The boys of the winning Channelview Step team have fun and gain self-confidence through dancing

Lakeith Bryant stamped his right foot, kicked his left leg and clapped his hands forward.

The other boys stood at attention on the white dance floor and then followed their team captain’s lead. Stomp-clap, Stomp-clap, Stomp-Stomp-Stomp.

“We’re all step brothers and we bring this beat – look at that,” the boys shouted.

The children moved in unison. Their arms were spinning faster and faster as they clapped their hands and slapped their knees. Pairs of Nike sneakers pounded on the floor in a jerky rhythm until they landed together with one last step.

It was a recent Wednesday night, and a young stage team called the SWAGG Boiz had gathered for their weekly training in a small reception hall tucked away around the corner from a Cloverleaf mall.

Ryan Shanklin, a science and social studies teacher at Rhodes School for the Performing Arts in Channelview, formed the team several years ago as an after-school school club for some of its elementary students. The group, which includes around ten boys, is no longer affiliated with the school.

The acronym in the team’s name stands for Steppers Working to Achieve Greater Greatness, Shanklin said.

“I want them to know everything they want to do with a living, they can do it,” he said.

Stepping is a dance form known for its percussive and energetic style that was developed in the early 1900s by black fraternities and sororities, which has its origins in African dance, according to Step Afrika !, a Washington-based dance company. , DC dedicated to tradition. Steppers use steps, claps, and lyrics to create complex rhythms with their bodies.

Youth from Houston and Texas participate in school-sponsored and community-sponsored teams that help children excel in school, build confidence, and carry on cultural tradition. In 2019, seven teams competed at Texas Southern University for the first-ever Houston Step Fest.

In early December, the SWAGG Boiz were crowned Grand Champions at a competition in Dallas that included high school teams. The group also competed in Atlanta and performed at weddings, quiceñeras, and block parties. A YouTube channel and TikTok account offer music videos and performance clips with thousands of views.

The team has come a long way from its humble beginnings. Neither boy knew much about walking, Shanklin said, before taking them to a college competition that sparked their interest in joining the team.

“The first few days of training, I was like, ‘What did I get into?’ Shanklin said with a laugh. “And finally it all started to fall into place.”

In training, SWAGG Boiz have been riding high since the recent victory. They wore black T-shirts and hoodies with their team’s name on them and stood in a stretch circle in the middle of the room. The shoes squeaked on the floor as the boys hopped up and down while stretching their quads.

Shanklin watched his team from a seat at the edge of the stage. The coach became a mentor for the boys, helping them keep busy and stay out of trouble. They must maintain their grades to train and play with the team.

Shanklin often drives through the Northshore and Channelview neighborhoods of eastern Harris County with the boys crammed into his car as he transports them to and from practice or takes them out for a meal.

“He’s like a big brother to us,” said Bryant, the team captain.

The experience is new to him, Shanklin said, because he didn’t have a mentor when he grew up in Dallas. But as a teacher and trainer he is passionate about helping children. He gets excited when kids are learning in class and as a step coach he enjoys watching the boys grow up.

Many of them were shy when they first started walking, said Shanklin, but learning and performing the dance routines boosted self-confidence. The boys are now a tight-knit group who spend much of their time together. Shanklin gave each of the SWAGG boys nicknames like Lil ‘Sauce, Loose Cannon, and Silent T.

“They are like stars now,” he said. “They take the stage and transform into a completely different person.”

Boys have big dreams which Shanklin encourages them to pursue. Many boys have said they want to join the historically black Alpha Phi Alpha or Kappa Alpha Psi fraternities in college to keep walking. Like many boys, they want to become basketball players or footballers. One dreams of becoming an actor and another wants to be a graphic designer.

After the warm-up, Shanklin tossed Michael Jackson’s “Leave Me Alone” using a portable speaker and the boys engaged in a dance involving lots of jumping jacks.

“They hate this song,” he said. The team members were gasping as he shouted, “Let’s go, let’s go!”

Meanwhile, Sonia Parker sat at a table by the dance floor at Illusion Reception Hall – decorated for an unrelated event with purple tablecloths and large flowers – and looked at her 11-year-old grandson, Josiah Allen.

Parker said Josiah loves the team. The comradeship of the tight-knit group helped him come out of his shell, she said. The grandmother said she was grateful Shanklin spends her time with the boys and takes over when one of the boys needs something.

“Coming from a grandma, we really appreciate her,” Parker said. “We need more mentors like him.

The team helps keep the kids busy and active, she said. Parker said she worried that Josiah and her other grandchildren exist in a world where black boys and men are “stereotypical, murdered.”

“We’re just trying to keep them on track,” Parker said. “We have good kids, smart kids, educated kids. Most of these children come from good backgrounds. I just wish the world would see this.

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