OpenDoors VISTA Brings the Art of Stepping to Isaac Dickson Elementary

Step Pic

By- Jess-Mara Jordan:

Stepping is a type of dance that is done with your entire body being used as an instrument. It is a
combination of spoken word, stomping and clapping. It’s origins date back to South Africa where the miners used to make rhythms with their boots, called gumboots, when drumming was not allowed. This became known as the ‘Gumboot Dance’. Stepping continued to evolve as historically black fraternities and sororities were founded and Stepping continued to be a form of expression and pride.

My love for stepping started at the age of 10 when older friends in my neighborhood made the
middle school step team and would come home and teach us their steps. When I moved on to middle school, I too auditioned and made the Providence Middle School Pride Step Team. I continued to step in high school, at my church, and also formed my own step team at Elon University as part of our Gospel  choir.

I believe that no matter where you are, you should always find a way to do what you are
passionate about. Jen Ramming’s relationship with Isaac Dickson Elementary’s Bright IDEAS after school program director, Penny Lewis, allowed me to do just that. After I had the opportunity to MC the UNC- Asheville Homecoming Step show, I was asked by Ms. Lewis to teach a step class at Isaac Dickson. I’ll admit I was a little nervous. I had only ever taught middle school age and older. I worried that my new team consisting of 10 third and fourth graders would not be able to keep up. I could not have been more wrong. I had to think on my feet during many practices because my team, the self-titled “Cool Steppers”, would learn what I had planned to teach over a few weeks in about half an hour. After only six practices, they had their first performance and did exceptionally well!

Stepping kept me on track and out of trouble when I was young. My middle school step coach,
Ms. Artis, did not play games. If our grades slipped, we didn’t perform. If we had behavior referrals, we didn’t perform. If we fought with each other, we didn’t perform. Not only could we not perform, we couldn’t compete, and the chance to compete and earn a title is what we practiced for the whole year. She raised us like a family, and it was the hard work ethic, responsibility, and teamwork that we learned that would take us far in life. Those are the same values I have tried to instill in my students as part of my Bright IDEAS step club, and also what I hope to instill in all those I impact by bringing the art of stepping to Asheville.

If you have a history with Stepping, please reach out to me at and let me
know your story! We at OpenDoors would love to see the commitment to and excitement for Stepping grow in WNC.

Photography by Katherine Brooks Photography