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Seven students dressed simply in neon t-shirts and denim take center stage in Engelhard Hall—and we do mean take. The energy, passion and fire vibrating off the newly formed Saints step team translates into total ownership of a space, of a moment, of a culture.
In rhythm tied to a shared story, on stage, the seven girls—each dancing to their own individual choreographed vignette—slowly sync up together to one collective movement. “That step is the jump-under-front-back,” says Masai Matale ’23. “We put that in the beginning of our dance because no matter where you come from, if you’re a little Black girl, you’ve picked that step up somewhere. That’s our childhood. It’s unifying.”
Unity. That’s the word at the heart of the new team—a first in SAS history—co-led by Matale and Shania Adams ’23. Supported by five other dancers—Tamia Ferguson ’24, Madison Rodriguez ’26, Gloria Oladejo ’25, Jayda Badoo ’25, and Ashley McIntosh ’25—the team put on their first performance of the year at Parents Weekend on October 28. But getting to that stage was a long time coming for Adams, who started dreaming up a step team her sophomore year.
“Step is something I’ve always been interested in,” Adams says. “First, it’s something we’ve never had at St. Andrew’s. Second, it’s connected to Black culture and that resonated with me. Third, the whole point of step is to be together as one, and that’s important to me.”
Adams took her idea to Director of Dance Avi Gold. “I showed him what I’d been working on. He said, ‘Wonderful. Let’s do it, but you’re in charge,’” she says, laughing.
Initially she felt pressure. “It felt like it was all on my shoulders, and I really wanted it to work, but also to last,” she says. “Then this year Masai came to school really excited about step, and I felt like I wasn’t alone.”
Adams and Matale gathered a group of interested Black female students in the dance studio to see what they could do. The result? Magic.
“The feeling in that room the first time is something I’ll never forget,” Matale says. “We started breaking out in all these different dances, hyping each other up, singing. It was so special. Hearing from the freshmen in the room about the impact, that they felt that was one of the safest spaces for them on campus, it was unreal.”
Matale and Adams knew they had tapped into something bigger than themselves, so they went to work choreographing. “I was always walking around with this melody in my head,” Matale says. “Or just tapping my fingers to this beat. Shania and I choreographed what I was hearing into the dance.”
The duo gives snaps to Dean of Inclusion and Belonging Dr. Danica Tisdale Fisher for stepping up to support the team as it charted its path. “She was really there for us,” Matale says. “She helped us with the choreography and had us over for dinner as a team. We didn’t even talk about dance. We shared stories, aired grievances, laughed and felt heard. She is an amazing role model for every Black girl.”
There is a moment in the denouement of the dance, when Adams calls into the darkened theater, “What is a Saint?”
“For that last part, I felt like we needed something that was ours,” Adams says. “It was something on my heart. At St. Andrew’s, we are not just accepting you for half of who you are. We are accepting you for all that you are. For me, that’s my likes, my dislikes, my Blackness. There are things we won’t compromise because we are in a predominantly white space. We want Black St. Andreans to know this is a place for you to be you, to be confident, to have artistic expression.”
Adds Matale, “I know for a lot of students of color, St. Andrew’s can be a culture shock. There is so much going on [at St. Andrew’s] that feels set in stone: This is your optional path, these are your optional activities. But our team proves you can bring something of yourself that wasn’t [offered] and share it and be supported.”
Adams and Matale will leave St. Andrew’s this school year, but they want the roots of what they’ve planted to grow. “This experience is so important and I don’t want it to end with us,” Matale says. “It’s more than dance. I have loved every genre of dance here. But when I’m doing other genres, my moves are calculated. In step, whatever I’m feeling—anger, happiness—I leave it all on the stage.”
Speaking of that stage, what was the moment like for Adams, when her dream finally felt realized?
“Incredible,” she says. “When I’m on that stage, all I can think of is, ‘I’m here, I’m Black, I’m surrounded by Black students, and this is a place for Black culture.’ It’s so raw and amazing.”
By the way, in case you were wondering, “What is a Saint?”
The team will answer that for you: “That’s me. That’s you. That’s us.”
Interested in joining step? Reach out to Adams or Matale.
Missed the step performance, among other wonderful contributions from the dance program? Check it out here.
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