Originating from the African Gumboot dance that was performed in the mines of South Africa during apartheid, stepping has served as a form of self-expression and liberation for years. Now seen in National Pan-Hellenic Council fraternities and sororities, stepping is a dynamic artform to display history and tradition through stomping, clapping and spoken word. Though related, stepping is not to be confused with strolling, which occurs when members line up and collectively dance to a song that is usually a trademark of that organization.
Step shows are one of the best ways to rally the Black community together and create a sense of belonging and identity for students at predominantly white institutions as well as historically black colleges and universities.
“Stepping and marching has history in Pan-Africanism and it connects us to our ancestors,” Public Health senior Jaren Kirkland, president of Omega Psi Phi, said. “For the community, the step show is representation. It’s an event for us, by us, and I think that large events like this are needed for the community to continue to be unified.”
At the University of Michigan, the Black population is slowly dwindling at its current 4.24 percent as of Winter 2018, and the newly admitted freshman class has dipped below enrollment in previous years. Performances that highlight Black excellence and expression provide a safe haven for Black students who frequently face issues of underrepresentation and racial anxiety on college campuses. There’s something special about seeing the different Greek organizations embody their values and history conjoined by their sorors and brothers as they proudly display their organization’s colors and history.
Any Black person can appreciate step shows, whether they have a connection to National Pan-Hellenic Council or not. There’s something electric about being in a room full of other Black people that’s brimming with the energy and excitement of watching the performances. Current students and alumni alike packed into the Michigan Theater Sunday night to celebrate the different fraternities and sororities. Alumni proudly represented their Greek organizations with their colors and symbols, singing and clapping along to their groups’ steps as they performed on stage for the 2018 National Pan-Hellenic Council Step Show.
This year’s theme was the Divine Olympics. Each sorority and fraternity performed while incorporating elements of athleticism into their routine. Featuring humorous narrations for dramatized sport scenarios, the fraternities and sororities did not disappoint with both their acting and their sharp movements.
Sigma Gamma Rho opened the show with blue and gold cheerleader uniforms, and their excitement pulsed through the crowd for the remainder of the show. Their gold and blue boots dazzled across the stage with high kicks and stomps that vibrated through the theater. With tantalizing flips and tricks, they clearly were in their element; but perhaps the most memorable part was when they lined up with linked arms and did the Sigma Lean — a move so difficult that most sororities can’t hold. They killed it as the opening act.
The Sigmas performed next, surprising the crowd as the University campus does not see them step very often. With a soccer theme and comedic jabs through their performance, they were the best surprise of the night. Their exaggerated hair flips and poodle-esque hand jives made no sorority safe from the Sigmas, as they seamlessly tied in a tight rhythm with their stomps and comedic hip grinds. Who doesn’t love seeing a dedicated pelvic thrust midway through a tight step routine?
Delta Sigma Theta ran with a baseball theme, stealing home base with their crimson and cream colors. Ingeniously, the Deltas incorporated the use of the runner of the bases to mimic each of the other sororities, and these allusions were not missed throughout their performance. Their steps were tight, and the reverberating sound of their stomps energized the crowd as they yelled out their calls. Overall, their creativity hit a home run.
Zeta Phi Beta followed up next with a dynamic basketball-themed routine, incorporating charismatic game-time energy and props into their movements. Their sleek shoulder rolls and exaggerated leaps got some of the most energetic crowd reactions. Even though their sorority had the smallest number of members performing, their routine effortlessly stole the spotlight and demanded the attention and praise of the audience.
Finally, Omega Psi Phi, or the Ques, took the stage with dark purple robes embroidered with gold and the audience fell silent. Brilliantly fusing Kung-Fu jumps and kicks with their trademark marches and hops, their creativity shone through their performance. From the staged fight scene with exaggerated groans to belting out in song that took the audience to church, they used the stage to their advantage. The coordination of their marches was brilliantly executed as they manipulated their bodies to create illusions that were mesmerizing to watch; their performance was a great way to end the night.
Ultimately, the winners of the Step Show were Delta Sigma Theta and Omega Psi Phi. Each winner received a trophy after being judged for their intricate routines, as well as proud audience reactions from all around the state of Michigan and beyond. Regardless of who took home the trophies, there was no doubt that every fraternity and sorority bristled with pride at the opportunity to be a part of a lineage of tradition for years and generations to come.
“The step show is about tradition,” Kirkland said. “We haven’t had a step show since March 2016, my freshman year, so the majority of campus has never seen one. For me to participate in the step show with the other Ques, it’s about continuing that tradition and sharing the aspects of Greek life that I fell in love with as a freshman in attempt to inspire those under me to continue the tradition.”
Hopefully, this will not be the last time that we see Black fraternities and sororities grace the stage of the Michigan Theater.