Family Fun

Step Afrika! Dances Through a Uniquely American Experience

A dance performance like no other, “The Migration” brings paintings—and history—to life for audiences of all ages.

“The Migration” / Photo courtesy of William Perrigen

The Migration is no ordinary dance performance: It’s a history lesson, a museum visit, and a musical feast all wrapped into one masterful 80-minute show at the New Victory Theater. And, yes, it’s 100 percent kid-friendly.

step afrika
The Migration / Photo courtesy of William Perrigen

Here, Step Afrika!, a Washington D.C.–based troupe dedicated to the art of step dance and body percussion, uses tap, contemporary dance, and, of course, step to bring Jacob Lawrence’s historic paintings, The Migration Series, to life. Lawrence’s artwork highlights the mass relocation that began during World War I of African-Americans from the rural South to cities in the North. In this multimedia stage interpretation, director and primary choreographer Jakari Sherman invites the audience to view the stage as Lawrence’s canvas and the dancers as the works of art. With more than 20 of Lawrence’s bold and remarkable paintings projected on five screens behind the performers, it’s not a hard ask.

The show begins in Africa with about a dozen drummers bathed in shadow and subtle smokiness, pounding out a powerful and mounting drumbeat. As the sound swells, so does the intensity. From there, we’re taken to the American South, where the traditional movement and music of Africa continue on even when, as one dancer bellows, “they took their drums away, but they could not stop the beat.” New elements like spine-tingling gospel, jazz, field hollers, shouts, tap, and step add to the depth of sound and tradition. All the while, performers encourage the audience to clap specific beats—and they do, enthusiastically.

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The show’s second half features dancers morphing into the shape and sound of a train, which gracefully chugs across the stage, figuratively transporting thousands of African-Americans to the North for a presumed better life. The final number brings the travelers to the newfound vibrance of Chicago, where the shadowy lighting makes way for full brightness. The stage fills with joyous vocals and pristine body percussion. From start to finish, The Migration is a moving and exciting ride, with dance, sound, and art escorting the audience through this integral piece of American history.

Know that themes such as slavery and Jim Crow are implied through shifts in tone and performance, but they’re not explicitly spelled out. If you want to give your child more context before heading to the show, go to the New Victory Theater’s website to watch two short videos: One is a history lesson on the migration, and the second is biographical information on Lawrence.

Why You Should Go: Even if your children are too young to grasp the narrative of the show, they will still surely be captivated by the Step Afrika! dancers’ lively and inviting performance, especially their ability to turn their bodies into musical instruments simply by using their feet and hands.

The Migration
New Victory Theater
209 West 42nd Street (between Seventh and Eighth Avenues), Midtown
Through Sunday, November 26
Tickets start at $16

Get a firsthand perspective of American history right in midtown. Reserve your seat with us.