STEP Review – An Uplifting, Triumphant, Docu-Drama

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STEP, from Fox Searchlight Pictures, presents a documentary drama that showcases the first graduating class of the Baltimore Charter School, the effort the girls make to meet the challenges, and the dance team that unites them.

Directed by  Amanda Liptiz, STEP stars Paula Dofat, Blessing Giraldo, Cori Graniger and Tayla Solomon as themselves. STEP introduces family members, school administrators and others helpful in counseling the girls as they navigate the final year at The Baltimore Leadership School for Young Women.

STEP begins with a voice over explanation of the STEP Dance team, an extracurricular program, that is the center and focus of many of the girls life.

Blessin Giraldo, an aspiring dancer, hair and make-up professional, is the team captain and leader. She, by her own admission, as a natural knack for routines, and choreography.

Cori Grainger, is in STEP not so much for the satisfaction of the program as she is zeroing in on being the class valedictorian and academics are really her strong suits and she also admits, she "got used to being at the top." Her dream is Johns Hopkins.


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Tayla Solomon has something most don't: she has a strong willed mother, a corrections officer with at the prison, who manages the home with strength. Tayla has worked hard and is having a bit of divided attention.

The goal when the Baltimore Leadership School for Young Women began in 2009, founded by the filmmaker's mothers, was to take eleven girls from inner city Baltimore and put them in this neutering school environment and guarantee the all graduate and go to college. It was a lofty goal.

The cameras follow the girls from school, where they are commanding presence on the dance floor to their individual homes where life is tough. Inner city Baltimore, is not easy street and the girls are honest about the struggles they and their families face.

Blessin, a beauty, talks of days with no food in the house. She rationalizes "she doesn't have to eat but a six year old" as she talks about her nephew? The little guy explains when the food get "here" he'll eat like a monster. Not having food in the fridge is a common and reoccurring problem for Blessin and her family in 2016.

Food insecurities, no matter how she rationalizes, has taken its toll on her as we find out her GPA is severely below the requirements for graduation and college.

Cori, our Brainiac, is focused, and with tunnel vision she pursues her education. Seeing the $40,000. a year tuition costs for Johns Hopkins, she begins to get swallowed up, the wave comes over her, and her mom, a devoted Christian, and her stepfather also a Christian, stopped her from going under and told her if that's want you want we'll make it happen.   

Cori is struggling to extradite herself and by association her entire family from the generational poverty that has wrapped its tentacles around them and tries to strangle and hold them down, and with every forward movement they are hit back. Today, it's the electric bill, the power is out and the family, with no employment can only afford so much and the lights had to wait.

Tayla, with exotic looks, has a very strong role model. Her mother shows up at he practices, and understanding the pressures of life, and the neighborhood, keeps a watchful eye on her daughter. And it is obvious when mid-way through the documentary her mother's stops the practices with her daughters report card, which has fallen to what she feels are unacceptable and has lectures her, which Tayla explains is her pet peeve about her mom, "she acts young."

The girls, each and every one of them, have so much more than what they think or believe. STEP is primarily African American Dance and is strongly featured as the girls team has been to many competition the in what would be their junior year and had not won or placed.

This year, with a new instructor and renewed determination, they decide early they want to win. Winning means practice and they do; they are dedicated to perfection, to proving they are the best, they have a drive that is rare.

STEP is a solid, heartfelt triumphant against all odds stories. These girls, maybe one or two of them, shouldn't be graduating high school. They should be the product of their environment not rising above it.

We see throughout the daily struggles they face, from extreme poverty, to finances, to food. Without, in some cases, basic life requirements, which could be a root cause for the struggling GPA and other academic problems. And these girls rise above. As college day approaches, each one is challenged to go for their dreams, oh and here at The Baltimore Leadership School, only one student had a safety net choice. Each student went for it. All in.

The girls and their families are inspiring. They see themselves bowed by poverty and it is understandable and the girls haven't let poverty invade their minds. Where it sinks some, and it is and can be generational; others understand it is a temporal circumstance and  will change.

So collages apps are in; decisions have arrived. Our scholar, Cori, whose families doesn't hesitate to encourage her to go for the her dream even at $40,000 a year? She got in; with a full ride.


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Tayla, who mother wouldn't let up on her or let her fall into a trap, got into both her choices and moved from Baltimore to Alabama.

And Blessin, who had deep struggles, was accepted to a BridgesEDU program, a transitional program that assist graduating girls and assist them prepared for college. She stayed on as Assistant Coach of the STEP team.

STEP will have you standing, applauding. The girls are charming, beautiful and talented.

STEP is in theaters everywhere Friday, August 4, 2017. See it!

 

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