Sisters in Step dance troupe changes name to Wildcat Dance Crew – The New Hampshire
After 24 years, the University of New Hampshire (UNH) “Sisters in Step” dance troupe has changed its name to “Wildcat Dance Crew”. The move comes after the group’s history of cultural appropriation was recently uncovered.
Sisters in Step was founded in 1997 by six women of color as a creative outlet for women of color on a predominantly white campus. The group dance style focused on hip-hop and traditional African American dance. Stepping is a percussive dance in which “the body becomes an instrument, using steps, claps and words” to produce complex rhythms and sounds. “Sisters in Step” has its own unique group dance.
Wildcat Dance Crew co-captains Taylor Nygren and Emily Clickner have both been involved in competitive dance since childhood and were welcomed into the dance troupe as freshmen in the same audition class. However, they were unaware of the history of Sisters in Step as a group created by and for women of color until they became captains.
“OClickner and I]were able to occupy these positions of power [as captains], we decided enough was enough. We are no longer contributing to that,” Nygren said.
The dance troupe decided to call on Center Beauregard to help navigate the name change process.
They also issued an apology on their Instagram page and offered their support for the Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests in July 2020.
“The original mission of the group was to create art while raising awareness of the lack of diversity on the UNH campus. Since our founding 23 years ago, we have moved away from this mission. We acknowledge and apologize for our lack of action in the past,” the post read. “Our current leadership is dedicated to creating an inclusive environment and understanding where the pitch is coming from, and taking serious action to ensure it happens.”
Nygren and Clickner said the process began before this summer, but the protests “accelerated” it by issuing an official statement.
“We wanted to release a statement so people could see that we were working on fixing our map,” Clickner said.
“We also didn’t want to release too many statements because I think too often empty statements are released by organizations that are not followed by real action. We wanted to make sure we weren’t just empty words,” Nygren added.
This isn’t the first time Sisters in Step has considered a name change. In 2017, a Cinco de Mayo party at UNH gained national attention for its use of Mexican imagery and stereotypes. Sisters in Step became part of the larger conversation about cultural appropriation that the event sparked. Many have pointed to Sisters in Step’s predominantly white affiliation and use of traditional African American dance as cultural appropriation.
“It hurts me to the very core of my being that they took something that literally, and I’m sorry, I’m going to cry here, that literally almost saved my life because I was at my wit’s end at UNH,” Chandra Craven, one of the founders of Sisters in Step, said in a 2017 NHPR interview.
However, when members of Sisters in Step reached out, leaders of the Memorial Union Building (MUB) at the time did not “recommend” a name change and the conversation ended, according to Nygren.
Since then, there has been increased community education on cultural appropriation. UNH also established Unity Day, starting this year, Unity Week, to promote community service and solidarity.
“I think in general, as a community, we work to educate people [about] the importance of diversity, the importance of understanding cultures that are different from your own and where the line is between appreciation and appropriation,” said Lu Butterfeild-Ferrell, Center Beauregard associate director and coordinator LGBTQA+ initiatives.
In addition to the name change, Wildcat Dance Crew is also partnering with Center Beauregard to create a “time capsule” for Sisters in Step on the center’s website. Its purpose is to preserve the history of Sisters in Step in case BIPOC UNH students wish to reestablish the group in the future.
The time capsule will include information about the founding of the group, previous constitutions, and a timeline of the organizations past actions. Nygren and Clickner are also creating a video of the step dance they learned in first grade for future members of Sisters in Step. Wildcat Dance Crew will no longer use step dancing in the future.
“We are very happy to have finally been able to make this change after discovering all the information on how [Sisters in Step] had evolved,” Clickner said. “And finally take this step to stop the cultural appropriation that we had participated in.”
“I am convinced that we are leading the team to a better position than when we started in the team. And so that gives me a conclusion that we may have made a long-term change,” said Nygren.
Photo courtesy of Wildcat Dance Crew.