Movies can be an incredible tool for building empathy and understanding because they offer insight into others’ lives. The documentary Step is a good choice for discussions on race, competition, achievement, and family dynamics.
The art of stepping (or step-dancing) is: “a form of percussive dance in which the participant’s entire body is used as an instrument to produce complex rhythms and sounds through a mixture of footsteps, spoken word, and hand claps.”
Step is a 2017 documentary from Fox Searchlight about a group of African-American girls from Baltimore who lead their high school’s Step team. Throughout the movie, we see these girls struggle with the issues of police brutality (reacting to the death of Baltimore native Freddie Gray), financial troubles, and academic difficulties (striving to get into college). As we connect to the girls’ individual stories, we see the heart and dedication that they bring to the Step team (and their day to day lives). It’s a fun, uplifting and inspirational story about overcoming adversity.
Winning more than the Championship
One of the things that makes Step unique is its ability to help move us past our inherent assumptions. You may go into this movie assuming that you know who these girls are, based on their background and upbringing–but by the end of the movie you realize each of their amazing individual traits, and you want to cheer on each of their successes as they move forward in life.
Step is rated PG. Please note the documentary addresses issues that might upset younger children—including a discussion of Freddie Gray’s murder (and the violence that occurred in Baltimore afterwards), a mom talking about experiencing domestic abuse and having mental illness, and the stark reality of seeing kids who don’t have food to eat. There are also a few choice words that people might find objectionable. As always, it’s a good idea to watch the film before you show it to your youth!
Discussion Questions: Elementary-Age
- Blessin in particular has a passion for Step and creating dances. What are some things that you are good at? How do you share those things with others?
- Tayla talks about her mom being annoying! Have you ever felt like that? When? How do you see Tayla’s mom supporting her throughout the movie?
- The teachers in Step are always there for their students. What was your favorite moment from the teachers? Who are your favorite teachers? Who’s always there for you?
- Coach G mentions that some of the girls may not have food available when they get home from step practice, or even a refrigerator. After seeing this movie, what are some things that you are thankful for? What are some things you could do for the kids in your community who are struggling?
Discussion Questions: Middle School
- In what ways do you relate to the girls of Step? Were there any similarities that surprised you? If so, which ones?
- Cori comes from a blended family, with several siblings. How does she react to the difficulties that she faces in the movie? How do you react in hard times?
- Blessin says that sometimes she feels like she’s two people: one who is unstoppable, and one who is lost. Have you ever felt like that? If so, when? How do you overcome feelings of doubt?
- The girls turn their fear of police violence into a moving dance performance. What are some things that scare you? How can you turn that fear into something positive?
Discussion Questions: High School
- Step opens with images of Freddie Gray, and his memorial in Baltimore. How have the recent racially-based murders affected you, and your life? How have you responded? What can you do to fight racial injustice?
- One of the ongoing storylines in the movie is the stress of College applications, and “what comes next” in life. How do you deal with that stress in your life? What inspiration can you find in the girls’ stories?
- Blessin’s mother says several times throughout the movie that Blessin is just like her (for better and for worse). What effect does her mom have on Blessin’s life? How do you see the effects of your parent’s background and upbringing on your life?
- The girls of Step live difficult lives, sometimes uncertain of where their next meal will come from. What ways can you reach out to people who may be food insecure in your community?
Ayana Grady is a lifelong Episcopalian, and has worked as a full-time Youth Minister in the Episcopal Church since 2001. Her passion is finding ways to connect pop culture to personal faith. She is currently the Director of Children, Youth, and Family Ministries at St John’s Episcopal Church in Tampa, FL.