Chris Pizzello/associated press
Columbus Short hopes to step into the mainstream with an art form that’s probably unfamiliar to most Canadians.
Stepping, a dance style practiced for over 100 years by competing African-American fraternities and sororities in the United States, is the focus of the new film Stomp The Yard.
In it, D.J. (Short), a troubled youth from Los Angeles attends Atlanta’s Truth University after the death of his brother, only to be recruited by a frat which puts his formidable dance skills into service in a national stepping competition.
"When Dave Scott, who is the choreographer, signed on to do the film, his general purpose was to make it so that fraternities would want to study our film and actually take stuff from our film and better what the tradition of stepping has been," Short (You Got Served) says of the filmmaker’s intended impact.
As an art form, stepping evolved from a period when black slaves in the U.S. were used to work coal mines in brutal conditions six days a week. On Sunday they would emerge into the daylight and were allowed to exercise.
Mimicking traditional African dances, the slaves would use their boots as percussion instruments and carry out complex group movements which would eventually evolve into the recreational art form performed by organized teams in the U.S. today.
Short, a veteran of the live percussion group Stomp and choreographer for Britney Spears’ In The Zone tour, has mixed emotions when asked whether he thinks Stomp The Yard will bring stepping to the international masses and lead to its commercialization.
"Anything you commercialize you can say makes it less pure, but I think any good talent, anything worth knowing is going to come out eventually and they owe it to themselves to let the world know about it," he explains.
"On the negative side, you’re going to have a lot of people who don’t know it accurately and who are just trying to make a copy of a copy, like a second generation of a tape. It’s not going to be as good quality as when it was first recorded."
Those thoughts aside, the film is sure to boost the profile of stepping and the up-and-coming Short, long known for his creative moves.
While he was challenged preparing for Stomp The Yard, Short admits that choreographing an entire Britney Spears concert tour was a far more daunting task.
"It’s a different beast," he points out. "The pressure was a lot less than having to visualize, create and direct a piece. The pressure is completely different."
Stomp The Yard opens in theatres tomorrow.