Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Was South African Gumboot Dancing REALLY The Main Source Of The Movements For Historically Black Greek Letter Fraternity & Sorority Stepping?

Edited by Azizi Powell

Latest Revision: August 28, 2018

This is Part I of a two part pancocojams series about South African gumboot dancing and historically Black Greek letter fraternity and sorority steppin(g).

Part I quotes four passages that I've found about the early influence of South African gumboot dancing isicathulo and historically Black Greek letter fraternity and sorority steppin(g) or the early influence of African American movement arts such as pattin Juba and tap dancing on South African gumboot dancing.

This post also includes my correction of a misinterpretation of a comment that I wrote about step shows and pattin Juba which is cited on the Wikipedia page for "Pattin Juba".

Click for Part II of this series. Part II presents my comments about some similarities and differences between historically Black Greek letter organizations (BGLO) stepping and South African gumboot dancing.

Five videos of South African gumboot dancing and five videos of historically Black Greek letter organizations step show performances are also showcased in that post.

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

All copyrights remain with their owners.

Thanks to all those who are quoted in this post.
Portions of this post were previously published in the following pancocojams post: "The Origins Of South African Gumboot Dancing

and Correcting The Record - South African Boot Dancing Isn't The Direct Source Of Fraternity & Sorority Stepping
Read the Addendum below (Added August 23, 2018) for portion of a pancocojams post about the Lindy Hop as an early source for stepping.

"Steppin" is an African American movement art. When other American groups (including Latino/a groups) perform steppin, they are basing their performances on a tradition that originated with African Americans.

In spite of the prevailing belief that South African boot dancing is the primary source of fraternity and sorority stepping, and in spite of the close similarities between these two movement forms, the historical record of stepping doesn't necessarily support the conclusion that South African gumboot dancing is first source or the main source of the movements for historically Black Greek letter fraternity and sorority stepping.

Indeed, some writers have noted that African American movement forms such as pattin juba (hambone) and tap dancing influenced the development of South African gumboot dancing via the Black American minstrel shows and White minstrel shows from the United Kingdom and from the United States which toured South Africa in the late 19th century. Body patting traditions that are found in some West African cultures probably influenced the African American custom of pattin juba which was adapted to patting the Wellington boots that are still an integral part of gumboot dancers' attire. Dances with fast foot work are found among West African and Bantu African ethnic groups and the custom of twirling sticks that is performed by some historically Black Greek letter fraternities and sororities has West African roots and Caribbean roots. Therefore, in my opinion, instead of specifying that South African Gumboot dancing is where stepping comes from, it would be more correct to say that stepping has various African/Caribbean sources, along with its influences from the United States such as military drills, the Lindy Hop, and other Jazz dances.

These excerpts are given in no particular order. Numbers are given for referencing purposes only.
Excerpt #1:
..."For most Bhaca* migrants to eGoli**, the City of Gold, work and leisure were continually controlled by structures of authority and surveillance in the form of mine bosses, managers and police. In this context, all space was public. There was little room for individual expression or privacy. The nature of this experience gave rise to the particular aesthetic of gumboot dance performance, regardless of who now performs the dance (Muller 1999: 91).

The gumboot style of dance draws on a variety of dance sources: Bhaca* traditional dances such as ngoma; minstrel performance; popular social dances such as those that accompanied jazz music performance in the 1930s and 40s. The jitterbug, for example, and most obviously, the tap dance popularised through films of Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly. Gumboot dancers may have been influenced by touring black tap dance groups (Muller 1999: 100). Erlmann (1991: 99-100) argues that isicathulo or gumboot dance was developed around mission stations in KwaZulu Natal with the introduction of footgear to African peoples by missionaries in the late 19th century (Mulller 1999: 92):

Isicathulo means shoe, boot or sandal; it also refers to a boot dance performed by young boys since the first contact with Europeans (Muller 1999: 94).

In their search for aesthetic models and expressions of self-conscious urban status, v [sic: we've?] first became interested in the dances and songs developed in and around the mission stations. Interestingly, it was on rural mission stations that isicathulo, one of the first urban working-class dance forms, developed. Tracey maintains that the original isicathulo dance was 'performed by Zulu pupils at a certain mission where the authorities had banned the local country dances.' The name isicathulo, shoe, boot or sandal, reflects the introduction of footgear at the missions, the sharp sound of boots and clicking of the heels contrasted with the muffled thud of bare feet in more rural dances such as indlamu-Zulu (Erlrnann 1991: 99).

