The Bronx River Neon Steppers, a new step team in one of the Bronx's oldest housing projects, has been shaking things up in their community. After months of practicing, the girls compete in their very first step competition.

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The Bronx River Houses, a public housing project in Soundview, is home to more than 3,000 residents. Crime and gang activity is still a serious problem in the area, but a group of young teenage girls and their coaches are trying to change the Houses’ image. In August of 2012, a Bronx River mother, her daughter and her daughter’s friend wanted to start a step team for the youth in their community. Today, the group, known as the Bronx River Neon Steppers, has grown to more than 40 pre-teens and teenagers.

Jackie Edwards, the founder and director of the group, says that the step team has positively impacted the Bronx River Houses. “Anytime these girls have a show, it’s amazing how the whole community comes. I never thought in a million years that this would happen.” Edwards, who’s lived in the houses since 1989, also says the step team has kept girls off the streets. “All they want to do is step,” she said. She says that stepping has boosted the self-esteem of the teenagers and has helped them with school.

The girls practice several times a week in rain or shine with their coach, Thomas Felder, who also grew up in the commun. When the group of girls wanted to start the step team at their community center, he decided he would volunteer to be their coach. Though Thomas says that he usually likes to stay out of the projects, he wants to do something positive while he’s there. Both Edwards and Thomas have taken money out of their own pockets to help buy matching t-shirts for the girls and uniforms.

TRANSCRIPT:

“I said my sisters!

Team: “Yeah?”

“Sisters break it down like”

Team: “Set it off to the left y’all, set it to the right ya’ll, set it off! Come on now.”

(Rhythmic Stepping)

Ariel: “We all have, everybody in the step team, we all have bright dreams and bright futures and stuff so I feel like if you like mess up your life now, you never know where you're going to be like in a few years. So you might as well change your life up now and do something that’s actually good, like stepping.”

“Bring the beat back” (Stepping)

Ariel: “I was one of the girls that came in with a huge attitude and I think that ever since I’ve been stepping, I think that, it just tamed me, if that’s the word.”

Thomas Felder, Coach: “Just because they live in the hood that doesn’t mean they have to be hood. I want them to become mature young ladies not to settle for just young crazy dudes out here that aren't doing anything for themselves.”

(Announcer): Bronx River Neon Steppers. [Crowd cheers]

Thomas: “It’s their first competition, their very very first competition. And actually, there’s some of them that hasn’t even stepped before.”

Chelsea: “I’m nervous, the team that just came in with the red. We went to go see them at a different competition. They were good. We don’t want to embarrass ourselves you know.”

Ariel: Judges, do I have permission to step on your stage?

(Girls Perform Routine):

Who are we? We are the Bronx River Neon Steppers!

Announcer: In third place, Bronx River Neon Steppers! (Cheers)

Ariel: For our first competition, we got third place, that’s like huge to us. That’s not something that every step team could do in their first competition so I think that that’s just going to bring us higher and encourage us to do better things, so you never know where we’re going to end up.

Stepping – “You got to be smooth”

ADDITIONAL LINKS:
en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bronx_River_Houses
facebook.com/BronxRiverHouses
NPR Feature on step team, Step Afrika, and the history of stepping: npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=1524911

BEHIND THE SCENES:

I first met the girls at a Bronx River block party back in September 2012. They were one of the many performers of that day, but they caught my eye and my attention with their matching neon green T-shirts. I met Jackie that day, the founder of the Bronx River Neon Steppers, and she had told me that they’d formed just a month ago. Had she not told me that, I would have had no idea that the step team was so new. About 20 girls had already joined the team, and there was so much pride and energy amongst the team --- and when the girls performed, the crowd went wild and beamed with pride.

Fast forward 6 months later, I had learned from Jackie that the girls were going into their first competition. I had to capture the moment.

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