Youth strive to be ‘a step above’

Published 8:59 am Saturday, April 21, 2012

Members of the "A Step Above" step dance team rehearse in Troy, Ala., Wednesday, April 18, 2012. (Messenger Staff Photo/Thomas Graning)

Sometimes when life gives you troubles, you have to “step above” them.

Twelve-year-old Ashlan McCloud was looking for a way to get teenagers off the streets, out of trouble and into a nurturing environment when a substitute teacher introduced her to “stepping.”

Step dancing is a form of percussive dance where performers use their entire body to produce rhythms and sounds through a mixture of steps, words and hand claps. Modern step dances are seen largely during fraternity and sorority functions and competitions, but they still pull from the dance form’s African and Caribbean roots.

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“I told her that if she did some research on how stepping really began that I would try my best to help her,” McCloud’s mother, Andrena McClain said.

And McClain held true to her promise.

“A Step Above” is a newly-formed non-profit organization in Troy dedicated to empowering youth from all walks of life. Adults involved in the program, such as McClain, strive to motivate, encourage and teach leadership and respect.

President of the non-profit, Dr. Phylecya Cheatham, is also a dance instructor for the growing group of boys and girls.

“Dance has the power to change the world,” Cheatham said of the reason she agreed to back “A Step Above.” “You wouldn’t believe the initiative these kids have shown since we started. It’s pretty impressive.”

Cheatham isn’t the only adult dancer aiding the kids in their quest to self improvement and community involvement.

Larry “Pop” Thomas Jr., with a successful step dance performance group in Enterprise, jumped at the chance to offer a little instruction and inspiration to younger dancers.

“I love kids, I love dance and I love seeing how people come together,” Thomas said. “Dance has changed my life. It has done everything for me and now I can pass that passion on to a new generation.”

There are about 15 area students who are participating in the organization that is free to join.

“I like that we get out there and have fun instead of getting into trouble in the streets,” said Deiallo Stringer, 14, who attends Charles Henderson Middle School. “That is where I would be if I wasn’t here – in the streets.”

And Stringer isn’t alone in his want to better himself.

Fifteen-year-old Jonah Flowers said the group was a way he could combine his passion for dance while evolving into a “good man.”

“I am learning how to work with others around me,” Flowers said. “The teachers demand respect and we give that to them.”

Aaliya Collins, 12, from Charles Henderson Middle School, said she joined the group to spend more time with her friends, but ended up making new ones, too.

The group is steadily building its numbers and community outreach. They hope to soon be entering dance competitions and spreading their “positive vibe” to everyone who watches the students perform.

The community’s first chance to catch the kids in action will be April 28 when they host two events. During the day, “A Step Above” will have a Spring Fling fund-raiser complete with a rock climbing wall and yummy treats and games for kids. The cost for the daytime event is $7. The Spring Fling is from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

At night, for a $10 donation, community members can check out “A Step Above,” “2 Dangerous Dance Crew,” and other groups during a showcase at Charles Henderson Middle School’s gym from 6:30 to 10:30 p.m.

In order to pay for the activity vendors at the Spring Fling, “A Step Above” members will be washing cars today at O’Reilly’s Auto Parts on U.S. 231 in Troy from 7 a.m. to 12 p.m. They are asking for a $5 donation.

For information on the new non-profit, to donate or to join, e-mail

To watch a video of “A Step Above,” visit