African Student Organization hosts 12th annual Break the Stage competition

African Dance Collective performs the Parade of Nations in Cohen Auditorium on Feb. 28. The group also performed in the annual Break the Stage competition, held on Nov. 7. Evan Sayles / Evan Sayles Photography

The African Student Organization (ASO) hosted its 12th annual Break the Stage step competition for step dance teams from colleges across New England on Nov. 7 in Cohen Auditorium.

Over 450 tickets were sold for the event, and many people had to be turned away at the door, according to junior Janeth Jepkogei, vice president of ASO.

The event featured performances from Tufts dance groups such as ENVY, BlackOut and the African Dance Collective (ADC), in addition to the competition between five non-Tufts step dance teams from Northeastern University, Boson College (BC), Bentley University and Brown University. Females Incorporating Sisterhood Through Step (FISTS), a dance team from BC, won first place in the competition, according to ASO President Sopuruchukwu Ezenwa.

During the competition, teams were judged based on precision, creativity and complexity of dance and audience reaction, according to Ezenwa. He added that in addition to judging dancing skills, the three judges, who were not affiliated with Tufts, asked teams to put on drama skits and incorporate entertainment through vocalizations.

“People don’t just go there to dance; people go there to entertain,” Ezenwa, a sophomore, said. “You see mini dramas, people performing skits while they are step dancing, [because] it’s all part of the step-dancing culture. You don’t see a team just dancing the whole time, because they dance, they talk, they make fun of their members and laugh, and that’s why teams get points for vocal clarity as well. It’s all part of the show, with a lot of interaction with the audience.”

ENVY, Tufts’ all-female step team, opened the show, and BlackOut, the all-male step team from Tufts, closed it, Ezenwa said. He said this decision served as a way to bring the audience together.

Ezenwa added that this year’s Break the Stage event was a success due to a variety of factors, including successful organization by the many groups involved in planning it.

“This year’s event went really well,” he said. “I was really happy because I felt the audience was really enjoying the show, and the emcees were really entertaining. The flow was great, and we didn’t have any technical difficulties during the show.”

Jepkogei said preparations for the competition began during the summer and spanned more than four months. She believes that Break the Stage is an important way to celebrate African culture — not only for students, but also for the alumni and families who attend.

“I feel like it’s a representation of African culture,” Jepkogei said. “It also helps [people] appreciate something that goes all the way back to slavery and the apartheid movement in South Africa, and it brings [these issues] to today. That’s important, to let people know what they went through and what our ancestors went through.”

Ryan Leung, second-year senior captain of BlackOut, said the event is extremely important for his team, and especially for new members.

“For us, it is always an honor and pleasure to be the final performance of Break the Stage,” Leung, a senior, told the Daily in an email. “Cohen is our ‘home field,’ and Break the Stage is the only step competition hosted at Tufts, so to be given the opportunity to close the show means a lot to us as a team. Additionally, Break the Stage is often the first time our newest members perform on stage with the rest of the team, really making this night a special one for us.”

Jared Smith, senior captain of BlackOut, said Break the Stage was a great way to showcase talent in front of a buzzing and supportive home crowd.

“It feels amazing to walk on stage and hear your name called and instantly know this show will be killer,” Smith, a senior, told the Daily in an email. “Through this environment, we all give our best … It really is [a] one-of-a-kind feeling to perform at Tufts.”

Smith added that the level of skill and creativity from the step teams this year was especially high.

“From a performer’s perspective, it is always nice to see other teams pushing the boundaries of this art form,” he said. “It encourages us to do the same.”

Jepkogei said the success of this year’s Break the Stage went beyond entertainment, since it also prompted members of the audience to educate themselves about the history of step dancing and the communities from which it originates.

“I was sitting and watching, and I felt so happy because everything was working and running so smoothly,” Jepkogei said. “After such enjoyable performances, it even prompts you to look up what step dancing is, what it means to these peoples. It informs people what step is and puts this idea forward for them to look it up.”