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Restart: Kirsten Ledford

As the world moves toward recovery from the coronavirus pandemic, we asked people in our community about a time they started over or started again.  How did they recover and re-energize themselves in those situations? Over the next several weeks, we will share the stories of their #restart.

Kirsten Ledford, Dancer and Early Childhood Special Educator, Baltimore City Public Schools

Restart: Kirsten Ledford
Photo: David Stuck

I was a teacher in Alexandria, Virginia.  I loved my school and my principal.  The community was loving and diverse.  I was appreciated as a teacher and regularly spoiled by my student’s parents with homemade goodies.  There was one problem: My teaching license certified me from birth to grade three.  Virginia required that I be certified through grade 12. I would have had to take a million classes to do that, so I didn’t bother.

A new focus

As I was completing my third year in Alexandria, I started to panic because I knew I would get fired without those classes.  My provisional certificate was almost expired and I NEEDED a job. I had a mortgage. This was the 2000 to 2001 school year.

One day, there was a performance and one dancer couldn’t make it. I learned the steps really quickly and filled in.

It just so happens that I always side-hustled as a dance fitness instructor. I have an extensive background in dance and have always put it to use. A few years earlier, I had met C. Brian Williams in my step aerobics class. He had an all-male group called Step Afrika! Stepping is a percussive dance genre created by African-American fraternities and sororities. I am a member of Delta Sigma Theta, Sorority, Inc. and am very familiar with step. Step Afrika! would perform for different pan-African events and was made up of members of Alpha Phi Alpha, Fraternity, Inc., mostly at Howard University. One day, there was a performance and one dancer couldn’t make it. I learned the steps really quickly and filled in. It worked. The all-male ensemble became co-ed from that day on.

Step into inspiration

The demand for what Step Afrika! presented kept growing. As I was losing my job as a teacher, Brian offered to bring me on full time to do a world tour. I went from being a teacher to being the first artistic director for Step Afrika!  I retired from touring at 36 when I got pregnant, and I got a teaching job in Maryland where I was certified.

Step Afrika! will host a virtual Juneteenth celebration on Friday, June 19 at 8 p.m.

Meanwhile, the company has evolved into a major force in the dance world. Check out them out at stepafrika.org. I remain a teacher, but still side hustle with dance fitness.

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