BY JOYCE NANETTE JOHNSON, Staff Writer
CLEARWATER — Stepping is an expressive dance form that incorporates synchronized steps, elaborate turns and soul-stirring handclapping delivered with a high-spirited style and attitude. Its humble beginnings can be traced back to pre-colonized Africa when African dancers put on boots to perform the “gumboot dance.”
The modern-day roots of stepping began in the early 1900s when the National Pan-Hellenic Council, a collaborative organization of nine historically African American, international Greek lettered fraternities and sororities, held Greek Sings, or showcases. The popularity continued to grow and eventually turned into step shows.
Stepping’s popularity spread from college campuses to neighborhoods throughout the country. It now incorporates tap, break dancing, gymnastics and Afro-Caribbean moves. It has expanded into major competitions and exhibitions across the nation.
Adonis Taylor is a stepping enthusiast. He sees it as a way to enlighten and uplift other young black men. His childhood love of stepping grew through the years, and he now heads up his own stepping troupe called the Young King’s Hierarchy. After months of dedication and practice, they were one of the finalists in the 2019 National High School Stepping Championship.
Taylor attended schools that were not too diverse. His parents, Emma and Lynden Taylor, enrolled him in an Artz4 Life Academy summer program. It was worlds away from what he was used to, and the experience changed his life.
“I was seven years old and didn’t know I was capable of doing some of those things or that other black people were already doing them,” he stated.
Taylor studied drumming, dancing and singing, and by the end of the summer program, he enrolled at the academy for the continuous after-school programs.
The founder and director of Artz4 Life, Jai Hinson, has created a hub for creative expressions. Known as the matriarch with a mothering spirit, she’s considered part mentor, part taskmaster and all love for her students.
“Mama Jai recruited me into Dundu Dole Urban African Ballet where most of my training was in dancing,” Taylor explained, noting that he has performed in the “Chocolate Nutcracker” and “Family Blessing” musicals.
“Mama Jai brought in the Million Dollar Steppers from Dunedin High School every summer to teach,” he said. “Some people dare to be different.”
Taylor described stepping as a mix of beats, precision, synchronization, jumps, kick, flips, leaps and hand movements.
“Stepping is a recognized genre of art just as ballet, jazz and tap,” Hinson said, explaining that it is an opportunity for expression, discipline, development.
“It’s a way of communication,” Taylor said, explaining part of his attraction to the art form. “It can also help to release emotion and anger. Step is intense, and you have to give 100 percent. It’s a hidden world that I didn’t know anything about. The discipline of the show, the uniforms. You have to be focused when you’re a representative of your team.”
He went on to join the Pinellas Park High School stepping team called Men of Perfection and became its captain.
Last year, he was hired as a youth specialist at the Artz4 Life Summer Camp, coming full circle. Each instructor had to come up with an end-of-the-year event, and Taylor chose to produce a step show.
He was so amazed at the professionalism and proficiency of his young group of steppers and motivated by the overwhelming support of the audience that he decided to start his own step team: the Young Kings Hierarchy.
Before joining the Young Kings, many of the youths had never been out of the city, and now they’ve traveled all over the states of Georgia and Florida and to Newark, N.J., where they placed third last month at the 2019 National High School Stepping Championship.
“I’m very proud of these Young Kings. It takes a lot of courage to step out into the unknown. But anything worth doing is worth doing well,” asserted Hinson.
Taylor feels that the world of his steppers have expanded and they now have a different perspective on life. He explained that most of the young men did not know that HBCU stood for historically black colleges and universities, nor were they familiar with sororities and fraternities.
At the competitions, the young men get to interact with college students and the chance to witness Greek life up close and personal.
Taylor describes the connection between the team members and himself as a “brotherhood,” and he prides himself on the fact that the boys feel comfortable enough to come to him for advice and talk to each other about their problems.
A shining example to his charges, Taylor is employed, attends Hillsborough Community College, and of course, manages the Kings.
“God has a different plan for me now that I have met these boys,” he averred. “Do not let your past define you! If it wasn’t for my past and the struggling times that I went through, Young Kings Hierarchy would not be here today. I am so grateful and blessed to be able to work with an amazing group of young men. Keep a lookout; this is only the beginning!”