Coplan (1985: 78) argues that schools picked up new urban influenced rural dances, even though missionaries forbade them. One such dance, is cathulo (shoe) was adopted students in Durban; from there it spread to dock workers who produced spectacular rhythmic effects by slapping and pounding their rubber Wellington boots in performance. All this rhythm made it popular with mine and municipal labourers elsewhere, especially Johannesburg. There it became the 'gumboot' dance, divided into a series of routines and accompanied by a rhythm guitar. By 1919, gumboot had filtered back into school concerts. It soon became a standard feature of urban African variety entertainment, and a setting for satirising characters and scenes drawn from African work life.

What clearly distinguishes all gumboot dance from earlier rural practices is its use of footgear for its performance. Pre-colonial dance forms are generally thought to have been performed barefoot. One Zulu name given to gumboot dance, isicathulo, provides the first indication of innovation. The root of the word cathama means to walk softly, quietly and stealthily. It has been incorporated into two kinds of black performance culture in South Africa: isicathamiya and isicathulo. The first is the style of music and dance performance recently made famous by Joseph Shabalala and Ladysmith Black Mambazo. In this context it means to walk softly and stealthily, like a cat. The second refers to the opposite, gumboot dance, which is characterised by louder stepping in gumboots, the clapping of hands and slapping of the boots (Muller 1999:93)

Perhaps the most revealing source, however, is the dance as practised by these older Bhaca dancers and transmitted to their sons in KwaZulu Natal. Unlike the autonomy of many dance forms in the Western world, gumboot dance engages and comments on the exigencies of everyday experience in mine culture (Muller 1999: 98)."...
* "The Bhaca people or amaBhaca are an ethnic group in South Africa, mainly found in the small towns of the former Transkei homeland, Mount Frere, Umzimkhulu and surrounding areas - a region that the amaBhaca call kwaBhaca, or "place of the Bhaca". (The Bhaca people or amaBhaca are an ethnic group in South Africa, mainly found in the small towns of the former Transkei homeland, Mount Frere, Umzimkhulu and surrounding areas - a region that the amaBhaca call kwaBhaca, or "place of the Bhaca". (Eastern Cape, South Africa)

While the amaBhaca are often considered to be part of the more populous Xhosa people, they maintain an independent kingdom and distinct culture."...

**"EGoli"= Johannesburg, South Africa

Excerpt #2:
From South African Music: A Century of Traditions in Transformation, Volume 1 by Carol Ann Muller (Google book), p. 161, and 163 (162 isn't available in the Google Book version.
Carol Ann Muller writes that gumboot dancing (South African term isicathulo) first began in the Christian missions that were established for Black South Africans. The gumboot dancing in the mines is a significant development of that dance but not the only form of that dance.

Here are some quotes from that book:
"Isicathulo means shoe, boot, or sandal; it also refers to the boot dance performed by young boys since the first contact with Europeans. It is defined as “a modern rhythmic dance adopted by certain Christian natives, in which dancing is both individual and in groups. (Cockrell 1987, 422)....

p. 163
"The other cultural influence that shaped gumboot dancing was the minstrel shows, performed in Durban by American and English troupes beginning in the nineteenth century. Jonney Hadebe, one of the members of Blanket Mkhize's gumboot team explains the early history of gumboot dance in a program note written for the South African Railway's gumboot dancers:
In 1896, subsequent to watching white men tap dancing and clapping their hands, the amaBaca decided to make a dance of their own. They called it the gumboot dance. The dance was a rhythmically performed act of dancing, clapping hands, and slapping the calve muscles-the calf muscles being protected by rubber gumboots.

In the year 1896, the group consisted of eight members, six dancers, and two playing musical instruments. In those days the soles of the gumboots were cut off and the dancers wore shoes....

I have been a gumboot dancer for the past twenty-three years. (Jonny Hadebe, ca. 1978)

.... (p. 165)
It is quite feasible that the amaBaca saw minstrel shows performed by white black-faced minstrels in 1896. It is not clear, however, if it is tap dancing or simply the complex footwork of minstrel performers that impacted upon those men in that year....

