Friday, May 24, 2013

An Overview Of Foot Stomping Cheers (Part I- Characteristic & Sources)

Edited by Azizi Powell

[revised September 18, 2014]

This is Part I of a two part post on foot stomping cheers. This post provides a general overview of the textual structure and performance of foot stomping cheers. Part I also includes my theories about the sources of this children's recreational activity.

Click for Part II of a post on foot stomping cheers. Part II provides examples of foot stomping cheers from four different categories of those cheers.

I coined the term "foot stomping cheers" in 2000 to distinguish examples of that category from other cheerleader cheers. However, it appears from my direct collection and from my online collection that girls usually referred to these examples as "cheers". Sometimes they were called "chants" or "steps".

Also note that these posts on foot stomping cheers aren't about stomp cheers "stomps". The structure (words) and performance (movements) of stomp cheers may be the same as, slightly different from, or very different from the structure (words) and performance (movements) of foot stomping cheers. Click "How Stomp Cheers Differ From Foot Stomping Cheers".

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

All copyrights remain with their owners.

"Foot stomping cheers" is the term that I coined in 2000 for a relatively new category of children's recreational play that involves chanting and choreographed foot and hand clapping movements.

Two early examples of what I call foot stomping cheers are included in the 1978 vinyl record Old Mother Hippletoe: Rural and Urban Children’s Songs (New World NW 291). That album provided recordings of and notes about four different examples (actually five, since one example is a combination of two different cheers) that are credited to "Barbara Borum and other Washington, D.C., schoolgirls, vocals,
Recorded 1976 in Washington, D.C., by Kate Rinzler. That record features four cheers:
Your Left
Cheering Is My Game
Hollywood Now Swingin' /
Only two of those cheers fit the textual structural description of what I call "foot stomping cheers" - "Cheering Is My Game" and "Hollywood Now Swingin'/Dynomite". (I believe that the last recorded cheer is a combination of two independent [stand alone] cheers - "Hollywood Now Swingin'" and "Dynomite". I have directly collected several examples of "Cheering Is My Game" and "Hollywood Now Swinging" cheers from the 1980s in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. And I have found online examples from the 1980s and 1990s in multiple African American communities throughout the United States.

"Your Left" is the earliest documented example that I've found of the cheer/rhyme that's now widely known as "Bang Bang Choo Choo Train". The title "Your Left" points to one of that cheer's sources - the Duckworth Chant military cadence.
Given the racial composition of Washington D.C. in the 1970s, is reasonable to assume that the Washington D.C. school girls were African American. "School girls" usually refers to females who are pre-college/university age (ages 5- 18 years). Given the references to boyfriends in those examples my guess is that those particular school girls were at least 10 years old. My documentation of what I call "foot stomping cheers" in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (1980-2005), those who performed those cheers were African American girls who usually were between 6 years old and 13 years old.

Kate Rinzler, the collector of the cheers featured in Old Mother Hippletoes... also wrote the album's notes. In those notes, Rinzler refers to these examples as "neighborhood cheers" and wrote
"Unlike the more communal games, neighborhood cheerleading as performed by girls in Washington, D.C., requires rehearsal and is often dominated by a single dynamic girl who solicits recruits and kicks out slackers. Girls practice by themselves, best friends cheer together, groups proliferate, and everyone who wants to gets into the act.

In 1973-75, fieldwork for the Festival of American Folklife revealed cheerleading girls taking turns doing a dance step or a simple gymnastic trick. In 1976, perhaps because of the popularity on television of the Olympic Games, there was a sudden citywide interest in gymnastic pyrotechnics: complete frontward and sideward splits, forward and backward flips,
and cartwheels ending in jumped splits.

The texts of the cheers suit the girls' growing sense of attractiveness, group solidarity, and allegiance to school and boyfriend. They also attest to their knowledge and misinformation about forbidden subjects —inebriation, aggression, sexuality—and to their interest in the heroes and heroines of movies that exploit these subjects."
Notice that these cheer examples were documented as being part of the recreational play of girls pretending to be cheerleaders. This is in contrast to stomp cheers, a later form of foot stomping cheers that I believe developed at least by early 2000s as a result of mainstream cheerleading becoming aware of recreational foot stomping cheers.

Although those album notes make no reference to this, it's reasonable to assume that, like other recreational play, and like the foot stomping cheers that I observed my daughter and her friends perform in the 1980s, and other children perform since then, there is usually no formal audience for foot stomping cheers. The girls pretending to be cheerleaders perform in front of pretend audiences. They perform in groups of two or in a small group to learn the words to specific cheers and to master the specific cheer routines that they have choreographed.

Here's information about the structure, themes, and words of foot stomping cheers as indicated by the examples given in the Old Mother Hippletoe album suggests, and as I have documented from my direct collecting from 1980s to 2010, and my online collecting to date:

1. Foot stomping cheers are composed using a variant form of call & response that I've termed "group/consecutive soloists".

Usually the group voice (often without the first soloist) is heard first. The soloist then responds to the group.
This pattern continues, and usually the soloist then has a short solo portion. The group may or may not chant again before the cheer begins again from the beginning with a new soloist. This pattern continues until every member of the group has had one equal (same amount of time) turn as the soloist. My experience is that the order of soloist is determined before the cheer begins, often with girls trying to be the first to call out "first", "second", "third" etc.

