Step is far more than a documentary about dance, in much the same way that Hoop Dreams is more than a documentary about basketball. This is a film that examines the nature of hope in the face of inequality; success in the face of despair. In documenting the attempts of the Baltimore Leadership School for Young Women’s step team, the Lethal Ladies, to get to the championships, filmmaker Amanda Lipitz shines a light on the struggles of being young and black in America.
The Lethal Ladies all have their own struggles outside of the world of their dance team. Poverty. Familial problems. Classroom engagement. At times, their entire world seems to be against them as they fight for dominance on and off the stage. Through the prism of dance, Lipitz takes us on a journey detailing the importance of education, the role of leaders, and the molding of our future.
It’s often a difficult and emotional journey for the Lethal Ladies, who are on a mission to prove the worth of both themselves and their school by making it to the championships. Stepping, then, becomes a kind of metaphor for finding your value and celebrating your abilities. Many of the girls on the team are part of the first graduating class at BLSYW, and taking the championship would be a powerful validation of the mission statement of the school, which wishes to ensure college admittance and secure the futures of 100% of their students.
Lipitz does a remarkable job at both telling their story and revealing the outside obstacles that face these girls, and millions like them across the country. If Step has a single fault, it’s that it never quite goes deep enough. It’s short, just-under-90-minute runtime prevents a serious deep dive into the issues. That doesn’t mean that the struggles are glossed over, far from it. The Lethal Ladies combined tell the story of the struggle facing young black women today, and together they paint a powerful picture.
As nice as a deep dive would have been, it’s not entirely necessary. Lipitiz manages to pull a lot from very little, and its effect cuts deep. Step borrows heavily from the Hoop Dreams school of documentaries, interspersing clips of practice and competition with anecdotes from the day to day lives of the team. It’s a tried and true formula that works well here, and tells the story of Step beautifully.
Step is requisite viewing for anyone with a passion for education, a love of dance, or who wants to know more about the realities facing so many young Americans. It’s an important film, which highlights the needs and challenges of minority females, but which also is a source of inspiration. These young ladies are symbols of hope and triumph, representing the best of America. Their personal achievements serve as a powerful reminder for anyone who has ever dared to dream, and dared to work for a better tomorrow. As the future leaders of our cities, states, and country, they should serve to bolster your hopes for the future of all of us.
Step is now playing in theaters everywhere.