STEP documents the senior year of a girls’ high-school step dance team against the background of inner-city Baltimore.
Set in in post-Freddie Gray Baltimore—a city riddled with riots, poverty, and social unrest— “Step” is a moving documentary that captures the real-life stories of three African-American teens. The girls are seniors at the Baltimore Leadership School for Young Women and members of the Lethal Ladies, a step team preparing for the upcoming championship.Blessin, the founder of the Lethal Ladies, struggles when it comes time for college applications after years of choosing a social life over academic success. Her unstable home life only exacerbates the problem, as her mother suffers from depression and anger issues. Brilliant Cori is bent on becoming class valedictorian and dreams of attending Johns Hopkins University. However, her mother and stepfather, while supportive and attentive, are unable to pay the bills for their large blended family. Tayla is raised by a single mother, Maisha, who desperately wants a better life for her daughter. While it sometimes embarasses Tayla (cue the teenage eye-roll), Maisha is her daughter’s biggest cheerleader and pushes her to keep her eyes on the prize despite the distractions—namely teenage boys—surrounding her. All three girls, while very different, fight to succeed in an environment that seems bent on holding them back. Still, the girls aren’t entirely without support: the school counselor, Paula, works to help them meet their goals, sometimes putting her own reputation on the line. The no-nonsense step coach, Gari—the first in her family to attend college—reminds the girls of their worth, pushing them to reach their full potential. It’s impossible to watch this documentary without rooting for the girls as they fight for their dreams, whether it’s attending college, winning the step championship, or simply breaking out of a dysfunctional family environment. Though this film is a truly inspiring overcoming-the-odds story, it’s unsuitable for younger audiences due to inappropriate language and other negative elements.