With its rousing step percussion and themes of self-reliance, Molodi offers students moves with a message
Arousing and keeping the interest of a roomful of third-graders is no easy task — even when they are as well-behaved and well-mannered as those at MJ Christensen Elementary School. But when it comes to reaching and engaging kids of all ages, the high-energy, interactive step-percussion group Molodi (pronounced Muh-laud-ee) doesn’t miss a beat.
Within moments of bursting onto the school’s gymnasium stage in a flurry of stepping moves, beatboxing sounds and infectious hip-hop music, the ensemble had heads bobbing, hands tapping and bodies dancing in place while seated on the floor. As the first number ended, the room filled with oohs and aahs, then loud whoops, cheers and applause.
The 50-minute instructional presentation, featuring five of Molodi’s dozen or so Las Vegas members — Jason Nious, Antwan Davis, Malachi Durant, Angie Freeman and Micah Clark — was held in conjunction with The Smith Center's in-school performance program. “Helping kids has always been a part of Molodi. Always, always, always,” stressed Nious, founder and president. “That’s how I learned. I was a junior in high school when I started (stepping), and when I was inspired, I was fertile and looking for things to latch onto.
“When you have something, and a purpose, you have a fertile ground, a fertile mind, to actually start creating. ... So it’s always been a part (of Molodi) to teach and pass it down.”
Molodi makes percussion noises by clapping, finger-snapping and striking various body parts. It blends these sounds with collegiate stepping, tap, gumboots, beatbox, poetry and hip-hop dance, creating a dynamic and rhythmic experience. And now that they had captured the attention of these third-graders, Nious took a few moments to talk about the origins of stepping. Originating in African-American fraternities and sororities, he said, it’s made up of intricate rhythms and sounds generated through footsteps, claps and spoken word. Body percussion, he added, is the umbrella under which stepping falls. To demonstrate, the Molodi crew led the kids in a clapping exercise that included patting their chests, bellies, mouths and the tops of their heads.
Nious then shifted to a more serious note. He discussed the essential requirements to be part of a stepping team — rhythm, teamwork, discipline, high energy — and explained that stepping requires hard work and a “love to be the best.” He also had the students repeat a pledge reinforcing the need for self-control, self-discipline and perseverance: “Good, better, best; never let it rest, until your good is better, and your better is best.”
“I enjoy using body percussion as a tool to pass on life skills to the kids; it’s like sneaking vegetables into their lasagna,” he said. “Yes, they clap under their legs and make cool rhythms, but at the same time, they are learning about teamwork, leadership and focus. It’s great because we can see their brains churning as they figure out the complicated parts for themselves, and we know we’ve inspired them to explore it even more. So, in the end, we’ve done our job.”
Prompting everyone to their feet, including teachers, Molodi demonstrated the stepping at-attention pose: feet together, stand up straight, fists clenched and touching at chest height, mouths quiet, eyes forward, grit on (or what they jokingly referred to as “making ugly faces”), muscles tight.
After guiding the crowd through the drill a few times, stepping instruction followed. With intense concentration, the students followed Molodi through some simple stepping moves that included clapping, hitting their chests and upper thighs and stomping. They seemed to be having a great time.
Nious formed Molodi in 2000, while attending the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque. He, along with the group’s co-founders and vice presidents Davis and Khalid Freeman, came to Las Vegas to perform in Stomp Out Loud at Planet Hollywood. After it closed in January 2009, the three stayed in Vegas to pursue their aspirations for Molodi and achieve their dream of helping kids. Since then they've performed for approximately 6,000 students from 10 Clark County schools and held workshops for both teachers and students, as their national touring calendar allows.
When asked about the most important message Molodi can convey to kids, Nious said, “You’re here on purpose, meaning it’s your job in life to ... discover who you are for yourself, and then give it and spread it around the world. You can choose to be idle your whole life and choose to be mediocre, but you’re doing a disservice to yourself and to the world.”