Tap dancing is also reported to have been extremely popular at the Bantu Men's Social Center in Johannesburg in the 1930s. (Phillips ca. 1938, 297). This would have been the more sophisticated gumboot dancing that Hadebe subsequently discusses."

Excerpt #3
From Elizabeth C. Fine's book SoulStepping: African American Step Shows (University of Illinois Press, 2007):
p. 78
The rubber boot or gumboot dancing... is an excellent example of the complex relationships between African and African American music and dance. Gumboot dancing (isicathulo), one of the first urban working-class dances in South Africa, may have been developed in rural missions by Zulu pupils who were not allowed to perform traditional dances. The word isicathulo, Hugh Tracey notes, means “shoe”. When the students danced the shoes that missions required them to wear created louder sounds than did bare feet. Around the time of World War I “rural, urban, mission, and working-class performance traditions” intermingled in isicathulo, which “as a step-dance” was closely related if not identical to other dance forms that had evolved earlier among farm laborers and inhabitants of the rural reserves.” (3)

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.

They even sang for Franklin D. Roosevelt Quartet member Dwight Sumner wrote that in their summer tour of 1931 the “African Quartette sang Zulu songs, under the direction of Mr. Caluza, and also gave African folk dances.” It is likely that Caluza shared his talents with students. If so, members of fraternities and sororities could have incorporated some gumboot movements into stepping. Caluza went on to earn a masters degree at Columbia University in 1935, where again he could have shared gumboot dancing with students.

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"...

Excerpt #4:
Phi Beta Sigma; Kappa Lamda Chapter - The history of Stepping according to the Temple of Blue [Note: Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Inc. is a historically Black [African American] Greek letter fraternity
..."Stepping evolved with groups of guys singing acapella, and when groups like the Temptations and the Four Tops were popular in the 50's and 60's brothers started mimicking their steps. This is part of the reason why it is called "Stepping" now. Brothers would try to come up with the best steps while they were singing to please the ladies. If you got the ladies you got more recruits. Much like it is today.

Others say that stepping replaced the doo wop sounds and cardigan sweaters of the 50's. At around the same time as the "Black Power" Movements and Africa centered movements of the 60's, stepping started to flourish with the incorporation of some traditional African ritual dancing and the incorporation of other elements like cheer leading, tap, gymnastics, etc. Over the years stepping has become very intricate and demanding incorporating props, high levels of gymnastics and other elements found in team sports.

Please note that some people want to give the credit to the South African Boot Dance, but it would be unfair to ignore everything that stepping was in the beginning and it is now.

Stepping is an original art form that was influenced by many elements from our past."
Pancocojams Editor's Note:
I agree with the members of Phi Beta Sigma, Fraternity Inc. who were quoted above that South African boot dancing was the direct early source of the African American originated stepping.

I think that one of the reasons why so many African Americans believe that South African boot dances with historically Black Greek letter fraternity and sorority stepping is that the ways that stepping are performed now closely resemble South African boot dancing. However, from the Phi Beta Sigma quote given above-and other comments- it wasn't until the 1960s and 1970s that stepping resembled those South African dances.

That said, I believe that the percussive foot work, rhythmic hand clapping, body patting accompaniment, the call & response patterns, and bragging and insult characteristics of stepping and its accompanying chants exemplify Black Americans' appreciation for and cultural retention of African aesthetics.

Furthermore, as suggested in Excerpt #3 given above, it's possible that South African students studying in the United States in the early 20th century could have demonstrated and taught gumboot dancing to African Americans. And it's documented that African American step teams-Greek lettered or otherwise, have traveled to post apartheid South Africa to share stepping techniques and to learn South African boot dancing.

That said, based on the research conducted by Elizabeth C. Fine for her book SoulStepping, it appears that 1924 was the earliest date for the performance art that is now called "stepping" (although "stepping" then was marching around the campus or dancing in line like backup singers for R&B groups like the Temptations). According to that writer and others, the choreographed stomping routines that are commonly associated with "stepping" didn't occur until the 1980s and 1990s. And since researchers document that gumboot dancing first occurred in the late 19th century, that South African dance form is certainly older than stepping.

The point that I want to emphasize is that African Americans didn't create stepping by copying South African gumboot dancing.

Pancocojams Editor's Note:
August 28, 2018
Up to now, this post only focused on particular styles of stepping- those that didn't include performing with canes (sticks, staffs).

