‘Dem Boyz’ steps its way to ‘Stomp the Yard’

“Stomp the Yard” is a popular new film that explores aspects of the human drama such as violence, love and envy with fraternity stepping as the backdrop. Stepping, also referred to as stomping, can basically be defined as a dance involving a rhythmical heavy step.

The highlight of the film is at the National Step Competition, where Dem Boyz is shown competing. In real life, Dem Boyz is the 2006 National “Stomping on the Yard” championship team that was profiled in the ESPN2 documentary of the same name – and many of the team members are also students at the College.

“Stomp the Yard” highlights the talents of a few of our own. Past and present students of the College including alumnus Ike Anyanwu; Greggy Amisial, senior biology major; Anton Vallie, junior English education major; and Desmond McDonald, senior criminal justice major, are members of the Dem Boyz Step Team.

Dem Boyz was born when members of the Xi Pi chapter of Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity Inc. at the College and Rider University formed the team in Spring 2003. Seye Charles, Quesi Lewis and Akwasi Yeboah from Rider, Byron George and Curtis Kirkland of Bloomfield College, and Josh Ijaola of Seton Hall University are also members of Dem Boyz, which is featured in “Stomp the Yard.”

McDonald became a Sigma in Spring 2005. All of the members are very dedicated to stepping, arranging their schedules so that they can meet for practice once a week – sometimes for up to six hours. McDonald carries a very busy schedule, but he feels that step is worth the sacrifice.

Vallie is a founding member of the step team. He started stepping in high school as a hobby and since then it has become more serious. “We see it as a performing art, like tap,” Vallie said.

In order to be cast in “Stomp the Yard,” Dem Boyz sent in an audition tape. The team was later contacted by Rainforest Films to audition at Howard University.

“We were at practice one day and Seye (Charles), our step master, told us we got the call,” McDonald said. “That was pretty exciting.”

A road trip to Clark Atlanta University followed, as it was the location where their scene for the film was shot.

“Because we knew that the final scene was the National Championship, we decided to use one of our steps that we are most famous for on the competition circuit,” Charles said. Charles also credits Anyanwu, Amisial and Vallie with the team’s choreography.

They spent a single day on set delivering a perfect performance and needed a single take to capture it on film. Even though they had a small part, Vallie said it was a fun experience.

On location, the team was able to meet and socialize with some of the celebrities who appear in the film. R&B artists Ne-yo and Keith Sweat and actress Megan Goode were on set when Dem Boyz shot its scenes. The team was able to eat lunch and hang out with Sweat and music producer Jazze Pha. The experience was a good one overall, showing the team that talent alone will not make you successful – you also have to work hard to achieve your goals.

“Being in a movie and having people calling saying they saw you is a good feeling,” Anyanwu said. And this is just the beginning for Dem Boyz – the team is also appearing in a 2007 Sienna Films release called “How She Moves,” which was shot in Canada.

Since its inception, Dem Boyz has traveled across the country, winning over 20 first-place titles in step competitions. They were crowned the winners of the 2006 National “Stomping on the Yard” Championship. They have also performed at Usher’s New Look Foundation fundraising gala, CBS’s “The Early Show,” Fox 5’s “Morning Show” and “Live With Regis and Kelly.”

Charles wants people who are unfamiliar with stepping to understand that it is an “African-American tradition as well as a part of black history. These aspects are not only important to the energy of stepping for entertainment use but also for bonding and pride within African-American fraternal organizations.”

When asked about the future of stepping, Anyanwu said he hopes it will be about getting back to the roots of true stepping. He said it has become gimmicky, and he hopes that Dem Boyz has changed people’s concept of stepping by helping them get back to a truer form of their art.

Anyanwu hopes this film will be an inspiration to younger people, some of whom may be disadvantaged, that you can overcome your surroundings with hard work and make your dreams come true. He hopes that seeing Dem Boyz on the big screen will be a testament of success to other students at the College.

Dem Boyz’s next performance will be at The Black History High School Step Competition, scheduled for Feb. 17 at Rider. More details about the team and its upcoming performances can be found at its Web site, demboyzstep.com.