip to Charleston, SC, for visiting ninth grade students.
In January 2018, Toby took another bold step: She announced her candidacy for a seat in the US House of Representatives, District # 1 and on June 12, 2018, Toby Smith won nearly 30% of the vote and lots of new friends in Charleston and Beaufort Counties. Four months later Toby undertook her biggest and boldest adventure ever: Commemoration 400, which was a Charleston-based, year-long reflection on the 15 million plus enslaved and their descendants.
In 2020 Toby joined the interpretive staff at McLeod Planation Historic Site. McLeod is one of two places in the country that intentionally examines the issue of slavery from the viewpoint of the Enslaved; additionally, the site is an affiliate member of the International Coalition of Sites of Conscience. In her capacity as a Lead Interpretive Aide, Toby interacted with guests from all over the world, found descendants of the Enslaved and planned cultural programming. In November 2021 Toby was promoted to the position of Cultural History Interpretation Coordinator for Charleston County Park and Recreation Commission. In that capacity she assisted in the planning of an international conference on the Stono Rebellion; formed new partnerships with several regional entities; gained her Certified Interpreter Guide designation and hired and trained new staff members. In October of 2022 Toby presented at a Clemson University symposium on cemeteries and in April 2023 spoke at a panel on international slavery held on the French protectorate of Reunion Island.
Rev. Smith continues to serve at Mt. Olive Missionary Baptist Church; 2023 marks her 17th year in service. Toby is the great-great granddaughter Idella, an eight-year old who was kidnapped from Africa and forcibly transported to South Carolina; the granddaughter of the Richard and Mary McCullough and Elijah “Bubsey” and Dorothy Smith and the daughter of Lawrence Smith and Minnie Morton. She is the sister of Larry E. Smith, the auntie of Brittany and Lauren, and the grand-aunt of Janelyn, Raven, Janelle, Myron, Joseph and baby Jahvel.
Choreography by Jakari Sherman, Dr. David Pleasant, Jeeda Barrington and Mfonsio Akpan
IN THE WILDERNESS
Choreography by Dustin Praylow and Ronnique Murray
Choreography by Jakari Sherman, Jordan Spry, Mfoniso Akpan and Júlio Leitão
Choreography by Jakari Sherman with contributions from Jeeda Barrington, Conrad R. Kelly II and Dustin Praylow
Choreography by Jakari Sherman
*Subject to change.
Please note that for this performance online purchases have a limit of eight (8) tickets per customer. To purchase additional tickets or to inquire about group sales, please contact the ticket office directly at (843) 242-3099.