The four comments that follow are from a nine page discussion thread on historically Black Greek letter organizations who step with canes. That discussion began in 2002 and continued to 2006 and contained contained considerable disagreement about which historically Black Greek letter fraternity- Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity. Inc. or Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Inc.- was the first to step with canes and/or twirl canes (Note that the word "canes" and other words that begin with "c" are spelled with a "k" by members of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity.

I've used bold font to emphasize the statements that expand the subject of this post, asking the question "Were any South African-or other African-cultural traditions the source of the styles of stepping that include performing with canes (or sticks/staffs)?

I've used bold font to highlight the statements that refer to this expanded subject.

These comments are numbered in this pancocojams post for referencing purposes only.
Excerpt #5
From "the deal with the canes..."
11-19-2002, 02:28 PM
Location: Colorado
"Kanes to Nupes...
The truth is....
If some of you greeks stop looking at your fraternal history from the last 3 lines and look deep into the past, you will find that members of each and everyone of your organizations carried canes. In the past, canes were a representation of presitge, wealth, and respect. Canes were a symbol of honor and so, many, many men carried them within the BGLO's.Ques...oh, sorry...Omega men, Alpha's Kappa's and Sigma's. As far as the men of Kappa Alpha Psi goes...they carry it in remembrence of Paul W. Caine who died in 1922 due to an explosion at his business. So understand, to Kappa's, this kane is a connection, a remembrance, and a dedication to a fallen brother. Not mearly a piece of wood with electrical tape around it. To them, it really is sacred. That is why they are so close to it. The men of Phi Beta Sigma were not the first to carry canes, but they were the first to step with them in a rythmic way. You see, stepping is a hand me down of African dance and military drill and ceremony movements. Soldiers returning from the military incorporated these drill movements into what has evolved as modern day stepping. The men of Phi Beta & KAY first used the "walking" version of the cane while the men of KAY eventualy cut the cane and used the shortened version to "twirl" with. And understand this, twirling is very new in comparision of how old the fraternity really is. Twirling became associated with KAY because they "perfected" it if you will. Phi Beta Sigma didn't twirl, they beat the canes on the ground to a rythm, the passed the canes in a ripple fashion, they tossed the canes through the air, but they didn't twirl until after KAY popularized it. Alpha's and Que's abandoned the cane once it became "commercialized" by Phi Beta and KAY. So they embloyed other methods of individualization. And so, to this day, Kappa's and Sigma's carry canes. But for very different reasons.
Like I said, your history runs much deeper then the few ol' heads you see comming back for homecoming. Set yourself on a quest for truth and search. You will be surprised at what you will find.

Once again...Prince Hall Masons lead from the front."

From "the deal with the canes..."
06-21-2005, 01:33 PM
Location: Bloomington, IN
"Kappa Kanes
The use of walking sticks and canes may very well date back to centuries B.C. to the times when shepherds would tend to their flocks. This ties into the early roots of Christianity and leads to the candy canes of today being striped the way they are (3 thin stripes and 1 solid stripe) to remind us of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost and the blood of Christ. The shape was believed to be chosen because the cane, if pointed upward, resembles the letter "J" for Jesus. The history of the cane also ties in with the African Rights of Passage, and was a symbol of manhood that had to be carried by initiates wishing to become adult members of their respective tribe.

Dealing more directly with the evolution of the cane and how it relates to the Fraternity, canes started off as a device used to assist people with walking difficulties, and later turned into social status symbols for society. In the 1700's and 1800's, canes were a fashion embellishment. One "wore" a cane. These old canes were decorative, objects to be admired and be proud of. They became collectors items and represented the true sign of a Gentleman.

Members of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity have always worn or carried canes since the beginning of the Fraternity in 1911. It was a form of protection in the early 1900's, think about it the last lynching in Bloomington, IN was in 1956 what do you think they were doing to black males in 1911? Although unintentional in its inception, this occurrence soon became an unofficial tradition of Kappa men, as Kappas have always strived to be noble and productive members of the community. The cane, being the symbol of a Gentlemen who exhibits such characteristics, was then proudly adorned by members of our Fraternity.

3. "the deal with the canes..."
12-08-2006, 11:46 AM
"The colored canes (and stepping and strolling with canes) debate is different than the "who carried canes debate." Many men carried canes in the earlier 1900s because it was a sign of being a gentleman and so forth. It was initially not fraternity related but transfered over. This is why you will see different fraternities with canes in their pledge line photos or just walking across the yard. So whether carrying canes began with fraternity-specific meaning or just evolved into a fraternity-specific meaning is something that is almost impossible to prove 100% considering what was happening in the general population."

4. "the deal with the canes..."
Old 09-11-2009, 03:30 PM
"Ok, Let's seperate fact from fiction.
I wrote that history several years ago. Some of it has been altered by others.

Fact number one: No one can actually lay claim to being the first steppers. Stepping originated in the DC/Baltimore area long before most of yall were born. The first fraternities were the Omegas, Sigmas and the Alphas.

It started during the doo-wop era and brothers used to sing in the quad. Like the old groups like the Temptations, and Four Tops, brothers began incorporating steps to mimic the groups. Back then tap dancing was really popular and damn near every brother on earth thought he had skills. Tap is still a major influence on how brothers step. Especially "Sigmas".

That's why when you went to step shows in that area back in the day they were called "Greek Sings".

Fact number two: The african boot dance and african influence was totally non-existant back then. It came into play a little bit much later. Think about it. In the 50's when stepping originated we barely heard of south africa. The african boot dance is very similar to stepping but it is a big misconception that it had any part in the development of what we call stepping today.

Fact number three: The first known cane steppers were Sigmas. Kappas didn't start stepping until much later. The Omegas, Alphas and Sigmas were the first steppers. They evolved it into what it is today.

That being said, you'd be crazy to say that the Kappas aren't the most innovative canes steppers on the planet. They definitely took it to another level. Cane stepping styles of Sigmas and Kappas are very different. If you ever seen step shows in the Chicago area back in the 80's you would know that the Sigma canes are very thick, heavy and medium length. They are used to tap out rhythms are not very easy to twirl. Kappa canes tend to be thinner, shorter in length and lighter. While they are stable enough to tap out rhythms, they are also easier to twirl and are better for their complexed routines.

We really need to get off that "who owns what - " non-sense. We are all brother and sisters.

What we really need to do is start thinking about the relevance of "BLGO" in this modern era. Back in the day, our organization were the place where the "Black Leaders" of our country were made and developed. (Along with the church!). This was our history and our legacy.

What are we now? We run around like we are gangs and thugs offering nothing to the community but parties, YouTube images that embarrass our families.

I've been a Sigma for almost 30 years. I'm not happy with what I see. We all need to step up and "be about something" or watch our organizations that we love so much become corrupted and morphed into abominations of disdain!


Among other African cultural traditions, when commenter #2 wrote that "The history of the cane also ties in with the African Rights of Passage", he may have been referring to traditions such as those documented in this 2017 South African video: Amahlubi from Matatiele and this 2018 South African video: KwaMthi Luphindo kwaMango Matatiele". I was fortunate that a commenter named Luzuko Nodada responded to my query about what was going on in this latter video (which looks very much like the one published in in 2017), writing
"these are Hlubi young men the are celebrating their return from Hlubi initiation school or the Mountain school as known by westerners ... the singing and Dancing is part of way of reciting the entertainment part of initiation as it is a way of engaging the community and saying thank you to their mothers . it is a very complex and long journey to be explained in details as it evolves a lot of steps and processes the each person in a community plays... the women do the cooking in such events and the men take care of the rite of passage/Initiation as it is .... this is the final part and celebrating it with songs,poets,and dance ... this is an old custom among the Hlubi People .... Matatiele is a medium town in the upper parts of eastern cape its situated along the Drankensburg Mountains is this area you find the Basotho , Amahlubi , AmaBhaca and the Abathembu nations .... the Amahlubi and Basotho share a most similar rite of passage / initiation process hence you will see similarities ..... this is to answer your question on the other post you asked in ."
Thee are numerous YouTube videos of young males throughout Africa showing young males dancing with sticks (including knobkerries) or stick fighting, but I'm particularly delighted to have found this video which I believe has the same "flavor" as social gathering of members of historically Black Greek letter fraternities, particularly Kappas or Sigmas:

eMpofin kwaGxobanyawo (Matatiele)

Mxolisi Zondo, Published on Jul 13, 2014

kwaGxobanyawo eMpofin dec 2013
I'm not sure if the dance in this video was for the same end of initiation purpose as the other videos that I cited.

