New Victory Arts Break: Community Performance

In their dance film, Stono, the ensemble of performers in Step Afrika! work together to tell the story of the Stono Rebellion of 1739. Through stepping, dance, song, spoken word and call and response, the performers uplift and amplify one another. This week, we’ll explore different forms of community performance inspired by Step Afrika’s powerful work.

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New Victory Arts Break: Community Performance

Some of the videos in this Arts Break were filmed at the New Victory Theater. We acknowledge that New Victory resides on the seized homeland of the Lenape people and the intertribal territory of many First Nations. We celebrate and pay deep respect to all Indigenous peoples, past, present and future.

Spread the Spoken Word
Finding the right words to express yourself can be tricky, but when you do find them, the result can be truly powerful. The art form of spoken word celebrates this very thing, weaving together elements of poetry, persuasive prose, percussion and political activism. In this activity, we’ll use spoken word to bring awareness to things that are important to us and our communities.

Step One: On a sheet of paper, list three to five topics or movements that you feel strongly about right now. For example:

  • Combating climate change
  • Protecting trans kids
  • Embracing body positivity

Step Two: From the topics you listed, pick one and write ten sentences about it, going into as much detail as you like. Think:

  • What is your topic? Can you summarize it?
  • Why is it important to you?
  • What do you want people to know about it?
  • What questions do you have about it?
  • What do you want to do about it?

Step Three: From your ten sentences, highlight the five phrases that stand out to you the most, or that best capture your thoughts and feelings. These five will make up your piece of spoken word.

Step Four: Rehearse your piece! Then, as you read your five phrases, try adding some rhythm. After each word or phrase, add a beat. It could be a stomp or a clap, or even just a beat of silence.

In her piece of spoken word tackling cultural appropriation, Yesenia from the New 42 Youth Corps used stomps, claps and other elements of stepping to punctuate her thoughts.

Step Five: Perform your piece for family or friends! Be sure to state the name of your topic when you enter. When you’re done, give yourself a few snaps, take a bow and exit the stage.

BONUS: Create another spoken word performance piece for another issue that you care about, and teach someone else to do the same. The more we share, the more we help keep each other informed about the changes we want to see in the world.

For some spoken word inspiration from other young people, check out Brandon Sanders and Mikeala Miller’s performance at TEDxYouth.

Call and Response
A call and response phrase is a statement quickly followed by another statement, but it’s also so much more. Spoken or put into song, call and response is an expression of community and an affirmation that we are in sync, share each other’s values and respect one another. Follow along with New Victory Teaching Artist Neil Dawson to create your own call and response phrase.

Step One: Pick who will be the caller and who will be the responder.

Step Two: Work together to fill in the statements below.

something that brings you joy is good for my heart.

something that you love is good for my soul.

Step Three: Work together to find a consistent beat, like a pattern of claps or stomps. Feel it out and practice it together.

Step Four: With the beat going steadily, the caller begins by saying the first part of the phrase…

  is good for my heart.

…and then the responder follows immediately with the second part:

  is good for my soul.

How can you add to your call and response? Can you come up with different beats, or maybe write new phrases to accompany your beat? Remember to be thoughtful about your statements and powerful in your delivery—call and response is community performance at its best!

Looking for inspiration? In this clip from Step Afrika!’s Stono, listen for all of the call and response moments, and for the beats the performers create to punctuate their phrases.

The rhythms at the heart of Stono have their roots in West African drumming traditions. For more information on drums and their place in African history, check out Kennedy Center Education’s “Five(ish) Minute Drum Lessons” featuring Zimbabwean percussionist Farai Malianga.

Add Your Two-Step
You’ve heard of dropping the beat. In this activity, we’re keeping the beat up! Half community performance, half competition, let’s play a non-verbal game of passing and adding to one others’ beats.

Step One: Grab a few friends or family members—the more, the merrier! Choose someone to start a beat. It could be a single clap, stomp, or tabletop tap. You could even beat your chest!


Step Two: Have the next player repeat your beat and then add a new one. They shouldn’t repeat your choice—they should create their own.

Clap! Stomp!

Step Three: Each player takes turns remembering and repeating all of the beats that came before, while also adding their own to the end of the phrase. The game ends when someone messes up the phrase by forgetting a move or hesitating for too long.

Clap! Stomp! Hit!

And if the game ends? Try again! Aim for an epic beat and work together to see how long you can keep it going.

New Victory Teaching Artist Adia Tamar Whitaker
For more community performance and percussion inspired by Step Afrika!, join New Victory Teaching Artist Adia Tamar Whitaker in the Create Week of Arts Break: North America.

New Victory Arts Break Supporters

New Victory Arts Break is funded, in part, by Bloomberg Philanthropies, the Laurie M. Tisch Illumination Fund, public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council,and the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of the Office of the Governor and the New York State Legislature.