Sunday, January 07, 2007

Stepping Gets Major Coverage in CBS 'Sunday Morning Show'

Not Dancing, Not Marching, It's Stepping
Vibrant Dance Form Is Featured in New Film, "Stomp The Yard"

(CBS) Stepping may look like a cross between a military drill and a street fight, but it's neither. Stepping is featured in a new movie, "Stomp the Yard," which comes out later this week.

Stepping has a long tradition among black fraternities and sororities, who see it as a way to build unity. "Stomp the Yard" producer Will Packer was a fraternity stepper himself.

"Everything about stepping is very dramatic, over-the-top and precise, so it really teaches teamwork and bonding, which really are some of the principles of brotherhood and sisterhood which is what these organizations are all about," he told Sunday Morning correspondent Michelle Miller.

Black fraternities and sororities were born of necessity on the campuses of historically black colleges roughly a hundred years ago.

"African-American Greek letter organizations, unlike many other mainstream fraternities and sororities, were founded because at the time African Americans couldn't join the other fraternities and sororities," said Packer. "They couldn't join the white fraternities and they weren't accepted in mainstream America as part of the general society brotherhood so they formed these organizations to create a brotherhood amongst themselves, a sisterhood amongst themselves, and also reach out and give back to those less fortunate than them."

Some of the moves in stepping are said to come from the Welly dance, a traditional stomp that South African laborers would perform in rubber Wellington work boots.

The old Welly dance has been adapted, modified and stylized into stepping. Nearly all step routines share some basic elements that set it apart from dance — for instance, dancers follow the beat of a drum, but steppers are the drum.

"You hit your lap, you hit your heel, which makes a complete different sound. It's basically using your whole body," said Chuck Maldonado, who helped choreograph "Stomp the Yard."

It's evolved into kind of a spectator sport: there are step competitions around the country, like this event in New York City New Year's Night.

These are the men of Omega Psi Phi, whose signature move is to step so forcefully it sounds like the stage is going to break. Steppers compete for the honor of their fraternity, and that's no small thing: in fact, they wear their devotion on their arms — literally. Many of them sport the omega on their biceps. It's not a tattoo: They've actually had the Greek letter branded into their flesh.

Kappa Alpha Psi has a more genteel stepping style: they carry canes, with moves more reminiscent of Fred Astaire.

Sorority girls step as well. They don't wear brands on their arms, but the intensity is the same. For the movie, producers created two fictional fraternities who are to compete in the movie's climactic scene.

They also created a rivalry by keeping the two groups of actors apart for most of the filming. "Neither one of the fictitious fraternities got to see one another," choreographer Dave Scott said. "They rehearsed separately, they worked out separately. Everything was separate."

What ends up on screen in "Stomp the Yard" is intense, but no more so than real life fraternities and sororities who keep yet another generation of college students in step.

"Stepping is a tradition and an art," step show promoter Keith Dos Reis said: "Tradition for our fraternities and sororities, and an art form by the way we do it."

Not Dancing, Not Marching, It's Stepping

(Note: You can see examples of Sig Eps Stepping in the YouTube videos linked in the sidebar
- Wordjunky)