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Step Behind the Scenes with BlackOut

The all-men’s step team brings together a diverse group of guys who move as one

“Some guys haven’t danced a day in their lives” before joining BlackOut, says Justin Kamal, E24, co-captain of the Tufts men’s step team. The group competed at the World of Dance finals this summer and closed out this fall with its Break the Stage performances in Gantcher Hall in November.

“When you feel the rhythms, when you are just dancing, you can let yourself go,” Kamal says of step dancing, a percussive dance style. “It’s honestly one of my favorite things to do.”

Kamal and co-captain Jared Mitchell, A24, recently spoke with Tufts Now about stepping and BlackOut.

What’s the history of step?

Kamal: Step is a very percussive dance style. It originated in Black institutions throughout the U.S., primarily Black sororities and fraternities. It also has separate, but I would say parallel upbringings in South Africa from a different style called gumboot. That was devised by miners to communicate with each other from far away.

We obviously try to keep that in the back of our minds, especially while we’re not a full Black team, but we love to really remind people about its origins and what we represent when we go on the stage.

How would you describe the personality of BlackOut, and the personality of step?

Mitchell: Step is a very expressive dance form that is about power and strength, kind of declaring a presence. The personality of step is just overall expression, where it’s like, if I’m going to do it, I’m going to do it with a bang.

Kamal: We are an all-inclusive group—we are very diverse. That’s one thing that we really love about it. It just brings a big collective of guys from everywhere, from all different backgrounds, and it gives us something in common.

Mitchell: We really are just kind of a group of guys at the end of the day. We’re always just hanging around, joking. We’re serious when it comes to our steps, but then in a moment we burst out laughing.

What’s the process like learning a step routine?

Mitchell: You think of the beats in our steps like a song. Each step has its sound and its beat and just like when you’re listening to music, you can kind of tell when a beat’s out of place.

When you mess up, or even when you’re just learning the step, it seems like you’re trying to push this really heavy object. It feels almost impossible. The entire process of getting it down is so difficult that when we finally do hit it, it’s like cutting butter. It feels easy and it just feels really good.

Kamal: It’s not an individual thing. We are a team, we are a brotherhood. There are plenty of guys who have never danced a day in their lives, which is something we like to boast about, because recently we went to World of Dance finals in California.  We didn’t expect to even get that far, and we went to the second round, which was a pretty big deal—being a small college group, made of guys who didn’t know what step was just eight months prior. It is pretty amazing.

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