A Note from Our Founder




The Show

CityStep's History

CityStep began over twenty years ago when Sabrina Peck '84 took a troupe of fellow Harvard students into the Graham and Parks elementary school to perform excerpts of "Citystep," an original, evening-length dance theater work Peck had created on campus. The production, about the interweaving lives of 10 characters in a city told entirely through dance, had been a popular sensation on campus, performed at Sanders Theater and the ART, and brought together a diverse group of actors, dancers, composers and musicians. At the Graham and Parks school assembly, Peck watched the riveted, energized faces of the children in the audience (see photo) and had the idea to bring kids up onstage so they could experience for themselves the power of dance to express emotion and ideas. She led the young participants in dance theater exercises which culminated in a short dance about conflict, performed at the end of the assembly to the delight of teachers and peers.

The structure of the CityStep program flowed naturally from that first charmed interaction. Four teams of Harvard students, led by Peck, traveled to four Cambridge public schools twice a week for a year to teach dance theater classes during the children's school day. At the end of the year, over 100 kids and Harvard students performed in Sanders Theater an original dance theater production about growing up in the city--to the delight of family, friends, and the Harvard and Cambridge communities. The Cambridge mayor was in attendance on opening night and an official "CityStep Day" in Cambridge was declared! The next year scores of CitySteppers also performed at Harvard's 350th anniversary stadium spectacular. After two years, Peck passed the leadership of the program on to three students, Diane Paulus, Rebecca Shannon and Celia Savitz, who worked with Peck to transition the program into an institution that could continue to thrive. See photos of the program's beginnings.


CityStep's beginnings are impressive, but its more recent history is no less inspiring. The CityStep leadership constantly looks for ways to improve upon the organization with each coming year. In the fall of 2002, CityStep launched its Third-Year Program, nicknamed 3YP. For years, CityStep students who completed After-Schools lamented that they could not continue with CityStep into their seventh-grade year. As a result of this feedback, CityStep execs and alumni worked together to extend the curriculum, leading to an advanced class in which students focus more intensively on different aspects of the performing arts.


In 2004 CityStep saw another big milestone. The idea of expanding the organization to another university-community pairing had been discussed since the program's inception in 1983. In the spring of 2004, Laura Weidman '04, a four-year veteran of the program, received two Harvard public service fellowships to set up CityStep at the University of Pennsylvania upon graduation. With the support of the CityStep leadership and a number of alumni, including Sabrina Peck herself, Weidman teamed up with two Penn undergraduates, Alicia Marini '06 and Martha Mijes '06, to set up CityStep as a student organization serving the West Philadelphia community. The spring of 2005 marked Philadelphia's first annual CityStep show, Paint the Town: CityStep presents Philadelphia Murals Brought to Life, featuring the work of almost twenty undergraduates and almost 50 public middle school students. The program practically doubled in size in its second year and continues to grow and thrive today.


CityStep at Harvard also thrives, working constantly to reinvent itself as needs and climates change both at the university and in the community. In 2005, CityStep shuffled its leadership: the composer and teacher branches of the company were combined to increase company integration and the executive board was whittled down from nine members to four: two executive producers and two executive directors whose newly defined focus is on projects pertaining to the vision and goals of the company. A revamping of the CityStep curriculum further aligns the program’s curricular goals with those listed as part of the Massachusetts Arts Curriculum Framework. New initiatives for increased community outreach include the CityStep Community picnic, first held in the spring of 2006.

It is this spirit of creativity and annual reinvention that has kept CityStep successful for a quarter-century and which we hope will allow the program to continue to serve the community for many years to come.

"It's the small moments that happen in the classroom every day that make CityStep really special. It is so energizing, as a teacher, to see students taking risks, creating, being funny, and getting comfortable in their own bodies."

--Katie O'Brien, Executive Director, 2002-2004

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upenn@citystep.org     Civic House 3914 Locust Street, Philadelphia, PA 19104