For the young men of Star Spencer High School’s The Brothers of Stomp, stepping is never about winning or losing or chasing titles or trophies.
Behind their rapid-fire movements, rhythmically clapping their hands against their hips, legs and arms in time with the forceful cadence marked by their swift feet, The Brothers of Stomp provides a positive experience for its members, one far from the anxiety and hassle existing in their small Oklahoma County town.
Stepping, or stomping as it’s called around the Star Spencer hallways, is a dance form rooted in African and African-American cultures. It was made popular by black college fraternities and sororities and has been depicted in popular films like Spike Lee’s 1988 School Daze and the 2007 drama Stomp the Yard.
Step dancing combines percussive movement, such as synchronized clapping and stomping, with interweaving formation and call-and-response. Teams can create their own rhythms or perform to hip-hop tunes.
“The truth of the matter is stomping is about 10 percent of what we do. People don’t believe that,” said David “Coach Moe” Mosley, who established The Brothers of Stomp in September 2010 and remains its sponsor. “Other step teams place an emphasis on stepping and winning. We don’t even talk about winning — we talk about performing and getting better. We believe that you can teach anyone to step; stepping is nothing but muscle memory.”
High-energy routines coupled with a program centered on building character and personal growth set Brothers of Stomp members on a positive trajectory toward becoming the best version of themselves.
Located about 10 miles outside Oklahoma City, Spencer is a town of 3,912 residents in northeast Oklahoma County that faces challenges seen in both urban centers and rural communities.
Communalism permeates the area; however, at the same time, there is a certain degree of despair. Largely cut off from mainstream economic opportunities, the minority rural community holds a median household income below the state and national average. Spencer schools are part of the Oklahoma City Public Schools (OKCPS) district, which has been plagued with shrinking state funding and budget cuts impacting staffing, facilities, curricula and extracurricular activities.
During the 2015-16 school year, 89 percent of Star Spencer students qualified for free or reduced-price lunches. This number is often used as a proxy measure for the percentage of students living in poverty.
In recent years, like other rural communities, addiction and mental health crises and a lack of services and opportunities for upward mobility have weighed heavily on residents.
Many who enter The Brothers of Stomp program are in at-risk situations and have poor grades and a low outlook on their futures, Mosley said.
“We practice six days a week,” he said. “The reason … is commitment. It also teaches them as inner-city minorities from a poverty-stricken area [that] they are going to have to work three times as hard. That is just the reality.”
When talking to prospective students, Mosley explains it’s a program that offers young men an opportunity to change if they are willing to accept the change. He doesn’t promise straight-A report cards or college scholarships but instilling a drive for continual self-improvement.
“The best thing for me is giving them the chance to change, giving them the chance to shine,” Mosley said. “I talk about this all the time. We are not going to save 100 percent, but we have successes. What we use as a success rate is graduation.”
The Brothers of Stomp high school graduation rate is 95 percent. That rate means members are graduating at a higher rate than other students in the OKCPS district, which held a graduation rate of 73 percent in 2014.
On a mild and breezy early February day, eight Brothers of Stomp members chant seven core values — academics, citizenship, community, commitment, hard work, teamwork and humility — as they enter the school auditorium. Then they begin to step.
“People can’t always put a finger on us,” Mosley said as the students begin practice. “We are different because the kids collaborate. The kids make up a majority of the steps through collaboration. My deal is to take what they have and enhance it.”
According to group members Jason Watts and Angel Santiago, Mosley enhances much more than dance steps.
“I really couldn’t take criticism very well,” Watts said about his personality before he joined The Brothers of Stomp. “It’s taught me to take it, not get angry, work for change and how to better myself.”
Before joining, Santiago recalled watching performances and thinking, “I couldn’t do that, even if I tried.”
“I used to talk to nobody, keeping my head down with my hoodie on,” Santiago said. “Brothers of Stomp opened my mind.”
From shy teen to a confident student and performer, Santiago found a supportive family — one that pushes him to succeed, whether in stepping, at school or socially — in The Brothers of Stomp.
“If I can put my mind to it,” Santiago added, “I can surely achieve it.”
Print headline: Up-tempo, The Brothers of Stomp, through its building charter and personal growth program, provides possibilities for young men at Star Spencer High School.