Seeing Maxine Lyle’s “Step Show” at MASS MoCA Last Night

Photo from Maxine Lyle’s Residency at MASS MoCA working on Step Show (I don’t know who the photographer is)

I didn’t know much about Step Dance, except that it’s an African American Dance that is popular in schools.  But when I saw there was going to be a performance by Maxine Lyle called Step Show  at MASS MoCA, (in conjunction with Jacob’s Pillow) I got tickets.

Although we’ve been visiting the museum for years, Jon and I had never seen a performance there.  When we saw this one was at 8pm we only hesitated for a moment.   There isn’t a lot to do after 8pm where we live, even the restaurants close around or before then.  And this time of year, it’s hard to leave the cozy farmhouse in the cold and dark.

But we also needed something different.  A break in our routine.

The only professional dance I’ve ever seen has been ballet.  And until I started Bellydancing  myself, six and a half years ago, I never thought much about watching dance.

But now I’m hungry for it.

Instead of driving home over an hour on the dark back roads between North Adams MA and the farm, Jon and I decided to stay overnight.  Its off season so it wasn’t hard to get an inexpensive room.

I love a cheap motel room as long as it’s clean and the sheets and blankets are new.  I’d guess the  Motel we stayed at  dates back to the 1940s or 50s.  The room was freshly painted, and cozy with  a sparkling new shower and the perfect amount of space for an overnight stay.  Rocky, the owner, called to confirm when we’d be there so he could make sure the room was nice and warm for our arrival.  He also  recommended an excellent Korean restaurant right across the road.

Maxine Lyle has been working on Step Show for 20 years and it’s not finished yet.   It has changed over the years, and is still evolving.  What we saw was its progress up to this point.

In Step Dance the whole body is used as an instrument while dancing.  There’s slapping and stomping and voice both talking and singing. Lyle’s  Step Show tells the story of the African American dance that she traced back to the 1920s.  Her story takes place in 1946 when, she said, the road was being laid for the Civil Rights movement.

The dancing was non stop for two hours.

There was a drummer along with the music made by the dancers on their own bodies and in conjunction with the stage.  The energy was infectious and the dancing expressive and exhilarating.  The singing, which was mostly done while dancing, was beautiful and often powerful.

There were many positive message in the story, but what stood out to me most was the idea of endurance.   Which was not only a part of the narrative of legacy in the African American community, but also in the physicality of the dancers themselves.

Learning to dance has definitely made me appreciate watching dance more.

I get tired after a fifteen minute set where I’m not even exerting myself the whole time.  And before I took Bellydancing lessons, I just had this expectation that dancers would be good at what they did without an appreciation for what goes into making it look good.

Now that I understand even just some of the ways my body can move, and am aware of muscles in my body that I’d never felt before, I am more sensitive to how difficult it is to do what a good dancer can make look easy.

Seeing Step Show made me want to see more live dance.

I wish I could find a video from Step Show to share with you, so you could see even a bit of  what we did.  But I haven’t been able to find one.

However there are many videos of Elementary and High School students in Step completions.  Below is an example of one.


2 thoughts on “Seeing Maxine Lyle’s “Step Show” at MASS MoCA Last Night

  1. I live in MA so stepping isn’t common like it is down south. I got to see a performance last year at a Juneteenth event and it made me want to see more. It sounds like you two gave yourselves quite a treat.

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