Spotlight: Essence Step Team

Courtesy+of+Olivia+Dillon+%2721

Courtesy of Olivia Dillon ’21

In Spring of 2018, six dancers, Angelica Parra ’21 and Edwina Polynice ’21 among them, prepared to take the stage during a Saturday Open Mic. Essence, Groton’s newly revived step group, was about to perform for the first time. 

Step, a combination of South African gumboot dancing and Irish jig, is a form of dance that incorporates body percussion (for example, claps and footsteps). It became popular in the early 1900s at historically Black colleges and universities as a way for sororities and fraternities to show pride.

Founded in the late 1990s, Rare Essence was Groton School’s first step team. It dissolved some time in the early 2000s. Along with Carolyn Chica, an associate director of Admission and the co-director of the Cultural Alliance, and a few upperclassmen, Edwina and Angelica brought step back to Groton under the name “Essence”. Angelica and Edwina are currently captains of Essence. 

In a typical year, Essence meets once every two weeks — more often if they have an upcoming performance. During practices, dancers work hard and have fun getting ready to perform. 

“The practices leading up to the performances are very hectic, but they’re also very fun because it’s pushing everybody to get it right, so they can look good,” Angelica says. 

The members of step are dedicated to putting on a good show, but they also enjoy themselves while they work. And the tight-knit community makes the experience even better.

“We’re all really good friends,” Edwina says when asked why step is so important to its members. “And we don’t step for the full entirety. . . It really becomes just another time to hang out.”

Unfortunately, Covid-19 has forced Essence, like other activities, to make big changes. Step hasn’t performed this year since Covid-19 restrictions have prohibited large gatherings including performances. Because they can’t perform, there hasn’t been anything big for which members need to prepare, so step has become more relaxed than it has been in the past.

In the fall, they used to meet during some Monday flex blocks. It took on a more flexible form than normal. It was open to anyone who wanted to show up and there wasn’t a strict time commitment. Some people who joined had experience with step, while others had not even heard of it until then. 

Now Angelica and Edwina are doing a step FSA with Ms. Chica. Hannah Wise ’21, Creed Bellamy ’22, and Sobenna Egwuekwe ’22 also do this FSA that meets Monday, Wednesday, and Friday afternoons. 

Luckily, Covid-19 hasn’t kept Edwina from her favorite part of step: getting the routine right.

“We’re all doing it at the same time, and we’re in sync, and it sounds really amazing,” says Edwina. She and Angelica also love performing, despite how nerve-racking it is.

“Before you go on stage, you’re just so incredibly nervous,” Angelica says. “But, then, when you step off stage . . . the adrenaline rush is so rewarding.” Of course, the memories they make with the rest of the members of step are also very important to them. They also love how step is so open to dancers of all levels.

“You could teach anyone in the school,” Angelica says. “Anyone can step!”