In the most emotional scene of the inspiring documentary “Step,” tireless high school counselor Paula Dofat advocates for one of her students to be accepted into a post-graduate program. Dofat’s voice cracks, tears skim down her cheeks, she trembles. This Bridge EDU program is her last-ditch effort. If not this, then Blessin Giraldo will be the only girl in the inaugural graduating class at the Baltimore Leadership School for Young Women not to receive a college acceptance.

Did Blessin get in? I’m not saying. You’ll need to see the documentary, which opens Aug. 11 in Boston. Directed by newbie Amanda Lipitz, “Step” chronicles three members of the Lethal Ladies step dance team as they train for a big tournament and navigate stressful senior years. It plays out in the aftermath of the Baltimore riots that broke out in April 2015 following the death of Freddie Gray while in police custody.

More than a year has passed since Dofat went to bat for Blessin, but she says it feels like 5 minutes ago. Thinking about it, she chokes up — and unnecessarily apologizes for getting so emotional during an interview at the Eliot Hotel in Boston.

“We were less than 30 days away from graduation. She was my only student that we had no place for,” Dofat said of Giraldo, who was dealing with issues at home and struggling academically after missing 53 days of school. “She had her ‘aha’ moment late and I knew that she probably needed someone to fight for her more than any other student in my class.

“To have this young lady with so much hope and potential, and such a fire in her, and not understanding how to fuel that fire ... I honestly would have felt like I failed her. And that was my last hope.”

Lipitz, 37, also a Broadway producer and a Baltimore native, said her goal for “Step” was “to show the world a small pocket of hope and joy coming out of such a huge tragedy” like the unrest in Baltimore.

“Step” follows Giraldo, the charismatic team founder; Tayla Solomon, the one with moves like Beyonce and a special bond with her mom; and Cori Granger, the bookish valedictorian with a dream of attending Johns Hopkins University. Lipitz films the girls with their families at home, at school and in step practice. She shows the girls broken down and then built back up.

For the uninitiated, stepping is a form of percussive dance in which the participant’s entire body is used as an instrument through stomps, claps and spoken word to produce complex rhythms and sounds.

“It’s a cultural tradition for us,” said Dofat, a former collegiate step champion. “It originated in Africa as a form of communication. It came through the slave trade to the U.S. It’s been kept alive by African-American fraternities and sororities. Now it’s reaching community centers and elementary schools. You can see it in all our neighborhoods.”

Lipitz’ mother is one of the school’s founders. The goal of the all-female charter school is for every girl to be accepted to college. Lipitz first met her three subjects while making a series of film shorts to promote the school when they were in sixth grade. Two years later, Blessin suggested the idea for the documentary to Lipitz.

“I know musicals. I walked in and they were stepping and my heart stopped beating,” Lipitz said. “I thought, ‘This is what happens in a great musical’ ... And in a great musical, characters can’t speak anymore so they sing to express their hopes, fears and dreams. That’s what they were doing in step. I knew that this was the documentary.”

Lipitz shot 400 hours of footage over the years and whittled it down to a taut 83 minutes.

“Freddie Gray was killed and I put everything in high gear,” she said. “I cut a trailer and started to raise money quickly because ... I watched my hometown burn on TV and wanted to show a different image.”

She said the three students profiled could easily have been replaced by any of the other 17 girls on the team. That’s how similar their inspirational stories are.

“In the edit room I zeroed in on these three girls, but I worked consciously to show a team,” Lipitz said. “And even though you don’t know everything, you feel like you know the others. You can feel that it’s not an individual story.”

Dofat agrees.

“The journey of every one of those girls would have been just as impactful because they are all so wonderful,” Dofat said. “But the saving grace is these are your sisters, and if their story is told then so is theirs.”

And the story isn’t complete. “Step,” which won a special jury prize at Sundance in January, will be remade into a scripted drama, produced by Scott Rudin (“No Country for Old Men”). Lipitz is tight-lipped about any details, but Dofat beams when asked who she’d like to play her on the big screen. “Halle Berry,” she said. “I don’t even have to think about it. I’ve loved her since forever.”

— Dana Barbuto may be reached at dbarbuto@ledger.com or follow her on Twitter @dbarbuto_Ledger.