The Line
December 7, 2006 8:18 AM   Subscribe

Steppin' is an hour-long documentary on an African-American dance tradition, most closely associated with historically black fraternities and sororities (though it's also found in high schools, clubs, and professional dance companies). Combining footwork, hand-clapping, chanting, singing, use of props, and changing configurations of dancers, it's a tightly coordinated dance form in which teams vie for honors in competitions nationwide.
posted by Miko (20 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I was first exposed to stepping via a Me Phi Me appearance on the Arsenio Hall show, and have found it interesting ever since. Thanks for posting this; I'm looking forward to watching it this evening!
posted by kimota at 9:11 AM on December 7, 2006

Man, I remember watching the black Greeks practice stepping in front of High Rise North at Penn, circa '84. Intimidatingly humorless, with all the lockstep precision of a North Korean children's chorus. If nothing else, it prepared me to understand the S1Ws a little bit better.
posted by adamgreenfield at 9:31 AM on December 7, 2006

(Also, I was always fascinated by how the traditionally black fraternities and sororities used corporation law to do an end-run around restrictions. They're, like, Groove Phi Groove Incorporated.)
posted by adamgreenfield at 9:33 AM on December 7, 2006

My middle school, for some reason, incorporated a lot of step routines into our cheerleading program, so I was aware of the style as a kid. However, I didn't know it was quite such a big thing until I went to Rutgers, the State University of NJ, and happened to see a step show with teams from all over the country and thousands in attendance. It was electrifying. I never gave thought to the influence of military/marching cadences on step, though, until I saw this documentary.
posted by Miko at 10:37 AM on December 7, 2006

Nearly every fraternity and sorority in America is incorporated, for a multitude of reasons. I'm not entirely sure why the historically black organizations emphasize it so much in their names, although some posters in this forum thread indicate that it's a source of pride because they were founded in a time when it was very difficult for black organizations of any kind to incorporate.
posted by Partial Law at 10:40 AM on December 7, 2006

I never gave thought to the influence of military/marching cadences on step, though, until I saw this documentary.

Nor is that influence entirely one-way, Miko. Not if my drill sergeants were anything to go by.
posted by adamgreenfield at 10:44 AM on December 7, 2006

An interesting thought. Though the US military was far from integrated until the twentieth century, that doesn't preclude the migration of cadence chanting from African-American groups into the military as a whole. Still, marching music and chants go back a long way, and I'm not sure we can say that cadences have completely African-American origins - but it sure is an interesting area to consider. I'd love to see some work done on that connection.
posted by Miko at 10:54 AM on December 7, 2006

OK, I'm getting schooled. Turns out the present-day military cadence chant or "Jody Call" is attributed to a black WWII drill sergeant named Willie Duckworth, who came up with t
he original "Sound Off!" chant
. On the other hand, the Duckworth story could be exaggeration or legend. There's lots more to discover. Another FPP's worth....
posted by Miko at 11:02 AM on December 7, 2006

Just a small nitpick - the Omega Phi Beta is a Latina sorority, not a historically Black sorority. If I were to link to a historically black sorority known for their stepping, I'd link to Delta Sigma Theta. I say this as a (former) member of a rival black sorority - the Deltas can step their butts off.
posted by likorish at 11:08 AM on December 7, 2006

Ugh, not "the Omega Phi Beta". That's what I get for only partially reading through the preview.
posted by likorish at 11:09 AM on December 7, 2006

Now a major motion picture, too.
posted by epugachev at 11:13 AM on December 7, 2006

Thanks for the link, likorish... that was some incredible stuff.
posted by anthill at 11:18 AM on December 7, 2006

There is it seems in all group coordinated movements a demonstration, a need,to subordinate the individual to the larger group, be it in what we witness here, in North Korean (or any) goosestepping, Irish clogging etc. Ah, the Rockettes! Do they do anything once the holiday season is over? It is this sort of sacrifing the self to the larger group (community) which made the Nazis so hate jazz, with its emphasis upon individuals. This stuff is of course beautiful and hypnotic. In mass exercises uch s those held my the Chin se we do see the ultimate in fascistic expression, something missing in democratic activities except for touches here and there as in cheerleading.
posted by Postroad at 11:23 AM on December 7, 2006

Heh. I saw the first line of this post and thought, "Miko would love this."
posted by occhiblu at 11:36 AM on December 7, 2006

I first saw this in school daze. Video doesn't do it justice--going to a step show is better, but the best is spontaneous steppin' outbreaks on campus.
posted by whatnot at 11:52 AM on December 7, 2006

Postroad, yeah, you have identified some of the hypnotic element in group coordinated motion. There is beauty to it, though, too. The cult of the individual poses its dangers just as much as does the cult of the group. I first became sensitive to this when I learned swing dancing: I was surprised that by agreeing on a set of signals and motions, and accepting a coded set of group behaviors, dance partners could create something far more complex and beautiful than could any two people each dancing alone. Cooperation is so difficult - with every person you add to a team, the danger of overall failure increases. That is one thing that makes it beautiful and stunning.
posted by Miko at 12:34 PM on December 7, 2006

Whatever happened to studyin'.
posted by four panels at 12:41 PM on December 7, 2006

I'm getting schooled

Don't you mean served?
posted by emelenjr at 1:07 PM on December 7, 2006

This was a big deal at my college in Alabama back in the mid/late 80's, particularly during Homecoming week. Though the different participating fraternities viewed it more from a competitive angle, as a spectator, it was great to observe these "Step Shows".

Ditto occhiblu......this is Miko material all the way!
posted by Just Ask, Just Tell at 2:53 PM on December 7, 2006

Steppin' really does rock. I was always impressed by it (growing up in S Florida I was exposed to it, and didn't realize others weren't until college...the out-of-staters didn't know what they were missing).
posted by evening at 4:20 PM on December 7, 2006

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