However, my larger point is that even though performing with canes in some historically African American step organizations may (somewhat) resemble some African traditions, that African American performance style didn't directly come from those African traditions. To ascribe these African American traditions to African dances or initiation rites is coming up with a backstory which may sound good but isn't historicaly or culturally true.

CORRECTION OF WIKIPEDIA PAGE ON JUBA DANCE THAT CITES A PAGE FROM MY COCOJAMS.COM WEBSITE [Update August 22, 2018] includes this sentence: "Modern variations on the dance include Bo Diddley's "Bo Diddley Beat" and the step-shows of African American Greek organizations.[1].[This is the end of quote as of August 22, 2018. An earlier version of this sentence read "African American and "Latino Greek organizations"]

That sentence is footnoted as #1 and cites a post on my voluntarily deleted cultural website. As of August 22, 2018 that footnote leads to an early post on the song “Jim Along Josie”. Previously, the machine linked to an early post on the song "Hambone". The "Jim Along Josie" page doesn't mention "pattin Juba" or "Hambone", but the "Hambone" page noted that some* stepping routines that are performed by historically Black Greek letter fraternities and sororities include body chest and thigh body patting which can be considered a contemporary form of pattin Juba (hamboning). Because all step show routines don't include body patting, it's a misinterpretation of my comments to indicate that I said that that step-shows are modern variations of the Juba Dance, Hambone, and/or the Bo Diddley beat

*The bold font is used here to emphasize this point.


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:

... 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....

Here's a comment from Elizabeth F. Fine'S 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."...
Another pancocojams post about early sources for stepping is Military Influences On Fraternity & Sorority Steppin

This concludes Part I of this three part pancocojams series.

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  1. A number of commenters who post on discussion threads for YouTube gumboot dance videos write that stepping comes from gumboot dancing.

    My intention is not to totally discredit that assumption, but to raise the possibility that gumboot dancing may have been influenced by some of the same American elements that influenced stepping: i.e. minstrel dancing, particularly hambone (pattin juba), tap dancing, and jazz dancing, particularly the Lindy Hop.

  2. Some commenters to YouTube discussion threads on another South African dance form- "Indlamu"- also write that this dance form is the source of stepping.

    I think that those claims are far less credible than the statements about gumboot dancing being the source (or a source) of stepping.

    My guess is that some people who write that Indlamu is the source of historically Black Greek letter fraternity and sorority stepping mistakenly think that both of these South African dances are versions of the same dance, even though the performance characteristics and attire for these two dances are quite different.

    Here's a link to a YouTube video entitled INDLAMU Kwazulu Natal Best Zulu Dance (Must Watch), published by TV YABANTU in 2015:

    The summary statement for that video reads:
    "Indlamu is a traditional Zulu Dance from South Africa where the dancer lifts one foot over his head and slams it down hard ,landing squarely on the down beat."

    The Indlamu competition It has over the years encouraged the youth to learn about our traditions and customs. Especially respect for one another's cultures.

    The yearly event continues to attract thousands of new young imaging dance groups and thousands of spectators."...

    1. Here's another description of "indlamu" from
      This traditional dance is most often associated with Zulu culture. It is performed with drums and full traditional attire and is derived from the war dances of the warriors.

      This war dance is untouched by Western influence probably because it is regarded as a touchstone of Zulu identity. Full regimental attire, precise timing and uncompromised posture are required. It is danced by men of any age wearing skins (amabeshu), headrings, ceremonial belts, ankle rattles, shields and weapons like knobkerries and spears. While indlamu uses similar steps as girls do for ingoma, it has a much more calculated, less frantic feel, showing off muscular strength and control of the weapons with mock stabs at imaginary enemies. Dancers are more likely to make eye contact with the audience. Various drums and whistles accompany the dance.

      Both indlamu and ingoma are performed at weddings; women perform the Ingoma and men perform the Indlamu."
      This page also describes ingoma and some other traditional Zulu dances, but doesn't include any mention about isicathulo (gumboot dancing).

  3. Here's a link to a 2013 post about the Muganda dance from Zambia (and northern Malawi) that is somewhat similar to African American originated stepping:

    I published that post on my zumlayah blog.

    I no longer publish any post to that blog, but it still contains some posts about traditional group dances that are performed by African Americans and/or by people in Africa and elsewhere in the African Diaspora.