Friday, May 24, 2013

An Overview Of Black Greek Letter Organization Steppin & Step Cheers

Edited by Azizi Powell

Latest Revision: October 31, 2020

This is Part I of a three part pancocojams series that compares three different but closely related African American originated performance movement arts: historically Black fraternities & sororities steppin (stepping); foot stomping [cheers]; and stomp & shake cheerleading.

Part I provides an overview of historically Black (African American) Greek letted fraternities & sororities.

Part II provides an overview of foot stomping cheers.

Click for Part II.

Part III of this series provides an overview of stomp & shake cheerleading.

Click for Part III.

The content of this post is presented for folkloric, cultural, entertainment, and aesthetic purposes.

All copyrights remain with their owners.

Steppin, foot stomping, and stomp & shake cheerleading are three closely related but distinct movement performance arts. Each of these group performance art forms originated among African Americans. Steppin (stepping) is the oldest of these performance arts.

Steppin (Stepping) is a syncopated, choreographed group performance art that occurs at competitive "step shows" and other venues. The performance art of steppin originated among historically Black (African American) university based Greek lettered fraternities & sororities.

Click for a video demonstration of 19th century Buck dances, Wing dances, and Jigs. Duke University professor Thomas F. DeFrantz describes Buck dances as those which were very percussive, and weighted down into the foot. It seems clear from that description & his demonstration that Buck dances is one of the sources of Steppin.

I've seen the 1940s given as the date that historically Black Greek lettered organizations began steppin'. I'm willing to accept that 1940s date as long as it's understood that the beginning of what steppin has become didn't look like steppin now.

In her book Soul Stepping Elizabeth Fine quotes a 1924 Howard University student newspaper The Hilltop article entitled "Hell-Week" in which members of Omega Psi Phi and Kappa Alpha Psi fraternities are described as pledges "dancing about the campus..." (p.15).

 That dancing or marching on campus that is documented in that book didn't look the same as the Black Greek lettered organizations' steppin' styles that developed in the 1980s and 1990s. Elizabeth Fine  wrote that "The shift from the old-style circular stepping of the 1940s and 1950s to the increasingly complex synchronized movement style of the 1980s and 1990s attests to the new role stepping has in asserting black cultural identity" (p. 6).
-end of quote-

The National Pan-Hellenic Council (NPHC) consists of nine historically Black Greek letter fraternities and sororities. Here's a quote about the members of the NPHC from
"Collectively, these organizations are referred to as "The Divine Nine." Each of these fraternities and sororities is rich in history - ties to one or more of these organizations may be found in many college-educated Black families in the United States.

Each fraternity & sorority has its own distinctive way of stepping. Some organizations usually step with props such as canes which are twirled, thrown between team members, and rhythmically hit on the ground. However, other fraternities or sororities never use canes. One of those organizations which never uses canes, Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc., has distinctive hopping movements, and actually prefers the reference "hops" rather than "steps" to describe their routines.

Since at least the 1990s among historically Black Greek lettered organizations (BGLO), the performance art of strolls (party walks) has been added to most step routines, particularly at the end of those routines. "Strolls" are also performed at BGLO events instead of steppin. Another name for "strolling" is "party walks" as these strolls were seemingly spontaneously performed at parties (dance gatherings), usually to certain recorded R&B/Hip Hop music.

 "Strolls" (party walks) are performed in a vertical line to recorded music, usually from the R&B/Hip-Hop records.  The terms "strolls" refer to the strutting, dancing leisurely walk that the organizations' members perform.  Notice that BGLO originated "strolling" and steppin are group activities (i.e. They can’t be performed by just one person.)

Like "steppin", "strolls" can be performed at a competitive event  (a "stroll-off") with fraternities competing against fraternities, and sororities competing against sororities. Strolls (and stepping) can also be non-competitive and some historically Black colleges and universities hold "unity strolls" in which members from different historically Black Greek letter organizations stroll after each other, or stroll together in one vertical line.

