Sick moves performed by enthusiastic kids to the cadence of popular beats. Vibrant stage lights. Pounding music. Chaos rings through Iron Gate Theatre, and the passion for dance CityStep inspires in students from West and South Philadelphia becomes clear within five minutes of my visit to their dress rehearsal.
“I practice everywhere I go. I practice in my grandma’s house, [even] when I was getting my check up in my dentist’s office,” said CityStep participant, 11–year–old Dior Gregory.
CityStep is a community service program that started at Harvard University over 30 years ago. In 2004, it was brought to Penn, where college students have worked to teach kids from schools with underfunded arts programs how to dance. It hasn’t stopped since.
“Our mission is to like empower students through dance and inspire some kind of creative self–expression….it’s less so about the steps and more so about empowering students, making them feel part of the community, and giving them the opportunity to like explore what like moving your body in space feels like,” said CitySpace Co–Director Carey Landon (E'18).
Members of CityStep have worked tirelessly on a weekly basis to bring together the program’s end of year show "CityStep Presents: The Newspaper!," Friday, April 27, at 6:30 p.m.. Even if you aren’t a fan of dance, you can’t miss it these kids’ electric personalities.
Dior and her friend Leyonie Uarrenpinder sat down with me to talk about their experience with the program. Leyonie and Dior attend the same elementary school, and both share an undying love for CityStep.
They also told me about how the program has fostered a stronger friendship between them, as well as other students from their school.
“Leyonie is a good student…She spares pencils when people don’t have them,” Dior said.
Leyonie speaks highly of her friend as well: “Dior is like somebody who be in the cool kid group.”
Not only does CityStep bring the kids closer together, but it also helps them cultivate meaningful connections with Penn students. All of the college students I talk to speak with such compassion about the kids in the program. Carey told me a little bit about one of her favorite memories:
“There was this one student Lenny who was completely not into CityStep at the beginning. He would just like sit in the corner and just be like ‘No I’m not doing this,’” she explained. “Then just like throughout the year he just really really felt encouraged by the CityStep teachers and we really just kept trying to be like ‘you got this you got this,’ and by the end of the year he was like front row in center…”
Throughout my experience as a student–journalist I never had sources beg to interview me. At least until I visited a CityStep rehearsal.
Fifth grader Nevaeh Irvin told me about some of her memories from the program:
“My favorite moment is when we had pizza one time at Penn and…someone said something funny and we was all laughing,” she chuckled.
Nevaeh loves to practice her dances at home every night, and she’s thrilled about the upcoming show:
“I would say like if you like to see dances and love to dance and if you wanna see people express themselves through dancing, you should definitely come.”
The kids who participate in CityStep, program directors, and teachers are all bubbling with excitement about Friday’s performance. When I asked Leyonie to sell the show to prospective audience audience members, she summed things up quite well:
“I would say that our dance will be lit,” she said. “Please come."