History of Stepping
Stepping or step-dancing is a form of percussive dance in which the participant’s entire body is used as an instrument to produce complex rhythms and sounds through a mixture of footsteps, spoken word, and hand claps. Although stepping can be performed individually, it is generally performed by groups of three or more, often in arrangements that resemble military formations.
Stepping may also draw from elements of gymnastics, tap dance, marching, African and Caribbean dance, and/or include semi-dangerous stunts as a part of individual routines. Some forms of stepping include the use of props, such as canes, rhythm sticks and/or fire and blindfolds. The tradition of African American stepping is rooted within the competitive schoolyard song and dance rituals practiced by historically African American fraternities and sororities, beginning in the mid-1900s.
African American stepping finds its origins in a combination of military close-order, exhibition drill and African foot dances such as the Welly “gumboot” dance. It also originally drew heavily from the stage routines and movements of popular R&B groups such as the Temptations and The Four Tops.
During the mid-20th century, traditionally Black fraternities and sororities on United States college campuses traditionally sang and chanted to celebrate “crossing over” into membership of their respective organizations.
Popularized by National Pan-Hellenic Council member organizations who perform at local and national competitions, stepping has been featured in films and shows such as School Daze (1988), Mac and Me (1988), Drumline (2002), Stomp the Yard (2007), and the following TV series: A Different World, Sister Sister, Seinfeld, and Cheers. Stepping is also performed by groups in schools, churches, cheerleading squads and drill teams.
Today there are multi-cultural fraternities and sororities embracing the tradition of stepping. One of the first Latino organizations to embrace stepping was Lambda Sigma Upsilon Fraternity. The first Latina sorority to embrace stepping was Chi Upsilon Sigma Sorority.