Stepping or step-dancing is a form of percussive dance in which the participant's entire body is used as an instrument to produce complex rhythms and sounds through a mixture of footsteps, spoken word, and hand claps. Though stepping may be performed by an individual, it is generally performed by groups of three or more, often in arrangements that resemble military formations.
Stepping may also draw from elements of gymnastics, break dance, tap dance, march, or African and Caribbean dance, or include semi-dangerous stunts as a part of individual routines. The speed of the step depends on the beat and rhythm the performer wants it to sound. Some forms of stepping include the use of props, such as canes, rhythm sticks and/or fire and blindfolds.
The tradition of stepping is rooted within the competitive schoolyard song and dance rituals practiced by historically African American fraternities and sororities, beginning in the mid-1900s.
Stepping finds its origins in a combination of military close-order and exhibition drill, and African foot dances such as the Welly "gumboot" dance. It also originally drew heavily from the stage routines and movements of popular R&B groups such as the Temptations and The Four Tops. During the mid-20th century, historically-black fraternities and sororities on United States college campuses traditionally sang and chanted to celebrate "crossing over" into membership of their respective organizations. Stepping is also performed by schools, churches, cheerleading squads, and drill teams.
NPHC Fraternities and Sororities had "Greek Sings" that were popular in the early 1900s. The chapters would gather on campus and sing uplifting songs and cheers about their Fraternity or Sorority. In later years when the Greeks sung songs they began to add movements such as walking in a circle, and clapping hands. The Sororities were singing songs up to the early eighties, and all of the Sororities still have traditional songs that they sing today. Meanwhile the Fraternities begin to add movement to their songs. One particular Fraternity; Phi Beta Sigma initiated a member from one of the African countries, that member added African movements to the songs. In later years "Greek Sings" became "Greek Shows" which were a major event and still are to this day. Stepping has been popularized by National Pan-Hellenic Council member organizations who gives tributes to their historical Greek letter organizations and also perform at local and national competitions. It is believed that the brothers of Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Incorporated were the first organization to start stepping and then Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Incorporated. Stepping has become popular among the Greek organizations to show spirit and pride in their Fraternity or Sorority.
It also developed in Motown. This tradition was passed to Fraternities and Sororities at Historical Black Colleges and Universities to celebrate initiations into the world of Greekdom. During the 1980s the term "Greek Shows" were incorporated canes as well. The most popular step routines have been passed down, and many of the songs are still used and housed in each Fraternities and Sororities history archives. Many times a step performance ends or incorporates the use of a chant that is associated with the respected organization. A chant is a song that is worded or has a rhythm specific to that organization. Each particular organization has their own.
Over time, more and more organizations have created moves to continue this growing passion, however it is well known in black fraternal and social circles that certain steps and moves originated and are considered signature to particular organizations. For example, "The Nut Cracker" is unique to Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Incorporated. "The Dove" is unique to Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Incorporated, "the Q Hop," is originally from Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Incorporated, and "The Alpha Train" is a staple of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Incorporated.
The first nationally syndicated stepping contest, S.T.O.M.P., aired in 1992 was created by Frank Mercardo Valdes, produced by the World African Network and Vic Bulluck and choreographed by Vernon Jackson and Jimmy Hamilton of Alpha phi Alpha fraternity. Again they were also known as Step by Step Stomp aired 92-96. Stepping was also featured in the movie Drumline (2002) and Stomp the Yard (2007). The Howard University "Beta" chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha stepped at former President Bill Clinton's inauguration, after appearing in a Foot Locker commercial in December 1992. Stepping was also featured in the Opening Ceremony of the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta.
Stepping in other cultures
That tradition has also been emulated by Latino fraternities and sororities over the past decades. Pioneered by Lambda Sigma Upsilon Latino Fraternity in 1979 they are noted as the first Latino Greek organizations to embrace the traditions of stepping This has led to an increase in participation of Latino Greek organizations in step show events. Often adding influences from Salsa, Merengue, Bachata, as well as other traditionally Latino music. Latino Greeks are performing in more step shows, stroll competitions, and social functions on college campuses throughout the United States.
