New program helps youths step into art form -- Gazette.Net


Lora Fitzgerald of Temple Hills wants Prince George’s County schools to step up and reach youth through a popular dance form.

Fitzgerald launched a program Sept. 16 for middle school-age children to promote stepping, a form of percussive dance involving foot stepping and hand clapping.

“Stepping is a vibrant thing,” said Fitzgerald, a program specialist with the Bowie Community Center.

Fifty children registered for the first week of the program, which is called S.T.R.I.V.E — Success through Teamwork, Respect, Inclusiveness, Values and Excellence.

Ameera Westfield, 14, of Bladensburg was looking forward to participating in S.T.R.I.V.E.

“I like the teamwork, and how you feel like you’re a part of a family when you join step team,” Westfield said.

Richard Melvern is a volunteer coach of “Dem’ Raider Boyz,” a nationally ranked step squad from Eleanor Roosevelt High School in Greenbelt. He said the squad is sustained entirely by donations and competition earnings. It costs about $4,000 per year to fund his 22-person team, he said.

Melvern said programs like S.T.R.I.V.E. could help draw awareness for step dancing.

“Having more opportunities for young people to get involved with stepping, I believe, will increase their demand to participate in the art form,” Melvern said.

Fitzgerald said there are about eight high school step teams in the county. She wants S.T.R.I.V.E. to demonstrate there is interest among middle school students, too.

She said her long-term goal is for step dancing to be recognized as a sport or an art, so it can receive funding from the school system.

Prince George’s County Schools spokeswoman ShaVon McConnell said step teams are considered an extracurricular activity and thus do not receive county funding.

Two 90-minute S.T.R.I.V.E. sessions are held each week at six participating community centers in Bowie, Bladensburg, Capitol Heights, Forestville, Landover and Temple Hills.

Classes focus primarily on stepping, but also include health and personal development components.

“It takes discipline, it takes creativity, it takes stamina to do it,” said Fitzgerald, who has coached youth stepping groups since 1995.

The first class at the Bladensburg Community Center began with students recording their heart rates and continued with a 60-minute exercise regimen of sit-ups, push-ups and jumping jacks.

Brion Whyte, 11, of Greenbelt said he participates in other sports, but enjoys the athletic component of step dancing.

“I just like the movement of it,” he said.

Melvern said he is encouraged by Fitzgerald’s efforts to reach youth, as he started step dancing with his church when he was 7 years old.

“Seeing this same opportunity being presented around the county, I find it not only necessary, but also inspiring,” Melvern said.