Courtesy photo The Avon Park High School Diamond Steppers are competing today against 19 other high school teams from as far away as California in an event at Walt Disney World.
published: Friday, August 29, 2008
APHS stomps its way to the Walt Disney World Resort
By ROMONA WASHINGTON
AVON PARK - Some of them have been stepping together since they were in elementary school and they are taking this year to make it their best ... since it will be their last.
The Diamond Steppers from Avon Park High School are starting the school year off with a huge competition that gets under way today. They will take the stage at the Walt Disney World Resort at the first ever Disney STEP Classic at Disney's Wide World of Sports Complex. The classic is presented by the National Education Association.
The group from Avon Park will compete against about 19 high school step teams from as far away as California for top honors and cash prizes at this inaugural event. Step is a form of percussive dance which draws from elements of African and Caribbean dance.
APHS senior Daija Barrett described it as "really complex form of dance that requires coordination, rhythm, and of course personality. It helps a lot of high school steppers make a connection to not only their heritage but college life. Especially after watching movies like 'Stomp the Yard,'" she said.
Barrett is one of the girls who started stepping in fourth grade. She and six other girls started one of the first groups at the Boys and Girls Club in Avon Park. Friends Ashley Schultz and DeMaley Williams started the group at the high school, Barrett said.
"We all loved to dance and play around at a young age. Stepping wasn't popular in this area, so we started our own group," Barrett said.
It was exciting enough that her mom, Cynthia, became involved, first as an advisor and now as the director of the Avon Park team.
Daija Barrett plans to step "until the end," and unless she chooses a college or university with a step team, this could be her last year as a team member.
There are three levels of steppers in Highlands County - Baby Diamonds are elementary school age, Junior Diamonds are middle school students and Senior Diamonds are the high school age students.
"It's becoming a competitive sport and Disney knows how popular it's become," Cynthia Barrett said. The winning team in the high school competition will win $1,500, second place will receive $1,000 and third will take home $500. The collegiate level has stakes ranging from $5,000-$3,000.
Only six of the 19 high school teams will make it to the final competition, which begins at 6 p.m. today.
"We're a little nervous but excited," Cynthia Barrett said of the team.
The girls have experience competing, having traveled to Miami for events and hosting an event with 18 teams here in Highlands County in March. The big difference in today's competition - the Avon Park team is all girls. They will competing against boys, girls and co-ed teams.
"It makes it a little harder. Boys are more acrobatic and have more endurance. It can be a little intimidating. We've never stepped against boys before," Cynthia said.
Ashley Green, another senior stepper, agrees. "I feel ecstatic about the upcoming step competition. I'm sort of nervous, but at the same time I'm confident that our step team will do well, especially if we base it on our past reputation. If everyone gives 100 percent of the energy, the hard work will definitely payoff," she said.
Jamise Perry described their routine as a "very hype and solid routine. We are all excited but a bit nervous. We are going into the competition with a winning attitude but plan to have lots of fun."
Celebrity judge Jon M. Chu and eight judges from the National Step Show Alliance (NSSA) will score the contest. Chu burst onto the Hollywood scene as the writer and director of award-winning short musical film 'When the Kids Are Away.' After winning several prestigious awards, he directed the hit dance movie "Step Up 2 The Streets" for Disney, which grossed more than $140 million worldwide. He is slated to go into production for his latest film, "Step Up 3D" in fall of 2008.
The event is open to the public. The event is presented in conjunction with the MEAC/SWAC Challenge where Hampton and Jackson State college football teams will compete on Sunday.
Stepping, step-dancing or stomping is an energetic dance that uses the participant's body as an instrument to produce complex rhythms and sounds through a mixture of footsteps, spoken word, and hand claps. Fraternity, sorority, and high school troupes perform step as a means of sending a positive message to the audience.
APHS senior Markeeta Fleming described it simply as "a form of dance that represents my African heritage."
High school preliminary qualifying rounds will start at 10 a.m. Friday with the finals starting at 6 p.m.
For more information visit www.disneystepclassic.com. Purchase tickets at the box office at Disney's Wide World of Sports Complex.
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