During the 18th and 19th centuries, canes were considered to be very fashionable. Canes were decorative, objects to be admired and be proud of. They were considered valuable collector's items and showed the true sign of a Gentleman. Members of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity and Phi Beta Sigma have always worn or carried canes since the beginning of the 20th century when these organizations were founded.
During the times of the 1950s, Black Greek Letter Organizations, on an undergraduate level, began to practice what is known today as "Step Shows". Undergraduate members of Phi Beta Sigma and Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity took part in the trade and soon incorporated the use of their favorite items, the cane, into their stepping routines. This was something that spread to many of the undergraduate chapters during the early 1950s and 1960s. Stepping was catching on at a much accelerated rate among the African American fraternities and sororities during this time period. During the 1950s and 1960s, canes that were used in the art of stepping were typical canes of about 36 inches. Members of Phi Beta Sigma and Kappa Alpha Psi performed "Taps" where the canes would be beaten on the ground in time with the rhythmic beat of the step show. The turn of the decade would reveal an evolution in cane stepping known today as "twirling". Undergraduate members of Kappa Alpha Psi in the 1970s, not content with Taps alone, would then create a new form of cane mastery which involved much more skill and talent than merely banging the cane on the ground in a certain beat.
"Twirling" had become the new style of cane stepping among Kappa undergraduates; they were constantly looking for better and faster combinations to incorporate into their steps. One issue that the members of Kappa Alpha Psi faced during this time was that they were still practicing the step show routines using the standard sized, three foot canes. Kappa Alpha Psi found that while normal length canes were fine for tapping, they became a problem when it was time to twirl their canes. Thus, cane stepping evolved once again.
Although Kappa Alpha Psi and Phi Beta Sigma are the pioneers of stepping and twirling with canes, other NPHC organizations also step and twirl with canes such as the Sigma Gamma Rhos. There are many step shows and twirl off competitions that take place throughout the United States.
There are a variety of things that you can “twirl”. The most common objects that are twirled among NPHC Greeks are canes and staffs. Although there are other objects that relate back in the history of twirling such as rifles and batons. When twirling a baton there a many competitions. The greatest is considered to be to Olympics, were medals of gold, silver or bronze can be won every four years by the best baton twirler in the world. Rifle twirling is usually done by Marines. When Marines participate in these competitions they are usually drill competitions.
- Anderson, Walter. Fire and Brimstone. Milk And Honey Publishing, 2002, p. 12.
- Anderson, Walter. Sweet Nupe. Milk And Honey Publishing, 2002, p. 52.