Meet Blessin Giraldo, Cori Grainger, & Tayla Solomon, the ladies of the Sundance Award Winning Documentary: STEP

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Meet Blessin Giraldo, Cori Grainger, & Tayla Solomon, the ladies of the Sundance Award Winning Documentary: STEP
Posted by Dominga Martin

August 13, 2017

The moment STEP fills the screen, brace yourself.  As a viewer you are quickly engage with the STEP team, formed at Baltimore’s Leadership School For Young Woman. The first of it’s kind.  The young women takes us on an emotionally, heart pulling ride through their life, their challenges and their sense of agency,

STEP is the true-life story of a girls’ high-school step team set against the background of the heart of Baltimore. These young women learn to laugh, love and thrive – on and off the stage – even when the world seems to work against them. Empowered by their teachers, teammates, counselors, coaches and families, they chase their ultimate dreams: to win a step championship and to be accepted into college.

This all female school 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. Deeply insightful and emotionally inspiring, STEP embodies the true meaning of sisterhood through a story of courageous young women worth cheering for.

They call themselves “The Lethal Ladies” and although they are a squad, documentarian Amanda Lipitz focused on three young ladies (Blessin Giraldo, Cori Grainger, Tayla Solomon), who she knew since they were 11 years old.

Tayla: The introverted, only child who appears to be somewhat aloof, although rather mature for her age.  She keeps to herself.

Blessin: The outgoing, ambitious, feisty and stylish leader of the pack and,

Cori: The academic student heading straight to the college of her choice, with hopes of a full ride.

In addition, we are enthralled with their Coach (Coach G) who keeps the girls straight and in line, rounding out with the Director of the Program; Paula Dofat.  Together these women combine creative skills with a political stance to not only have their voices heard, but to walk out of this school winners—winners of a STEP competition the girls have yet to conquer since the school journey began, and winning in life.

“Step is Life” becomes the mantra of these young women who are holding it together one day at a time, through dance and camaraderie.

I spoke with the three young women during their press tour in New York City.  It went something like this…

Black Film:  What was your biggest challenge filming this documentary?

Tayla: For me, I guess, being motivated to get up and go to school because I didn’t entirely live with my mother during the entire high school experience.

Like in one scene, I’m like, ‘that’s my grandmother’s house’ then in another scene, I’m like: ‘Oh! That’s my real house.

I lived with my aunt or my grandmother or cousin to get to school.  My senior year I was transitioning from living with my grandmother to me and my mother actually getting a house for ourselves.  I lived an hour away.  We lived in Baltimore County, so I had to walk a mile to the bus stop, then take the bus which was like an hour away from school [so] I was tired of doing that because that was really frustrating for me, so my senior year I felt like sometimes I didn’t feel like doing it, or I wasn’t necessarily motivated to doing it. and I would go back and feel like school is such a special place because my first grade teacher, she noticed that I wasn’t coming to school on time [and that] I wasn’t putting my best foot forward…she would actually call me at 6:00 in the morning to make sure that I was up and that I was motivated…and I don’t think she knew how much that meant to me because without her calling me and being proactive for me to go to school, I probably would’ve been late because my mother went to work at 3 am and I couldn’t really call her or get in contact with her.  Only on her lunch breaks, before or after work, so she didn’t know that it would take so much out of me to go to school.

Blackfilm:  With all that was happening around you, how did you manage to stay focused while the cameras were rolling?

Blessin:  The cameras were the least of our worries.  We had a lot of things to focus on. For me—-going to college, showing people that I am capable of going to college.  Hopes of winning the STEP team competition before our step team experience in high school is over… not only that, but balancing out my home environment and making sure that I’m mentally stable for school and ready to learn.

So with the cameras, we knew Amanda (the Director) for a very long time, she’s been making shorts about us since we were 11 years old, so with that being said, we have a cool relationship with her.  She made sure that she found a really good camera crew, and if we didn’t like them, they were gone! Then eventually they became family, because Amanda was always like a mentor to each and every one of us, wanting to see us do well in school and stuff, so yeah, to me the cameras are just like a fly on the wall but during those intimate moments, like you said, where you felt like you can relate to me, it was kind of challenging at first, but eventually it became a sense of…like a project that we were all working on and I really wanted to open up my life so that people could understand where I come from and what I go through, with the hopes of that inspiring someone else…,

I never once said: “I can’t do it.” I never once said ‘I’m not capable of doing it’, and even with the very intimate scene with my nephew, I didn’t cry or break down until after he left the room, and if I can say anything to the audience, I just want you to know that—don’t let anything defeat you.  Never let doubt defeat you or fear fault you because this is something that you are capable of getting through [because] God will never give you anything that you can’t bear and for me, that’s something that just kept me going.  STEP was a way that I could release all that anger.  I’m stomping, I’m screaming, I’m clapping and not only am I doing that, but I feel directly supported with me and my sisters moving and performing as one [and] that’s why I feel like I’m so blessed to be part of this amazing experience, not just with strangers, but with people that I actually love.

Blackfilm:  You guys mention STEP is life as a mantra in the film, what does it mean to you?

Cori:  For me, STEP started off as just something fun to try out.  I had tried a bunch of different kinds of dance when I was younger and I never really stuck with anything because it didn’t really resonate with me, but in school I was always on the more education side, so I was always doing educational extra curricular: I was on the National Honors Society, Student Government, etc.  So STEP was the first creative outlet that I wanted to try [that] I actually enjoyed and suck with and it started off for all of us, just something fun, but over the years it became so much more than just performing.  It went from Stepping, to entertaining people, to stepping to educate people, to having our voices heard, so now we use it as a platform.

Even on this experience when we’re not even stepping in school anymore, you know…It’s just really a way to have our voices heard and for people to understand the things that are most important to us ; whether those are problems that we’re having in our lives personally or whether they are different positions that we have with politics. And also, Step gave me a lot of confidence, on how to find my voice and actually use it [and so] I’m a lot more confident than I was before, and I’m a lot more likely to speak my beliefs.  I’m my own self advocate and that’s something I feel is really important in life.

Blessin:  Step is who I am…it’s a lifestyle, but seriously it taught me about where I want to be.  Being from Baltimore with aspirations of being on Broadway, being in this crazy, cool situation, asking myself: how do I get there?  So for me, being founder of the step team along with my amazing sisters who are founding members, who believed in my vision and helped me achieve that, STEP was the first piece of production, choreography in the arts that I could ever attain and it taught me a lot about myself.

Discipline.  How to be a good team player, how to be a leader, because I was the captain, but not only was I captain for 1 year, I was a captain for multiple years.  You got people looking up to you—they want to put you out because you hold a special position and I think I came out twice as strong and not even going through the situations I was going through [but] wanting to win competitions—wanting to go to college and do things like that, so STEP,  it just taught me a lot…a lot of lessons, a lot of valuable lessons that I continue to use in my everyday life, and my environment—like talking to the youth.

For me and my mom, and me and my sisters, STEP is a lifestyle.  It’s who I am.  It’s the first time I ever figured out what my passion was.  I didn’t know anything about it.  I went home, I You Tubed it, downloaded an HBCU expo in Baltimore and I was like: ‘What is this?!’  Because I knew about modern, ballet, tap, hip-hop—never took a dance class in my life but I swore I was the best at it. and I was always that girl in elementary rounding up all my friends…so my sisters really helped me bring that to life and that’s why I love step.

Tayla: Step has brought a sense of sisterhood to my life because I am an only child so I didn’t really know how to be a sharer or anything…the sisterhood taught me a lot about myself and I learned a lot about them…I know how to handle each and every one of the girls on the team.  I know what they like, I know what they don’t like, I know what everyone’s allergic to..

Laughter…

Tayla: I think that it’s amazing that the sisterhood can still be going on for 8 years and we keep the relationships going even though we’re not in the same schools.  We text each other all the time about certain things.  I text them when I’m going through mental things or emotionally or if I need help physically or if I need help academically.  I have different girls that I text for different things.  I have girls that I text to help me make a wig…

Big Laugh…

Tayla: The sisterhood runs deeper than it looks.

Black Film: I love the resolve of you two, Tayla and Blessin, I don’t know what happened but I want to know how you both resolved it with such dignity when we’re in this realty show world of cattiness…

Blessin:  Well, it’s not a reality show, its a documentary

Tayla: A real life story.

Blessin: Me and Tayla had been together  for years, so we argue.  I get mad, she nows I get mad…

Tayla: She’s crazy…

Blessin: She gets mad, I know she gets mad, but again; we’re sisters.  It might sound cliche, but like, really they know so much about me, I know so much about them and have already shared so much with me, it’s like ok, we fuss over something one day and then get over it.

Tayla: If it takes a day, 3 days, 3 months…

Black Film: What does sisterhood mean to the 3 of you?

Tayla: I think what it means in general, all of us have the same amount of sisterhood.  That’s what this foundation was built off of.  The school’s motto is to transform Baltimore one young woman at a time.  It starts with the sisterhood and who you surround yourself with.

Blessin: To me, I think it’s something that’s valuable and irreplaceable because I know that the girls that are on the same STEP team are really the future leaders and I’m just so proud to know them because I know if I ever needed anything I would never be without my sister’s support…its so good to know you’re protected, that you’re loved and you got that forever.

Cori:  For me I would say it’s not looking at your self as an individual but really focusing on how your actions affect other people, how you can support other people etcetera.

Cori, Blessin and Tayla will be sophomores in college this year.  STEP is in theaters now. 


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