Historically Black Greek lettered fraternity & sorority chants are composed in two lined rhyming verses. These verses are usually chanted or sung in unison but may also be in call & response style. The lyrics of the chants are usually adapted from other song genres such as Spirituals, R&B, and other popular music. There are at least three types of fraternity & sorority chants & songs. In the first category are chants/songs that praise & profess their love for a specific organization, provide information about that organization's history, and/or extol the public persona of that organization's members.

The second category of fraternity & sorority chants is "pledging" chants/songs, These chants/songs express the desire for membership in & the commitment to a specific organization that persons striving for membership in that organization have.

The third category of fraternity & sorority chants & songs are those in which a particular fraternity compares itself favorably with other fraternities and/or insults (disses) other fraternities or a specific fraternity, or a sorority does the same toward other sororities or a specific sorority. This category also includes chants/song is one in which a fraternity praises a sorority with which it has informal or formal ties and vice versa.

Traditionally, persons who aren't associated with a specific fraternity or sorority are prohibited against doing that organization's stepping routines or performing songs and chants that are associated with that specififc organization. That prohibition is still in place today.

Below is one steppin & step chant example from the first historically Black (African American) Greek lettered fraternity that is still in existence - Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. (Alphas; founded 1906]. Below also is one example of the first historically Black (African American Greek lettered sorority that is still in existence [Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc, (AKA; founded 1908.]

Click for more text examples & videos of fraternity & sorority chants.

Also click for videos of fraternity & sorority stepping.

Example #1: King Tut and Finale - Spring 2011 - Beta Iota Chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc

Theophilus Woodley,Uploaded on May 17, 2011

Recorded on March 18, 2011 using a Flip Video camcorder.
Here's one version of this signature chant by an Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. step team.

King Tut went to Egypt the other day
To Check out the greeks that were coming his way
He saw the Ques, and he said thay acted like a fool
He saw the Kappas, and he said that they were not cute
He saw the Sigmas, and he said that they made him sick
Then he saw the A-PHI!, and he made his pick
-ENewton;;f=7;t=000243 ; 09-30-2005

Click the link to the Cocojams fraternity and sorority chants page that is found above for a longer example of this chant.

FEATURED EXAMPLE #2: Alpha Kappa Alpha

Uploaded by MissAmariG on Aug 30, 2010

Fall 2009 Yard Show (San Diego Undergraduate City Wide (UCSD, SDSU, USD). The Mu Iota Chapter)
I'm particularly interested in the first example which was chanted when the step team entered the plaza. That chant is clearly based on the Duckworth chant ("Sound Off"). Here's my transcription of that sorority chant. A lead chants the first line and the rest of the group chants the words that are in parenthesis.

I don't know what you've been told
[I don't know what you've been told]
AKA's my heart and soul.
[AKA's my heart and soul]
One thing that I know for sure
[One thing that I know for sure]
Don't want no red, no blue, no gold*
Don't want no red, no blue, no gold*
-Fall 2009 Yard Show (San Diego Undergraduate City Wide (UCSD, SDSU, USD). The Mu Iota Chapter) ; video uploaded by MissAmariG on Aug 30, 2010

RELATED LINK (added December 14, 2013) These Videos Of Old School Step Shows Will Fill You With Nostalgia [videos of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc.- Beta Beta Chapter, 1984; Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc.- Alpha Chapter, 1987; and Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc.- Beta Alpha Chapter, 1991]

This concludes Part I of this series.

Thanks to the composer/s of these chants and the performers of these featured step routines. Thanks also to the publishers of these videos on YouTube.

Thanks for visiting pancocojams.

Visitor comments are welcome.

1 comment:

  1. In this 2015 pancocojams post "African American Examples Of Walk Arounds - Cakewalks And Other Non-Religious Examples", I maintain that historically Black Greek letter fraternity and sorority strolling should be considered as a contemporary example of a non-religious Black American "walk around" (circular dance movement) performance art tradition.

    Other historical and contemporary examples of Black American non-religious walk arounds are "the cakewalk", "Chicago stepping" (dance), and "Detroit stepping" (ball room) dance. The "ring shout" is a historical example of a Black American religious walk around.