2. These cheers are performed by girls who stand in semi-circles, or in lines (usually horizontal lines), or stand in a circle with the soloist in the middle. My experience was with girls standing in semi-circles or in horizontal lines. It wasn't until those cheers were performed on stage as part of a game song group that I founded that I observed the soloist stepping up (performing stepping moves) to the front of the other girls and then, still facing forward, moving back to a place in the line while the new soloist stepped to the front of the other girls.

3. Unlike folk songs, these cheers feature only a limited amount of improvisation and choices of what words to say. My experience is that some cheers had "fixed" words, including the soloists' words. In other cheers, a certain amount of line choices and/or improvisation was expected in the soloists' portion. It appeared to me that girls memorized key lines and used them in those cheers that allowed for improvisation, as long as those lines fit the same theme as the cheer, and as long as those lines fit the same beat as the cheer. However, it was easy to fit lines with the beat, since, in my experience there were only two beat patterns used for foot stomping cheers.

4. Drama (role playing) is supposed to be an important part of chanting insult/bragging foot stomping cheers. These cheer performances fail if the stompers/chanters don't have "attitude" (i.e. How they say the cheer (intonation), their facial expressions, their moves and body gestures are supposed to support and reinforce the word of the cheer. For instance, in confrontational (insult, bragging) cheers the girls are pretending to have disdain for and aggressive stance toward their (imaginary, unnamed) opponent.

5. The following beat patterns were (are?) standard for foot stomping cheers: "stomp clap, stomp stomp clap" or "stomp stomp clap, stomp stomp clap".

The "stomp" portion of this pattern is made by hitting the foot hard on the ground to make a bass sound. The "clap" portion of the cheer was made by girls clapping their own hands (individual hand claps). In some cheers, girls alternated body pats with stomps. Hands could be clapped in front of a girl, between her legs, or less often - in my experience, over her head.

While the words to foot stomping cheers are important, the most important thing in the performance of foot stomping cheers is keeping the beat. Foot stomping is performed in a metronome like manner throughout the entire cheer. Once the beat starts, with very few exceptions, the exact same beat continues until the end of the cheer.

The idea of a metronome beat can best be demonstrated by the Pop group Queen's 1977 hit song "We Will Rock You":

Queen - We Will Rock You

d4v1s, Uploaded on Apr 13, 2006
The "We will we will rock you" words of that song are used in a number of mainstream cheerleader cheers.
Unfortunately, I've not been able to find any YouTube videos of people doing foot stomping cheers in the 1980s and 1990s. However, here are three Seeseme Street videos from the 1990s [?] that give a sense of how those cheers were performed:

Sesame Street - Three Girls clap a song about Vegetables

wattamack4, Uploaded on Jul 31, 2007

Sesame Street - Girls clap out a song about K

wattamack4, Uploaded on Jul 11, 2007
The tune for this chant is exactly the same tune that I remember for the "L-O-V-E" cheer that is given below. However, the foot sliding in the front motion is different from the movements that I recall observing for this cheer, and I didn't observe girls performing that cheer standing in that formation.

Sesame Street - Girls clap out a song about seven

wattamack4, Uploaded on Aug 1, 2007
Here's a comment from that video's discussion thread:

dubbsakamelodee, 2009
"LOL! What they were doing was "stepping." it's derived from African cultures. Africans used to "step" as a way to prepare for war or celebrate. Today, it is celebrated as a form of song and dance. And speaking of boys, I know that little boy in the middle had to get some kind of slack for being the only one with all those girls at that age."

In my experiences, some girls referred to the cheer performance as "doing cheers" or "doing steps". The performance of "foot stomping cheers" -but not the structure of those cheers-is very similar to the performance of historically Black (African American) Greek letter fraternity and sorority stepping.

I believe that foot stomping cheers developed from
[mainstream] cheerleading cheers and cheerleader cheering performances [as Kate Rinzler indicated in her Mother Hippletoe album notes] AND from historically Black (African American) fraternity/sorority stepping [the movement art and also the chants themselves- although those chants don't usually
have a call & response format]. Stomp and shake cheerleading also developed from mainstream cheerleading. And all of those performance arts were greatly influenced by Washington D.C. based go go music and by funk music.

Kate Rinzler wrote that the girls she recorded in 1976 doing those "neighborhood cheers" did back flips and splits. She might have been referring to the other cheers that she collected during that session- Read my earlier comments. In my observations (in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and surrounding communities) no back flips, splits, or other gymnastic moves were done during foot stomping cheer performances. Instead, for the solo portions, girls did moves from currently popular R&B/Hip Hop dances.

Foot stomping cheers are part of children's recreational play, and therefore have no known composers or choreographers. For that reason, they belong to no one and anyone can chant or perform them. This is very different from the social disapproval that is attached to people chanting or performing fraternity/sorority step chants and/or chanting and/or performing certain stomp and shake cheers. In those performance arts, certain chants/cheers and certain movmements are signature cultural products of those groups and non-members are socially prohibited from using them, unless-particularly in the case of stomp and shake cheers- they receive direct permission from the cheer squads which composed and choreographed those cheers.

Click for a post about historically Black (African American) Greek letter steppin (stepping).

Click for an overview of stomp & shake cheerleading.

This concludes Part I of this post on foot stomping cheers.

Thanks to the unknown composer/s of these cheers. Thanks also to all those who are quoted in this post, the performers who are featured in these videos, and the publishers of these videos on YouTube.

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  1. The metronome-like foot stomping beat is present in many genres of African American music.

    For an example of that persistent beat in African American religious music, click this link for a video of a Black church congregation singing & moving to the African American Spiritual "Walk In Jerusalem Just Like John":