Marcus High School's Online Newspaper

The Marquee

Marcus High School's Online Newspaper

The Marquee

Marcus High School's Online Newspaper

The Marquee

Stepping into the spotlight

Sophomore builds community with new step team.

As sophomore step team captain Jaida Johnson’s boots scuffed against the gym floor, she fought the panic in her stomach.

The panic had been rising all morning. At home, when she skipped breakfast because eating felt impossible. During second period, which she spent stealing glances at the clock. And in the dance room just a few minutes ago, when she and her teammates rehearsed the steps that they would perform in front of the entire school.

Since the team had gotten the job performing at the pep rally weeks earlier, Jaida had been parroting anxieties like a broken record.

“I just kept saying, ‘I don’t know how the school is going to take step. I don’t know how the school is going to see step,’” Jaida said.

She stepped onto the floor with her teammates and took in the bleachers full of students.

Today, she would find out.


Stepping is a percussive type dance that incorporates stomping, clapping and spoken word. A huge part of African American culture, the dance has its roots in South Africa. Jaida knows that the students who watch her and the step team may not understand its importance, but for her and the rest of the Black community, stepping represents community.

Just being with people who can relate to you — there’s nothing like that.

— Jaida Johnson

She first learned the importance of community in Jackson, Mississippi, where she lived from birth until sixth grade. She remembers those years as some of the best in her life. Her grandmas, aunties and cousins loved spending time with each other, and her huge family often gathered to eat good food at reunions.

“Just being with people who can relate to you — there’s nothing like that,” Jaida said.

She learned about stepping in bits and pieces. After watching sororities and fraternities at HBCU college fairs or movies about high school step teams, she warmed up to the idea of trying it herself.

“That’s another reason why representation matters,” Jaida said. “Because since I grew up watching all that, that made me more like, ‘Oh, they did it. Why can’t I do it?’”

Her family moved to Lewisville in sixth grade. After watching the Huffines Middle School step team perform at a pep rally, she tried out.

The move from Mississippi to Texas had been jarring. But Huffines’ step team was so welcoming that she sometimes felt like she had never left Jackson. 

Jaida stepped on the team for a year before COVID-19 struck in the middle of seventh grade. After that, her family moved to Highland Village.


Mask on, Jaida walked into her eighth grade theater class. It was her first day at Briarhill Middle School.

Her friends from Huffines had warned her about how few people would look like her at her new school. But when she looked around the class and saw that she was the only Black student in the room, the lack of diversity felt real.

She couldn’t believe it. She scanned the room of desks spaced six feet apart, looking for someone who looked like her. 

“It was such a culture shock, going from nothing but Black people and Hispanic people, or people of color in general around me, to being the only Black person in the room.”

The socially distanced desks made the isolation feel worse. As she took her seat, she tried to fight the sensation that everybody else was staring her down. Unfamiliar anxiety rose, and she couldn’t stop it.

“I feel like nobody should feel like that,” Jaida said. “Feeling so out of place.”

By freshman year, she would stop consciously scanning classrooms, looking for another Black person. But the underlying loneliness would follow her. 

Looking around in the bleachers at her first pep rally and finding just a few Black people scattered through the crowd. Joining the Black History Club just to feel at home on campus.

“Now I’ll be in a room and I’m the only Black person in the room, and I won’t even notice,” Jaida said. “It’s just something you have to sadly get used to, living somewhere like this.”


Jaida describes the moment that the idea for the step team was born as something out of a movie. Sophomore Gabby Yuoh had gone to Huffines with Jaida and moved to Briarhill the same time as she did. They talked about bringing step to Marcus in their eighth grade ELAR class.

They didn’t revisit that idea until high school, when Jaida asked a counselor how to create a club.

She couldn’t generate more racial diversity at school — so she set about creating a community for herself and other Black students.

If you don’t see it represented to what you want, make it yourself.

— Jaida Johnso

She held step team tryouts in the fall. That year, the only performance the team could land was Black History Club’s banquet. However, the team received an offer from student council sponsor Gina Karbs to perform at pep rallies for the 2022-2023 school year.

The team’s anxiety before the first pep rally of the year ran high. It would be their first school wide performance. 

“My stomach was not in my stomach anymore,” Jaida said.

But the moment the team was called into formation, all that mattered was sticking to their routine.

They started with a simple two-step. Then, to hype up the crowd, a dance battle between two members. The team ended with line time, forming an aisle and taking turns dancing down it.

When Jaida looked around at the crowd, she was far from the girl who had scanned the bleachers in that very gym in freshman year, desperate to feel like she belonged.

Instead, she stood in the center of the community she had created.


The team continued performing at pep rallies and, since the beginning of basketball season, have danced halftime performances at games. But with success came their share of backlash.

“If you’re in a predominantly White school and there are a lot of White people, there’s bound to be some of them that feel a different type of way about different races,” Jaida said. “There’s bound to be somebody racist.”

Even though the comments and insults bother her, she just takes it as part of introducing a cultural practice to a mostly White area.

“That’s just a part of it,” Jaida said. “I like to say, if you don’t have haters, then you’re not doing something right.”

After the first pep rally, a student posted a picture of the step team with a negative comment on Snapchat. Shortly after, a step team member made a TikTok directly responding to the post.

Jaida remembers opening up the TikTok bracing herself for negative comments. To her surprise, plenty of the students in the comments were on the step team’s side. 

Cheerleaders, Marquettes, track, basketball, football — all types of students were in the comments section, supporting the team.

“I didn’t know how the school was going to take step,” Jaida said. “And I realized from the TikTok that they actually liked us.”


Since the first pep rally, the number of members has tripled to 27. They practice in the dance room on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Jaida teaches the team how to step from scratch, gradually piecing together separate steps learned over the span of weeks into routines. 

“Once you understand the process of step and you have rhythm, I think it’s pretty easy to learn,” Jaida said.

In tandem with making routines that keep the crowd entertained, Jaida’s biggest goal is to make her teammates feel welcome. Club sponsor Melinda Bowman is proud of Jaida for creating a safe space for the team members.

“Kids need to feel like they belong.” Bowman said. “That’s why I thought it was important for the step team to have a sponsor, because I felt like I belonged where I went to high school. And I want these kids to feel like they belong.”

Jaida encourages any student who needs a community at school to make one for themself.

“If you don’t see it represented to what you want, make it yourself,” Jaida said. “Take me as an example. I built step from the ground up.”

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About the Contributor
Muna Nnamani
Muna Nnamani, Managing Editor
Muna Nnamani (she/her) is a senior and a third year staffer. She’s super excited for this year’s staff, because they’re all pretty decent people. Outside the paper, her one hobby is listening to the same three songs on repeat and thinking about her feelings. She gets five hours of sleep on a good night, but she’s still thriving.

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