As Tufts’ only all-femme competitive step team, the ENVY Ladies bring passion and energy to the dance floor.
Stepping incorporates African folk traditions into a performance of dancing, acting and speech. The ENVY Ladies perform step on campus as well as in competitions across the country. ENVY’s three captains spoke to the Tufts Daily about their experiences joining ENVY and serving as captains.
Junior Ella Boateng, senior captain of ENVY, stepped in high school and was able to carry their passion into their time at Tufts.
“Including my time on ENVY, I’ve been stepping for a total of seven years,” Boateng said. “I got into it in high school … and I ended up being a natural, and then it ended up being one of those things that clicked.”
Stepping experience isn’t a prerequisite for the team, though, and many members had never stepped before trying out for ENVY.
For example, junior Aviance Haymon didn’t have stepping experience before joining ENVY.
“I did majorette and hip-hop growing up, but I never stepped until I came to Tufts,” Haymon said.
Similarly, junior Deborah Gebremariam hadn’t stepped before coming to Tufts.
“I’d always wanted to join [a step team],” Gebremariam said. “This was definitely my first time, and it was hard, but I loved it.”
All three captains cited the ENVY performance at their first-year orientation show as one of their motivators for trying out.
“I saw ENVY perform at O-Show … Everyone around me could testify [to] the way my eyes went wide,” Boateng said. “Seeing their O-Show performance, how they carried themselves, the way that they stepped … to them it was more than stepping.”
Haymon said that the ENVY members she met at the club fair also inspired her to try out for the team.
“At the club fair, ENVY was the only table that I came to that was very warm and welcoming,” Haymon said. “It’s kind of like a community here, as well as a step team.”
Joining ENVY requires a three-day tryout, consisting of learning choreography for a trial performance. Once on the team, dancers typically meet three times a week to train together and prepare step sequences for shows. The week before performances and competitions, though, the team practices every day.
Throughout the year, ENVY participates in a mixture of performances and formal competitions. On Saturday, ENVY performed at Tufts’ 20th annual Break the Stage competition hosted by the Tufts Black Student Union.
“The fall semester is usually performances and the spring semester is competitions,” Gebremariam said. She added that ENVY will often travel during the spring semester in order to participate in step tournaments.
Tufts’ all-male step team, BlackOut, often competes and performs at the same shows as ENVY.
“We have a sibling-esque rivalry with the other step team, BlackOut,” Boateng said. “It’s all love at the end of the day.”
ENVY and BlackOut have previously competed against each other at the National Step Show, but Boateng noted that the teams supported each other.
“Yes, we were rivals, but, at the end of the day, the way that we came together to support each other was also really great,” Boateng said.
Boateng added that ENVY also has strong relationships with other Tufts dance teams like COCOA and Spirit of the Creative.
“We’re always looking to make relationships with more dance teams,” Boateng said.
Step choreography is a complex but creative process.
“We start off with a song first and just listen to it over and over, see what parts we want to cut up and how we want to remix it,” Haymon said. “We establish a beat first and then find moves that fit the beat.”
All three of the captains collaborate while choreographing pieces for the team, determining which music and moves best fit a performance.
“Luckily for us, choreography is not a lonely experience,” Boateng said. “We come together and it’s a plethora of ideas bouncing left and right.”
This year, the captains are taking choreography input from other members of the team as well.
“This will be the first time we’ve got input from other members of the team,” Boateng said, “I’m actually happy we took that initiative because sometimes … it can be kind of isolating having all these ideas and not necessarily understanding how they’d be perceived.”
Beyond providing a platform for dance, ENVY creates a space for its dancers to develop friendships and build community.
“Sisterhood is very important to us. We make it a point to help one another out and spend time together outside of practice,” Haymon said.
Team members share a strong bond and make a point to support one another off the dance floor.
“If we ever need help with anything, all we have to do is text the group chat. Someone’s always there to help,” Haymon said.
ENVY dancers call one another stepsisters, and mentorship is built into the team. Veteran steppers are referred to as “big steppers” and rookies are called “little steppers.”
“The girls on ENVY are my sisters, and I love the fact that I get to have a mentorship relationship with the little steppers,” Haymond said.
Dancing on a supportive, close-knit team also provides a strong outlet for student wellbeing. For Boateng, stepping allows them to destress.
“[Stepping] is a release,” Boateng said. “I could be having the worst day … and then halfway through practice … I’m laughing with the rest of my team.”
Gebremariam also finds stepping to be a helpful addition to a busy schedule.
“Having an outlet in such a stressful college life … has become so important to me. Having a space I can just come to a sisterhood, to my friends, and just step or relax, but also work out and all of that in one is just so valuable,” Gebremariam said. “A lot of the people are [some] of my closest friends, and I love to see them everywhere. That friendship is so unique.”
Stepping itself also proves to be a powerful medium for self-expression, allowing dancers to build confidence.
“Stepping with ENVY is a great way for female-identifying people to find their confidence in themselves and find that creative outlet, that ability to perform,” Haymon said.
Boateng shared similar sentiments about the special value of stepping.
“Stepping is such a beautiful art form. It’s more than just replicating rhythm and movements with your body,” Boateng said. “It’s expression and it’s a form of liberation, and it’s really beautiful in that sense.”