The art of stepping is a form of dance that originated in the Black American community. Along with dancing competitively, The League of Step mentors its participants and encourages them to give back to the Athens community.
Torrance Wilcher, League of Step president, founded the organization in 2020. Wilcher said the league uses step dance as an incentive for participants to improve themselves physically and mentally. When participants join the League of Step they are for the community service and mentoring aspects, he said. Members have to complete a certain amount of hours before they can step, Wilcher said.
Wilcher said he’s passionate about step, but it doesn’t get much attention as a form of dance. Although he’s been stepping since he was in the fifth grade, he said there are a lot of kids who love to step but don’t have an outlet readily available.
“We use step to teach discipline and confidence and self-esteem,” Wilcher said. “A lot of these kids are dealing with peer pressure and trauma. A lot of them come from poor backgrounds, such as myself, so, step gives them confidence in themselves.”
Wilcher said prior step experience isn’t necessary to join the league because he and his experienced staff of coaches “can turn anyone into a stepper.”
Tamara English, a sophomore food science and technology major and Diva Dawgs stepper, is both a coach and a mentor to The League of Step’s middle school team. English said she became a mentor because she enjoys working with children.
English said the hardest thing about step is that some people “get in their head” about it. For first time steppers, English said she uses a lot of positive affirmation and one-on-one coaching to help them improve.
The League of Step is also heavily involved in community service. Wilcher said it is important to give back to your community so it can support you as well. The league has already done several community cleanups in different Athens neighborhoods, Wilcher said. Wilcher said he focuses these cleanup efforts on lower-income areas in particular because he wants to show people that they can keep their own communities clean and safe.
The League of Step also partners with organizations such as the Salvation Army, Habitat for Humanity and Envision Athens, Wilcher said.
Chantal Brown, vice president and co-founder of The League of Step, said the organization puts such a large focus on community service because “you need to have pride in where you live.”
Wilcher said because of COVID-19 the league’s plans with Habitat for Humanity have been put on hold. For its other community service efforts, Wilcher makes sure The League of Step only does things that are safe, outside and with the use of masks and gloves.
Wilcher said kids today don’t know a lot about community service. It took a few rounds of cleaning for them to really understand the impact they can have on their community, he said. Wilcher also said the community's response to their cleanup efforts was extremely positive.
“There were people that were coming with trash bags and they started helping us clean, people pulled over on the side of the road to help us with trash,” Wilcher said.
Brown said one of the main goals of The League of Step is to “produce an overall healthy child.” The league tries to expose the kids to “people from all walks of life,” Brown said.
Wilcher said he brings in Black leaders from the community because the majority of the children who are part of the league are Black. Wilcher said he wants the kids to be able to see other successful people who look like them to help their confidence.
Wilcher said the step season has been stagnant due to COVID-19. For now, The League of Step is focusing on neighborhood performances as well as shooting promotion videos for social media, he said.
For the future, Brown said she wants to see The League of Step expand. She also wants to put more focus on academics, Brown said.
“We want to show that not only are our kids amazing steppers, and through step, they’ve learned the art of discipline, but they are also achieving inside of the classroom,” Brown said.