Monday, June 30, 2014

Obsessed with Step

Throughout the month of June, North Carolina Campus Compact will be publishing articles written by our VISTA members. These pieces give readers access to first-hand experiences and reflections of VISTAs serving throughout the state. We are excited for them to share their perspectives on community and service with us! 

Please note: Any opinions expressed on the VISTA VIEW blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views, opinions, or policies of North Carolina Campus Compact, the AmeriCorps VISTA program or the Corporation for National and Community Service.

By Jess-Mara Jordan, NC Campus Compact VISTA at the University of North Carolina at Asheville and Open Doors of Asheville.

In the past eleven months, I have had many wonderful experiences and opportunities but one of the most memorable I’ve had stemmed from the fact that, at times, I can be a little bit loud and a tad bit “extra.”

This past January, while I was in full MLK Day of Service planning mode, the rest of the school was in full Homecoming planning mode. My alma mater’s Homecoming was in the Fall so the idea of a Winter Homecoming was very foreign to me. Nonetheless, the week’s events promised to be nothing less than extravagant. I was very excited. One day, when I went to the Intercultural Center to visit my supervisor, he was meeting with the Homecoming Step Show committee. Naturally, I offered to come back later, but they insisted I stay because they were “just talking about me.” We all know that statement can go either way. I expressed how excited I was that the step show was a regular part of their Homecoming celebration even though there are currently no National Pan-Hellenic Council organizations or step teams on campus. Little did I know that in the next few seconds they would make my whole day, week and possibly year with six simple words: “Will you host the step show?” Without hesitancy, I exclaimed “But of course!” As I mentioned earlier, I’m guessing my outgoing personality and love of the spotlight were some of the reasons they asked me to be their host, but little did they know that stepping is also my passion and has been for 13 years.

My love for stepping started at the age of 10. I was always one to hang out with the big kids so even though I was in 5th grade, many of my friends were already in middle school. In my neighborhood, it was ritual for kids to get home and rush to do their homework and other chores just to get outside and play. My friends and I would always be making up games, playing double-dutch, riding our bikes, or playing on my backyard jungle gym. One evening, my friends and I decided to go down to Brittany’s house. Brittany was in 7th grade and was like a cool, big sister to us. Brittany and her friend Maria were practicing this really cool dance-but-not-dance, cheer-but-not-cheer like thing that I later came to know and love as stepping. I was so fascinated and begged them to teach me. I caught on pretty quickly and from that day forward, my mother can attest, I have not stopped stepping. I would step in the house, in the street, in the grocery store, under the dinner table. I was, and still am, obsessed.

Jess-Mara (center) with a gospel step team she helped start at Elon.
When I moved on to middle school, I auditioned and made the PVMS Pride Step Team, the same step team that Brittany and Maria were on, and I remained a member for all three years. When I moved on to high school, I joined the Rapid Thunder step team and participated during my Freshman and Sophomore years. My Junior and Senior year, we unfortunately didn’t have an advisor and therefore weren’t able to have a team. In addition to my school step teams, I was also a member of Steppers in Unity, my church’s step team. Even in college, I kept stepping. My sophomore year I started “Order My Steps,” a step team under our gospel choir, and remained the President until I graduated. You can see why I was so excited about hosting this step show. Although the actual event was a great time, it’s the many other events that followed that have made this year truly special.

After the step show, I was contacted by Ms. Smith, a teacher’s assistant at one of the local elementary schools. She initially contacted me to get information on how to get the step teams that performed to come and do a workshop with the kids. When that proved too difficult, I offered to come and do the workshop myself. On one Tuesday morning I spent 2.5 hours with the 3rd, 4th and 5th graders at Isaac Dickson Elementary School teaching them the history of step, my involvement with step and how they too could become steppers. It was an amazing day. A few months after, I got another email from Ms. Smith saying:

“I just heard from a fifth grade teacher this week that the 5th graders are obsessed with stepping now! When they went on their class trip to DC they stepped at every rest stop! One class is also going to incorporate stepping into their graduation ceremony! I had no idea that your talk with them made such an impression, but it did!”

I was elated. I couldn’t believe that my obsession had spread so quickly and was taking this school by storm. Also in the email, I was asked to come to their End of Grade (EOGs) Testing Pep Rally to step. Unfortunately, I was out of town for that event, but I sent in a video of me stepping and encouraging them to do well on their EOGs to be played at the pep rally.

To this day, whenever I visit the school, I’ll hear students whispering “Hey, that’s the girl from the video!” No big deal, but I’m kind of a local celebrity. As Ms. Smith mentioned, one of the 5th grade classes had incorporated step into their graduation assembly and even asked me to come help and fine tune it. However, something strangely amazing happened. When I got there and they showed me their step, it was PERFECT! You could tell they had been practicing so hard and that they were really enjoying what they were doing. Instead of changing anything about the step, I taught them a new one to be done at the end of the assembly.

Watching them perform at their graduation ceremony a week later brought tears to my eyes. It took me back to when I too was in 5th grade and finally found my niche. I wasn’t good at sports like my brother and sister, I wasn’t very graceful in dance like my friends, and I was too girly for martial arts. But I could step and I could step well. Now 13 years later, I am able to mix the two things that I am most passionate about, children and stepping.

One of the things that I remember from our Pre-Service Orientation for incoming AmeriCorps VISTAs last year was our leaders telling us to find that work-life balance and incorporate what we love into our year of service outside of our work hours. As a returning VISTA for 2014-15, I plan to help develop an after school step club at both the elementary and middle school this upcoming school year, offer step as a physical education activity at the alternative middle school and teach a step workshop at an end of school year youth conference. And I owe it all to the fact that, at times, I can be a little bit loud and a tad bit “extra.”