“Step,” Amanda Lipitz’s documentary about a girls’ dance team in Baltimore, includes much talk about the feeling of empowerment that comes with stepping, a physically demanding and confrontational dance style. Some of their talk rings true. If some of it sounds a little hollow, though, it’s because once these high-school girls exit the gym and go back to their homes, empowerment can be very hard to come by.

The title of “Step” may be something of a bait-and-switch, but in the best possible way. Although the film spends substantial time in the practice room and on the competition stage with the dance team — known as the Lethal Ladies of the Baltimore Leadership School for Young Women, a predominantly black charter school — “Step” is really about what will happen to these students after graduation. The team is Lipitz’s way of thematically connecting several girls who are beginning the all-important process of applying to college. That makes “Step” not only compelling and dramatic, but timely, given ongoing debates over color, class and opportunity in America.

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Although the Baltimore team includes nearly two dozen girls, Lipitz narrows her focus to three. One is Blessin Giraldo, a charismatic leader with supermodel looks and perfect makeup who comes home each day to a depressed mother and, sometimes, a kitchen without food. Cori Granger, a self-described introvert, has her sights set on Johns Hopkins, though how the money will materialize is a question. Tayla Solomon may not have the most stellar grades, but she has something possibly better: An attentive, engaged, demanding mother who helps coach step while working as a corrections officer.

Watching these girls’ brave smiles dissolve into tears as they describe the poverty, hunger and hopelessness that stands between them and their goals, it’s awfully difficult to think of America as the level multicultural playing field we’d like it to be. “Step” at this moment seems like required viewing, a movie that shows the very real ways that seemingly abstract issues directly affect young lives.