Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Was The Lindy Hop An Early Source For Fraternity Stepping?

Edited by Azizi Powell

The conventional wisdom is that the earliest source for or the only early source for the performance art known as "stepping" ("steppin'") is South African boot dancing. I've published other posts on this blog that question these assumptions and point to other early sources for fraternity and sorority stepping. Among those posts are:
Correcting The Record - South African Boot Dancing Isn't The Direct Source Of Fraternity & Sorority Stepping

and Military Influences On Fraternity & Sorority Steppin

When Did Historically Black Greek Letter Fraternity & Sorority Stepping Begin?

This post focuses on the idea that the 1920s and 1930s African American originated dance called the "Lindy Hop" was one of the early sources of the African American originated performance art which is now known as stepping. This post particularly focuses on Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc.'s "hopping", "marching", and "bop". The Omega bop, Omega marching and Omega hopping are performed during fraternity step shows and fraternity strolls, and as such can be considered a form of or style of stepping and strolling.

The content of this post is presented for historical and cultural purposes.

All copyrights remain with their owners.

Thanks to all those who are quoted in this post and thanks to all those who are featured in these videos. Thanks also to all those who published these videos on YouTube.

Here's a comment from Elizabeth F. Fine, SoulStepping: African American Step Shows (University of Illinois Press, 2003; Page 162)
“Stepping in Omega Psi Phi fraternity may have been influenced by the lindy hop. According to Stephon D. Henderson (interview 25 May 1995), stepping began “at the Rho Chi chapter at Tennessee State –anywhere between 1941 and 1956” and was called “hopping” here. Brothers at Tennessee State and in that middle Tennessee area still refer to it as hopping, because it was first referred to as hopping.” A photograph captioned the “Omega Bop” in the 1969 Bison (221) shows Omega brothers standing on their right legs and kicking to the side in a movement reminiscent of the kicks done in the lindy hop."...

These comments refer to Tennessee State University Omega brothers hopping, but don't include any mention of the Lindy Hop:
From This is Why We “Step” | A History of Stepping in Black Greek-Lettered Life + Culture, Posted on May 22, 2015 by CRYSTAL A. DEGREGORY, PH.D.
May 25, 2015
"The hop was first done with perfection at Tennessee State University, an ROTC student on line for Omega Psi Phi “Mighty” Rho Psi Chapter combined words and a military style March to create the first hop. This was in the early 50’s as your time line indicates. Stepping is different from hopping and not practiced by Omega’s, however hopping was the origin of this practice among greek letter organizations."

May 26, 2015
"Dear Martez,
I received similar claims from members of the Omega’s Eta Psi chapter at Fisk, from much older members than you. I thought it important to begin a substantive conversation about BGLO traditions as a reminder that they have history meaning and should continue to have contemporary value. I invite you to make such definitive contributions with sources if possible–we’d certainly publish it–as well as the specificity of “hopping” as an form separate and apart from “stepping.”"
These comments from Elizabeth F. Fine, SoulStepping book raises the possibility of South Africans incorporating Lindy Hop movements into early performances of the boot dance as a result of observing touring Black American companies in South Africa and/or as a result of South African studying in the United States in the 1930s:
[Veit] "Erlmann suggest that isicathulo dancers “frequently indulge in sophisticated solo stepping, prototypes of which had been available to migrant workers, from the mid-1920s through Charlie Chaplin and Fred Astaire movies as well as touring black tap dance groups.” Indeed, South Africans were exposed to African American music and dance traditions as early as 1890, when Orpheus M. McAdoo and the Virginia Jubilee Singers spent almost five years touring South Africa. In subsequent years, black South Africans came to the United States. One, the famous “ragtime composer Reuben T. Caluza, renowned “as a skilled isicathulo dancer”, enrolled in Virginia’s Hampton Institute in 1930 to earn a B.A. in music. Caluza and three other students from Africa formed the African Quartette performing both songs and dances along the East Coast.

... Caluza went on to earn a masters degree at Columbia University in 1935, where again he could have shared gumboot dancing with students.

[Jacqui] Malone notes that during the 1970s and 1980s gumboot dancing “was introduced in North American urban areas and showcased by many of the dance companies that performed styles of traditional African dances.” Evidence from Erlmann, however, suggest the possibility if a much earlier exposure to gumboot dancing and, conversely, the incorporation of African American influences into South African dances. Caluza’s story is only one small example of the continuous interactions among Africans and African Americans that created a complex interaction between music and dance forms on both continents. The founding director of the Soweto Dance

p. 79
Theatre, Jackie Semela, explains that just as South Africans were influenced in their music and dance by touring performers from the United States such as Duke Ellington, so too, did South African display their own dances..."

Editor's note: I'm particularly interested in the side kicking that is performed by these dancers. Note also the split that the dancer performs in this first video.

Example #2: Lindy Hop - Marx Brothers Day at the Races 1937

Savoy Hop Published on Jan 30, 2014

Example #2: After Seben Early Lindy Hop

Savoy Hop, Published on Sep 25, 2014
Here's information about this film clip from
"An early sound short set in a Harlem nightclub, featuring white vaudeville comic and eccentric dancer James Barton performing in blackface. He had a long career in film and tv, and is best remembered as "Kit" Carson in 'The Time of Your Life' (1948). Three Savoy Ballroom couples perform the latest dance styles, primarily Charleston. The last couple is Shorty Snowden and his partner. They are just terrific, although their style clearly looks dated to us.

Note how Snowden introduces Breakaway steps, to the closed-form Charleston and you'll feel like you are witnessing the birth of the Lindy Hop, which, in fact, was the name that Snowden gave to the dance he was doing. The couple exit exuberantly with a Cake Walk.

Music by the Savoy Ballroom house band, Chick Webb and his Orchestra."


Note: These videos illustrate the "standing on their right legs and kicking to the side in a movement reminiscent of the kicks done in the lindy hop" that is mentioned in Elizabeth F. Fine, SoulStepping book. Also notice that splits are also sometimes included in Omega Psi Phi Fraternity "marching", "hopping" or "bopping" routines.

Example #1: Omega Psi Phi Que Doggs

Where thinkin' aint illegal yet, Uploaded on Jul 18, 2008

Gamma Sig Ques Settin' It Out 75th Conclave 2008

Example #2: Omega Psi Phi Stepping on the Steve Harvey Show

KingUdobot's channel, Uploaded on Mar 26, 2009
Here's a comment from this video's discussion thread about Steve Harvey's association with Omega Psi Phi:
MIckey F'in Mouse, 2014
"Steve pledged grad chapter. Started at Psi Gamma Kent State."

Example #3: Beta Sigma Chapter of Omega Psi Phi Yard Show Fall 2013

Human Jukebox Media, Published on Aug 21, 2013

The Ques doing their thing on the first Wednesday of School

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