In 2016, the Baltimore Leadership School for Young Women graduated its first senior class — a group of young women who had spent seven years within BLSYW’s walls, the first to complete the program start-to-finish, and with an organizational goal of 100% college acceptance. Meanwhile, some of the senior class had their own goal running parallel to the school’s admission ambitions: claim a major (and elusive) step victory to cap off their high school careers. Step, from director Amanda Lipitz, is the story of that journey.
The Lethal Ladies of BLSYW are a sprawling group, and we hear from many of the members, as well as Coach G and a number of school staff and parents, but we chiefly track along with three members: Blessin, Cori and Tayla. Blessin is the team captain and early in the film she sums up her love for step in a fashion that exemplifies her magnetic, optimistic personality, “step is life.” Blessin has big dreams, but as we see, struggles with applying herself to her studies. Her senior year is a tale of two goals: leading the step team and committing to her studies so she can expand her college opportunities. In many ways, Cori is Blessin’s opposite. Cori describes her self as “many things that step is not,” but also says that a sense of drama and boldness comes over her when she performs. Her personal mission is to earn a full ride to Johns Hopkins. The final member of our core trio is Tayla, she’s on track for her school of choice. Her greatest challenge (and we suspect joy to be acknowledged later) in step is her mother’s dedicated support — at every practice and event.
All of these big life moments are set against the backdrop of downtown Baltimore in the wake of Freddie Gray’s death. It’s coming-of-age meets slice-of-life means contemporary commentary, and it’s all entirely charming. As we watch the ups and downs of the school year and the lives we’re following, we find ourselves laughing, crying, cheering. Emotional detachment is an impossibility. And in documentary filmmaking, that’s something of a triumph. That the story we’re presented is full of real characters deserving of our emotional investment makes it a rousing success.