Stepping has roots in Africa: Roots of stepping

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Many students have seen the high-energy performances of stepping, but are unaware of the rich history and African roots of the dance form.

Stepping, a dance form created by historically black greek organizations, combines chanting, singing and dancing to tell a story and the history and platforms of fraternities or sororities.

Brandon Clark, K-State Alpha Phi Alpha adviser said stepping is a tradition that started in the mid 1900s that uses the body as an instrument. The dance form has origins from African dance.

Many sources agree that stepping derived from African culture and an African dance that incorporates slapping the arms, legs and chest, created in West Africa by slaves when slave owners refused to let them communicate by drums.

This type of dance then moved over to tap dance once it was incorporated with music and then evolved into stepping.

According to the Black Greek Network Web site, it is thought that not one black fraternity can claim to be the founders of stepping.

“It is possible that this came about during the first joint meeting of any of the black national fraternity’s conventions in the early 1920s. The results of which was the Inter-Fraternity Conference of 1922 in Washington, D.C.,” according to the site. “In between sessions and even during social events it is believed that stepping, in a sense, was done while each organization strutted their stuff, most likely to impress the ladies.”

The Web site also said other elements of stepping formed after the return of fraternity brothers from World War II.

Various elements of military marching and line formations were implemented into fraternities with the end of the war and the advent of peace time.

Though one fraternity can not be credited, many would agree that Phi Beta Sigma and Omega Psi Phi started the dance form expression, Quantrell Willis, member of Phi Beta Sigma said.

Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana and member of Phi Beta Sigma created stepping moves sourced directly from African culture more common, Willis said.

“It is the tribal African feel of stepping that makes it powerful,” he said.

Stepping has increased in popularity on college campuses and even on the silver screen. There have been several movies made that tell stories of the dance form and its participants, like “Stomp the Yard.”

However, the popularity of step and its portrayal in Hollywood has failed to impress those involved in black greek life.

“I did enjoy the movie, but they made stepping a bigger deal than what it is because being in a fraternity is not just about stepping. [Stepping] is secondary,” said David Hildebrandt, Alpha step master.

He also said false portrayals of stepping can lead people to get the wrong image.

“I think it’s important that people understand the background – that it’s not just an activity, it has a base,” said Cara Kroeger, secretary of Zeta Phi Beta and junior in interior design.

Each Greek organization has a step master. “The job of the step master is to come up with the theme, and each one has their own flavor,” Clark said.

Putting a show together takes hard work, time and dedication, she said.

“You have to be prepared and in good physical condition,” Clark said. It usually takes about 2 to 3 weeks to put a ten minute show together, practicing almost 2 hours per practice.

Hildebrandt said his position as step master entails choreographing and teaching step routines. This year the Alpha’s performed in more than six shows.

“Some of the moves I choreograph myself and sometimes I get moves from looking up other Alpha Phi Alpha moves on [YouTube.com],” Hildebrandt added.

Though many greeks said they enjoy stepping and that it promotes brotherhood or sisterhood in their organization, they want people to know that stepping is just one aspect of black greek life.

“Black Greek life is more about community service, and hopefully we can set an example on campus so people can see its not just about stepping,” Hildebrandt said.

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