Empowerment through Step – a wonderful story.

“We create the beat. We are the beat. We are the instruments. Not only that, but we’re dancing at the same time. We’re giving emotion. Face.” Blessin Giraldo, Lethal Ladies founder and captain.

Recently I came across a new documentary called STEP about the Lethal Ladies of the Baltimore Leadership School for Young Women and their step team. I wasn’t aware of stepping, or step dancing before seeing this documentary. Theirs is a moving story of determination, hard work, vision and teamwork.

Stepping is a percussive and athletic performance art. It is very popular in the African-American community and hardly known anywhere else. Each performer’s entire body is used as an instrument, especially the feet, to produce rhythms and sounds. It can be performed by an individual but is usually presented by a group, often with military formations. It incorporates some gymnastics, break dancing, marching and tap dancing.

The Baltimore Leadership School for Young Women is a public charter school for inner-city girls. It is a college preparatory school founded in 2009 that combines academics and ‘social emotional learning’. The students develop good decision-making skills, a strong sense of self, compassion and sisterhood. The academic focus is on strong math, science and technology skills – fields in which women are underrepresented.   The Lethal Ladies are propelling stepping, their school and themselves into the limelight.

The documentary about the Lethal Ladies was released to theaters last August 4th by Fox Searchlight. The director is Amanda Lipitz, a Baltimore Broadway producer. The school was founded by Lipitz’s mother. Lipitz met the subjects of her documentary in 2009 when they were 11 years old and had just enrolled in the first sixth grade class. She has been filming her subjects ever since with the intention of using the footage for promotional and fundraising events for the school. She realized along the way that she had the makings of a feature-length documentary.  The protests in 2015 over the death of Freddie Gray in police custody inspired Lipitz to see if her films could be made into a documentary about inner-city young women working to go to college, get out of the inner city and make better lines for themselves.

The documentary gives an insight into Baltimore that is more positive and hopeful than what has been written recently about the city. It also highlights young inner-city women’s empowerment through education and in this case, the arts.

See the official trailer for the documentary for an introduction to stepping, and the Baltimore Leadership School for Young Women.


With Michelle Obama



Header graphic credit – San Francisco Chronicle