With blue and gold canes in their hands, their feet stepping in unison on the floor to create rhythms, the sisters of the Sigma Gamma Rho sorority sing out their sorority history and their pride for their organization.
They swiftly clap their hands, tapping their shoulders, their hips, their arms and their feet. They call out each other’s names.
Combining their own songs and traditional stepping, a form of African dance, the sisters from Sigma Gamma Rho, along with seven other fraternities and sororities, invite everyone to come out to Midnight Madness at the Diag at midnight tonight.
The National Pan-Hellenic Council, which oversees the University’s historically black fraternities and sororities, started Midnight Madness nine years ago as a way to welcome returning students and to let new students find out about their groups, said Danielle Robinson, an LSA senior and president of the Sigma Gamma Rho sorority.
Midnight Madness has been a good way to advertise the multicultural fraternities and sororities, said Kreston Martin, a Kinesiology senior and president of the National Pan-Hellenic Council at the University.
“We’ve had pretty good attendance in the past – roughly 400 people attended each year,” Martin said.
The goal of using stepping is to incorporate the uniqueness of the multicultural fraternities and sororities into songs, lyrics and rhythms. “Stepping is part of our history. We feel unique from the rest of the Greeks.
The rhythm, the stepping, the coordination and the call-and-response are all parts of African culture,” said Natalie Vanderbilt, an LSA senior and a Sigma Gamma Rho sister.
Stepping was adopted by black members of the Greek system during the 40s and 50s as a way to distinguish them from other Greek organizations.
Key elements of the dance are portions in which performers sing the same part of the song at different times, creating layers of melody.
Performers line up and create rhythms by stepping on the floor emphatically and clapping their hands at the same time; there are no instruments involved in the dance.
Their movements follow the beats; they stretch out their arms, point toward different directions and step simultaneously.
They start the song with a single high-pitched call by one of the performers, then everyone joins in as the song progresses.
As they sing, the performers slowly and uniformly move to one direction then back to where they began.
They step hard on the floor, keeping everyone on beat.
Each performance varies in size and length, Robinson said. Sigma Gamma Rho has an act composed of nine people, but other fraternities and sororities have up to 15 dancers.
Three of the nine performers from Sigma Gamma Rho are from Eastern Michigan University, partly because the first Sigma Gamma Rho chapter started on the EMU campus and because as Martin, the Pan-Hellenic Council intends to invite everyone.
“People start preparing in March and April, before school even ends,” Martin said. The long planning is a good way to let them get to know one another better and become more united as an organization, he added.
“It’s something that I think I can definitely do. I think it’s an accomplishment. It’s a chance to be with people who you love, while you practice every night,” Vanderbilt said.
Deena Marshal, an LSA junior and a member of Sigma Gamma Rho, said stepping gives her a sense of pride.
“It’s fun. I love it because you get to show your attitude and present your organization at the same time. We’re the best, and you can quote that,” Marshall said.