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Posts Tagged ‘Baltimore Leadership School for Young Women’

“STEP” My rating: A-

83 minutes | MPAA rating: PG

We live in demoralizing times.  All the more reason to check out “Step,” a spectacularly engaging documentary about youth, challenge and triumph.

Amanda Lipitz’s film (amazingly, her first) centers on the step team at the Baltimore Leadership School for Young Women, an institution designed to give at-risk girls and a shot at a rewarding future.  The institution takes pride in sending every one of its graduates on to a higher institution of learning.

Step is a competitive event in which young persons — predominantly African Americans — put on performances involving complex and often high-speed footwork, gymnastics and chanting.  The lyrics often reflect social issues. These routines are performed accapella — no musical backing — although the awesome sound of a dozen or more feet stomping out an irresistible beat is hypnotic in a most musical way.

It’s like a mashup of glee club and ROTC drill squad — minus the rifles and fueled by funk, sass and optimism. One participant describes it as  “making music with our bodies.”

“Step” follows a group of senior girls — the original class at BLSYW when it opened several years back — as they prepare for their last year of step competitions. That sounds like a formula for your basic sports documentary, but Lipitz casts a much wider net.  By film’s end we’re treated to a rich emotional experience that will leave more than few audience members groping for a Kleenex.

Three of these young women become the focus of the film.

The most charismatic is Blessin, a star-in-training who founded the step team and oozes charisma.  With an apparently inexhaustible collection of wigs and an outsized personality that takes over any room, she’s a force to be reckoned with. (The Marilyn Monroe poster in her bedroom says something about her aspirations.) Brimming over with confidence and energy (outwardly, anyway), Blessin could sell refrigerators to Eskimos.

She’ll need every bit of her drive, beauty and determination, for like most of her fellow students Blessin faces daily challenges that could easily derail her path to success. Her mother is loving but plagued by depression and anger issues — sometimes she can’t find the will to get out of the house to participate in counseling sessions about her daughter’s future.

And then there’s the issue of money. Like virtually all of her teammates, Blessin hasn’t the cash for a college education. Some sort of scholarship is her only hope. But a bad case of senioritis — marked by dropping grades and a quietly demanding boyfriend — makes that an iffy proposition.

(more…)

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