Stepping is a complex performance that melds folk traditions with popular culture and involves synchronized percussive movement, singing, speaking, chanting, and drama. Developed by African-American fraternities and sororities, it is now practiced worldwide.
In popular culture and media
- Season 3 of America's Best Dance Crew had the Strikers All-Stars, a step-based crew who took fourth place in the show.
- In the finals of America's Best Dance Crew, the two finalist crews - Jabbawockeez and Status Quo (not to be confused with the English rock band) - for the first time in the competition, battle and cooperate in a step performance.
- Stepping has been seen in the mainstream, with involvement in motion pictures including School Daze, Mac and Me, Drumline, and How She Move.
- In the 2007 box-office film Stomp The Yard, stepping was used throughout the entire film. The main character, D.J. (played by Columbus Short), looks to lead his step team to win the national step show competition.
- BET Networks has aired numerous short step show exhibitions and competitions in its programming since 1989, when an early episode of Teen Summit featured members of Alpha Phi Alpha from Howard University, and members of Omega Psi Phi from the University of Maryland. Stepping has been featured on 106 & Park (during the Wild Out Wednesday portions), and on BET's annual spring event, Spring Bling (on the show Get 2 Steppin').
- At the beginning of Alicia Keys' video, "Teenage Love Affair", which is based on the 1988 movie School Daze, a step team is shown strutting in an all black outfit during a rally.
- At the beginning of the The Fresh Prince of Bel Air episode "Blood is Thicker than Mud" a group from the fictional fraternity Phi Beta Gamma (though all are real members of Alpha Phi Alpha, namely Vernon Jackson, Jimmy Hamilton, Phillip Cox, Marcus Legall, Steve King, and Dameion Harris) perform a short step show.
- Stepping is shown throughout the TV series A Different World, a show based on the fictional historically black campus of Hillman College. During the 2nd season, characters Whitley and Jaleesa choreograph a step routine for a homecoming competition, and during the fourth season, several primary characters step-dance as part of the fictional Greek letter organizations Kappa Lambda Nu and Alpha Delta Rho.
- Arsenio Hall also introduced stepping on his '90s late night talk show by introducing the group "Step by Step" Vernon Jackson and Jimmy Hamilton along with their fraternity brothers from Alpha Phi Alpha as well as members of Omega Psi Phi, who were the first winners of S.T.O.M.P, the first nationally televised step show.
- Stepping has been featured in films and shows such as School Daze (1988), Mac and Me (1988), Vernon Jackson and Jimmy Hamilton, both members of Alpha Phi Alpha and known as the group "Step by Step", choreographed the movie House Party 2 (1991). They also choreographed a couple of stepping episodes for the TV series A Different World, in which they also were featured stepping in and also featured members of Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity.
- Stepping, along with Gumboot dance, is a distinct component of the list of styles included in the World Hip Hop Dance Championships.
- Step dance
- Showtime Steppers
- Gumboot dance
- Stomp The Yard
- Get down
- National Pan-Hellenic Council
- Drill team
- Fine, Elizabeth. Soulstepping: African American Step Shows. Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2003.
- Hughey, Matthew W. 'Re-membering Black Greeks: Racial Memory and Identity in Stomp the Yard.' Critical Sociology 37(1): 103-123, 2010.
- Malone, Jacqui. Steppin on the Blues. Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1996.
- Ross, Lawrence Jr. The Divine Nine - The History of African American Fraternities and Sororities. Kensington Publishing Corporation, 2001.
- Brown, Jamie. "Black Fraternities and Sororities and the History of Stepping." Yahoo! Contributor Network. Yahoo! Contributor Network, 10 Jan. 2008. Web. 3 May 2013.