This empowering film about a group of high school step dancers from Baltimore as they juggle life, love and learning will leave you brimming with hope and delight. 

Baltimore has a less than positive reputation. The Maryland city is famed for it’s gun problems, meth issues, and high crime rates. In 2015, riots erupted after the death of Freddie Gray, a 25 year old black local as a result of injuries sustained whilst in police custody, sparking Black Lives Matter protests across the city. It’s an image that the Baltimore Leadership School for Young Women is trying to turn around.

Established with the intention of getting 100 per cent of its students into college, the school’s founding year are now in their final grade and attempting to reach the milestone of being first generation college students. Amongst them is the vivacious central character of Blessin, the fiery founder of the school’s step group, the Lethal Ladies, whose ineffable personality carries the film. Begun in the 6th grade, the dance group stomp and clap their way through competitions to escape from the harsh realities of life that most of them face on a daily basis; “not having food in the fridge, not having a fridge at all,” is just one of them according to Coach G.

From director Amanda Lipitz, the roaring success of STEP is in it’s depiction of sisterhood and community in a town swept up in the Black Lives Matter movement. For the girls, what they are trying to achieve is bigger than step, it’s about empowerment and growing up.

“I’m like a step down from Beyonce,” says member Tayla, capturing the essence of the sense of empowerment the girls get from step. The sass and attitude the girls exhume is exquisitely funny, and allows audiences to develop a real relationship with, and insight into the daily lives of, the dancers. “Kim Kardashian isn’t great. She’s pretty, but not great. We have to work twice as hard,” says Blessin, who changes her hairstyle every scene, on getting out of the world she was born into, despite her boyfriend’s less than supportive attitude, and making her mark.

That’s not an easy task. With colleges costing upwards of £40,000 in the USA, it’s the school’s councillors that have to battle to get their students into further education. Their dedication to their pupils and their attitude towards their dreams is uplifting, and captures a unique sense of support for the girls they care so much about. Aside from the school, the girls’ parents are as sparky as their children, and their nourishment of their daughters’ talents, as well as the odd rebuttal for being distracted by boys, provokes an emotional response.

The heart of the film is so big that at times you’d be forgiven for forgetting it was a documentary at all, rather an episode of Glee. This serves to make the film feel a little too contrived at times, as our troupe march slow-motion down the halls on the way to the big tri-state state championship which serves as the climax of the film, backed up by a punchy soundtrack featuring girl band Fifth Harmony and Baltimore rapper Tate Kobang.

If you love the fire and pizzazz of the strong women in GLOW and Orange is the New Black, you will love STEP. Featuring a cast of inspiring young women, STEP will leave you laughing, and the smile won’t leave your face until long after you’ve left the cinema. Pure joy.

Step opens on Friday 11th August 

★★★★☆