Teens representing 24 step teams from all across the South will come to Kathleen High School the first weekend of February to perform in a large-scale competition hosted by Lakeland’s Taken By Surprise Step Team.

The show, called Stepmetheus, will be held Feb. 4 inside the school’s gymnasium starting at 3 p.m. Doors open at 2 p.m.

“I’m expecting a sold-out crowd” of around 1,000 people, said Corey Tumer, the team’s sponsor and founder. Tickets to the step show are $25 for general admission and $30 for a VIP front-row seat. Children 3 and under are free.

Stepping is a percussive dance of sorts which involves synchronized movements that incorporate the entire body being utilized as an instrument to make rhythms and sounds using mostly the hands, feet and spoken word. It is often performed by members of historically Black sororities and fraternities on college campuses, and was featured in the movie, “Stomp the Yard.”

“The reason the whole step team came about is because I am a member of Kappa Alpha Psi,” Tumer explained, adding Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity Inc. is one of the historically Black fraternities known for its members stepping with red and white canes.

Tumer, who is a physical education teacher at Sleepy Hill Middle School, played basketball at Florida Southern College before becoming a teacher. He said a fellow educator inspired him to start the step team to give young women something to do outside of cheerleading.

“Our urban culture girls, they don’t participate in a lot of activities … Girls don’t have as many outlets as boys,” Tumer said.

Tumer said the first season was in 2010 with 14 high school girls. He now has 70 members, split between the varsity and junior varsity teams.

It’s bigger than step for us. We run an afternoon mentoring organization … We work with the kids and teach them life skills, try to prepare them for college, (and) keep them in a position where their grades are good.

corey tumer

“Ever since COVID hit, I started a junior varsity team and it has changed the whole dynamic of the program being able to start from fifth grade on up,” Tumer said, adding that he also has eight coaches who help run the program.

Taken By Surprise Step Team competes nationwide, according to Tumer. He estimates more than 300 girls have competed on the team since 2010.

“Our varsity has been blessed to have four national titles. Our JV has one national title,” Tumer said. “We’re one of the top all-around step teams in the country. Like top three.”

Taken by Surprise Step Team photos: blue uniforms are the 2022-23 junior varsity team; black uniforms are the 2022-23 varsity team; posed shot is the 2021-22 team.

The majority of the girls on the team are from Lakeland, but there are a few from Winter Haven, Bartow, and one member from Valrico, Tumer said. And, they’re not all African American.

“Our best stepper is a Mexican. We have a Puerto Rican. We’re waiting to get some white girls in there. You don’t have to be Black,” Tumer said, adding that having rhythm is a must.

Tumer sees his step teams as a mentoring organization.

“It’s bigger than step for us. We run an afternoon mentoring organization. We meet every Wednesday … We do mentoring and we work with the kids and teach them life skills, try to prepare them for college, (and) keep them in a position where their grades are good,” Tumer said.

According to Tumer, the steppers must maintain a C letter grade or above in all of their classes in order to compete.

Tryouts are typically held the second weekend in May. Tumer said the teams practice four days a week during the summer and twice a week during the school year, except for competition weeks when the practice schedule is ramped up again. He said new members typically have to pay $500 to $600 in dues to pay for team travel and apparel.

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Stephanie Claytor has been a broadcast and digital journalist in Lakeland since 2016, covering Polk County for Bay News 9 and currently free-lancing for LkldNow. She is an author of travel and children's books.

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