Director Amanda Lipitz has come a long way from her days as producer for the Legally Blonde musical. Now she presents Step, a documentary examining the lives of young women juggling their step dance team and the pursuit of college acceptance during their final year at a Baltimore school for girls.
Lipitz zeroes in on three disparate and distinct voices: Cori, the over-achiever hoping for a full ride to Johns Hopkins University; Tayla, a relatively average student with an intense mother; and Blessin, the founder of the step team with a fiery personality that hides great sadness.
Lipitz sets the stage against the backdrop of the 2015 police murder of Freddie Grey, but other than some peripheral mentions of the tragedy and an emotionally flat field trip to Grey's memorial with the step coach leading the way, the underlying theme is lost in the shuffle. We do, however, understand that as young black women living at or below the poverty line, the doc's main subjects are at a decided disadvantage—but we're left to simply know that, as Lipitz never digs much deeper into the matter than "They've got it hard; step dance is the escape, college the light at the end of the tunnel."
It's a bleak picture and an often-heavy experience as we come to know the young girls and root for both their step team during competitions and their potential successes as students. When 100 percent of their senior class graduated from the Baltimore Leadership School for Young Women, the reaction feels exaggerated, but the college counselor and principal of the school care so much and try so hard that we can't help but get swept up in their ethics and efforts.
It would have been nice to find out where the girls are today or even to have gotten a clearer idea of their home lives or trials and tribulations, and Step does come perilously close to emotionally manipulative. Still, there is an ultimate message of positivity and hard work that's impossible to deny, and ample sentimental satisfaction that comes from knowing even those who struggle with intense adversity and systematic oppression can make their way and make their mark.
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Center for Contemporary Arts,