Stepping to the beat: NPHC hits stage for step show

The lights went down just as easily as they came back up. Music flooded the massive space of McAfee Gymnasium as they parted the waves of the audience. Feet touched the floor with precision and grace as around the multi-colored lights across the stage.

This was a brief glimpse of the step show performed Saturday. The show has been a unique part of the Divine Nine – a nickname of the National PanHellenic Council – for decades at Eastern.

The winners of this year’s competition were the members of the Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity and the Zeta Phi Beta sorority, and this is unusual for the groups as it was the third time both groups had won.

Cameron Douglas, a senior clinical lab sciences major, said although he was inducted as a junior, this was his first Homecoming stepping.

“Having all your peers and faculty depending on you, definitely it crosses your mind over and over again,” he said. “You might over think things, so you definitely get nervous.”

Stepping is a style of dancing that, while it emphasizes flair and style, also focuses on uniform movements throughout the groups, said PJ Thompson, the Alpha Phi Alpha advisor, who graduated from Eastern in 2003.

“The interesting part of the evolution of (stepping) has grown. When it started, it started as line chanting. People would just say their chants while they marched back in days when things were a little bit different with pledging,” Thompson said. “Then over time, it evolved into a show. As people have gotten more and more creative over the years, different organizations have their own signature moves.”

Paris Hearon, a senior family and consumer sciences major, agrees and said stepping is even more strenuous in this competition.

“Stepping takes a lot of work and a lot of structure, because you do need rhythm to do it. Pretty much we develop our own routines. Sometimes we use other influences from other schools, but most of the time its new stuff that we come up with as a collective group,” Hearon said.

Both Douglas and Hearon stepped for the first time in this competition, but noted there are talented individuals on the team and have nowhere to go but up.

“Usually there’s always a lot of fresh ideas and sometimes even if older members don’t step, they do help, because not everyone in the chapter always steps,” Hearon said. “Everyone’s input and ideas are always allowed.”

Each team displays their choreographed dance with both a mix of songs and a theme. Zeta Phi Beta began as a 1920s-style gangster theme and later evolved into a homage to the musical “Chicago.”

The Alpha Phi Alphas emerged as a school band and performed a critical scene from the film “Drumline.”

The origin of stepping is often seen as a release for several minorities in the NPHC or as it is sometimes referred to the Divine Nine.

“How fraternities and sororities were founded back in the day in oppression, people wanted to get things across, that’s how stepping first came about,” Douglas said.

But Douglas also contrasts the difference in style and structure between stepping and strolling, another form of expression through dance.

“Stepping is more uniform, more militant. It’s a more militant routine performed all in sync; everybody does the same thing. If you smile, everybody smiles at the same time,” Douglas said. “Strolling is the same basic moves, but if everyone’s moving this way and you move that way, you can kind of personalize it. That’s where you can throw your own stuff into it.”

Throughout the show, comedian Deandre Corder, better known by his stage name as Dukk served as emcee for the event, and would ask for the different fraternities and sororities to shout their group chants.

Though several groups were represented, there was a notable absence from fraternities Omega Psi Phi or “Que-Dogs” and Phi Beta Sigma, the fraternity that hosted the “Barn Party” on Sept. 15, which resulted in two non-fatal gunshot victims and one battery victim. Douglas says this has deeply divided the NPHC community.

“A lot of these guys, we knew each other before all this Greek stuff, but with Greeks come politics so when things happen, politics get involved and before you know it, it becomes a fraternity issue,” Douglas said. “As far as the step show goes, it really hurts.”

Sean Copeland can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected].