Soul Stepping Scholars at Patrick Henry

Step up on Saturday, April 21

Written by Tom Murray and Susan Breedlove

“Listen,” Coach Quinton Bonds urges the 11 members of his award winning Patrick Henry Elite Step Team. Bonds, in his 7th year as coach, began at Patrick Henry High as the school’s Achieve Minneapolis College and Community Coordinator in 2010. He currently serves as Patrick Henry’s Family and Community Engagement Coordinator.

“You have to listen for that beat,” he says, breaking a dramatic silence by sounding out that very beat pattern. “Bop, bop, beat, beat, beat, beat.” His rendition ends with an interrogation. “How many of you need to buddy up alongside someone who can hear that beat?” Two hands are raised and the team members realign to accommodate the necessary proximity.

Bonds and the Elite Step team are fresh off of a performance at the U.S. Bank Stadium for the Super Bowl (!) in February. Now they are practicing again in the Patrick Henry Cafeteria as they do every Tuesday and Thursday from 3:10-5:10. As the team prepares and progresses toward annual competitions across Illinois and Minnesota from March through May, the number of practices will increase from three to five and the intensity will ratchet exponentially. The competitions which Patrick Henry often dominate, are the culmination of a nearly school year-long commitment that began with tryouts in October. Members of the 2018 Elite Step Team are: Captains Shina Vang, Sada Dobbins, along with Arlyn Adan, Paying Yang, Ladani Vang, Mikerri Logan, Keng Thao, Chah Cha, Robert Turner, Trayvionne Mitchell, and Donny Chiqi.

As Bonds watches the team repeat this stage of their routine, he explains the history of Stepping and his personal history of involvement. “Have you seen Stomp the Yard?” he asks. The 2007 film showcases a college student at a fictional, historically Black university who pledges to join a fictional Greek-letter fraternity and then competes in stepping competitions. “In my situation the yard, or area of the campus that my fraternity of Alpha Phi Alpha practiced, was the University of Minnesota. Black soldiers returning to college from war over time influenced fraternities by bringing with them a passion and discipline for precision military march moves that they wove into previous step rituals developed by African American fraternities as early as 1900.”

Add rhythm and blues dance formations, innovative artistic elements, and it’s easy to see the appeal to the college-aged Bonds as well as an ever increasing popularity across the U.S., and other cultures including the Latino and even Hmong community.

Now satisfied that the new formation is ensuring that each stepper hears the same beat, Bonds’ eyes never leave the team as he explains the eight artistic elements on which his team will be judged: appearance, precision, transition from one formation to the next, introductory steps, audience response, complexity of step, originality, and of course, theme. Bond explains and smiles confidently, “In the past our team has explored toys, football, sleepovers, and zombies. We don’t announce our theme to anyone until the first actual competition. All I can say is that this year I promise the theme is going to be really good.”

Bonds introduces Elite Team Captain Shina Vang (’19) as Vang prepares to leave for another extracurricular commitment, Drama Club. Like many of his teammates Vang became interested in Stepping as an 8th grade student when the Elite Step Team performed at his alma mater, Anwatin. Vang has been a member of the team for his entire three years at Henry. He credits former Stepper Margaret Campbell (’16), and Step Tri-captains Breanna Jensen (’17), Pache Vang (’17), and Chris Vang (’16) for modeling the necessary characteristics of a good captain: empathy and listening skills. “The best part of being a captain is getting to know each stepper and helping them progress,” Vang said.

Chris Vang, who is currently enrolled at Hennepin Technical College, sums up his love and passion for the four years he participated in Stepping, the final two as captain: “Elite, means to be the best or most skilled group of an organization! We aspire to be the best at everything that we do! Coming out of Olson and into Patrick Henry as a freshman my Step family immediately provided me with direction, confidence, and self-esteem. Every moment spent was amazing, difficult and memorable. I learned the value of synchronization, grit, tenacity and leadership. I learned that I could take my passion from Stepping back then, and even now and channel it into my performance in school and in life. I love the Elite Step Team of PHHS. I hope to rekindle that love when I join a college Step team.”

With a strong feeder program producing Steppers from Olson Middle School under the direction of Henry Alumni and former Elite Step Team member Kendall Ray (’11), and a pledge to make the Steppers even more diverse, Bonds promises an exciting choreography for this season’s upcoming competitions, the never before seen routines which come to him via dreams.

Come see a live performance of Bonds’ dreams immersed in every fiber of each Stepper’s body and expressed in their amazing team synchronization of rhythm of footsteps, spoken word, and hand claps at the Midwestern competition.

3rd Annual Soul Stepping Scholars Stomp Down

Saturday, April 21, 3 p.m., Patrick Henry High School Gymnasium

Adults, students 13 and older $10; children 5-12 $5; children under age of 5 free.