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‘Step’ is life

LAPACAZO SANDOVAL | 8/10/2017, 4:28 p.m.
The atmosphere was crackling with high voltage, and the air was scented, thick with youthful optimism. It’s easy to catch ...
Blessin Giraldo, Cori Grainger, Tayla Solomon, Gari McIntyre from “Step” by Amanda Lipitz, NYC, 2017. Lapacazo Sandoval photo

Sitting inside the Conrad Hotel, in lower Manhattan, was the team behind Fox Searchlight’s “Step”—a true-life story of a girls’ high-school step team (the Lethal Ladies of BLSYW: Baltimore Leadership School for Young Women), set against the background of the heart of Baltimore. The atmosphere was crackling with high voltage, and the air was scented, thick with youthful optimism. It’s easy to catch the fever of this feel-good movie. You find yourself cheering for the Lethal Ladies of BLSYW, their images, now, seemingly everywhere with the movie trailer playing inside subway stations. The Lethal Ladies have arrived, for a season, but what a season! This meeting is the most exciting part of a real-life Hollywood fairytale.

In our city everything moves fast, and the media schedule was packed with high-level interviews, including performances on “Good Morning America” and “The Today Show.” So much media spotlight for a tiny indie film that made headlines at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival because it caused a bidding war. Fox Searchlight won.

Winner of the Sundance Film Festival Special Jury Award for Inspirational Filmmaking, “Step” is the first major feature from Tony Award-winning Broadway producer Amanda Lipitz. Lipitz began filming the girls at age 11, when they first entered BLSYW as the inaugural class and formed a step team to bolster one another. Lipitz said, “When we set out to make this film, we wanted to highlight a small pocket of great work. We wanted to showcase a school in the middle of Baltimore doing amazing things, so that people would see some hope. But it became an even bigger story that shows that you don’t have to let what’s happening in the moment impact your outlook on the future. If you keep going, anything’s possible.”

At its heart is a story about very young women chasing their ultimate dreams: to win a step championship and to be accepted into college. Baltimore Leadership School for Young Women is reshaping the futures of its students’ lives by making it their goal to have every member of their senior class accepted to and graduate from college, many of whom will be the first in their family to do so. This goal is not part of Hollywood fiction. It is real life, and for the three girls who are featured most prominently—Cori Grainger, Tayla Solomon and Blessin Giraldo—simply stated, “Step is life.”

Here is what Grainger, Solomon and Giraldo had to say about sharing their lives in “Step.”

AmNews: I only have one question for all three of you, and that question is in two parts. Part One: Why did you agree to participate in this film? And Part Two: What has “Step” done for you?

Solomon: Let me start. For me, it’s brought a lot of opportunities, and not just for me, really, but for my community. Where I come from a lot of people think that Baltimore is this scary, drug-filled, gun-infested community, but it’s not. After the death of Freddie Gray, the way the media showed the city, it was wrong. Our city has much more than that, and I am happy to be a part of a movie that shows us in a different light.

Grainger: I am a founding member of the Baltimore Leadership of Young Women, and I had a very close relationship with Amanda [Lipitz] because she was pretty much in and out and she was always coming around with a camera. At first, I did not think that my life would be inspiring to so many people, but in hindsight I am grateful that I did say yes because the movie has been such a blessing. Step in general has taught me to be very confident and to be my own self-advocate.

Giraldo: I feel like a shero. I really do. This was a little movie with a tight budget. We submitted it to Sundance [film festival] just because and look where we are? It shows that no dream is too big, no dream is too small. Next stop, I hope is the Oscars. Why not? You know “Step” is life.