Like every other dance movie with “street credentials” (see Take The Lead or Step Up), Stomp The Yard dangles the carrot of a finale dance-off competition to ward off any issues of narrative inadequacy that might distract from the forcefully undulating nubile bodies pushed to their contorted limits. DJ Williams (Columbus Short—Accepted) is a talented hip-hop dancer forced to relocate from Los Angeles to Atlanta for college after his brother is murdered by a rival crew of street dancers.
DJ moves in with his aunt and uncle in order to attend Atlanta’s historically black Truth University where he is exposed to the fraternity tradition of “stepping.” Evolved from African “gumboot dance” the group dance style combines rhythmically dynamic steps with chants and percussive hand movements maintaining two independent military cadences.
DJ’s sense of solitary individuality dissipates as he determines to steal the affection of April (Megan Good—Roll Bounce) from her privileged-but-robotic boyfriend Grant (Darrin Henson) of the Mu Gamma Xi frat. After joining underdog stepping fraternity Theta Nu Theta (Mu Gamma Xi’s rival frat), DJ has to figure out more new ways to keep dancing in the limelight.
From a dance standpoint, “stepping” is a confrontational and mocking type of primal activity conceived to intimidate competitors by expressing a military intent. In the context of fraternity spirit, steppers are an equivalent to a drum line, marching band, parade and party, all in one. The Mu Gamma Xi identify with howling wolves, while the Theta Nu Thetas present themselves as hissing pythons when they present their step routines.
Theta Nu Theta’s leader Sylvester (Brian White) voices crucial theme lines when he boasts of a lasting bond of brotherhood that DJ will enjoy for as long as he lives if he joins the fraternity. The scene comes before DJ walks through the school’s Heritage Hall where photos of fraternity and sorority members like Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks and Michael Jordan silently endorse membership in the groups as a gateway to advantage and success. There’s a glaring disconnect between the indelible person that DJ seems to be, and his indoctrination into a populist affiliation of wannabe followers.
In the over-leveraged final competition between the wolves and the pythons choreographers Dave Scott and Jesus Maldonado present an evocative, if not convincing, amalgam of street style hip-hop, krumping and stepping that the filmmakers fumble to dramatize with multiple camera angles and slow-motion sequences. The effect is a generic blend of coordinated group movement embellished with primal energy and raw anger.
Who are these impressionable youth, and what will they wake up to when they realize that their devotion to fellowship is a promise glimpsed in a rearview mirror. That question never arises in Stomp the Yard because the story isn’t the sum of its parts, but rather just a bunch of locking, popping and posing. MTW