The Collegian
Saturday, July 04, 2020

Step contest raises cultural awareness

While both Pi Beta Phi and Kappa Kappa Gamma sororities placed during the stepping competition on Friday night, the Delta Delta Delta sorority's leap-frog blindfold routine earned them the title as champion of Stepping 101.

The event, which was on April 2 in the Alice Haynes Room, pitted The University of Richmond's six Panhellenic sororities against each other in a step dance battle. Common Ground, and the offices of Multicultural Affairs and Student Affairs sponsored the event, which sold out three days after tickets went on sale, though standing room tickets were sold at the door. More than $1,500 was raised for charities including the March of Dimes, St. Jude Children's Hospital and Big Brothers, Big Sisters.

"We didn't really have to sell the tickets," said Raymond Fraser, vice president of the Upsilon Gamma chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc., which put on the event. "They sold themselves. It sent a very powerful message."

That message, he said, was that the university community was ready to bridge the gap between the white and black Greek organizations on campus. His fraternity decided to do their part by introducing their culture through stepping.

In books by Elizabeth Fine, an associate professor in the Center for Interdisciplinary Studies at Virginia Tech, and Jacqui Malone, an associate drama, theater and dance professor at Queen's College, stepping is defined as a form of group dance practiced by historically African American fraternities that mixes clapping, spoken word and footwork to create percussive rhythms and sounds. These beats are reminiscent of military-style drills and African dances such as the Gumboot, where dancers wear traditional Wellington boots.

"Stepping is more than clapping and stomping your feet," Fraser said. "It's about expressing yourself through voice and dance and staying in sync with people you're dancing with - being one."

When Fraser and his Alpha Phi Alpha brothers decided to teach the Panhellenic sororities to step and compete against each other, the brothers knew they had their work cut out for them, especially with such a tight time table, he said.

Each sorority was paired with a step master -- either a member of Alpha Phi Alpha, the sorority Alpha Kappa Alpha, Inc., or a stepper from the Richmond area who taught them a routine and gave them a deadline of April 2.

"The sororities basically had two weeks to practice," said Reginald Gooden, an Alpha Phi Alpha member who worked with Alpha Chi Omega. "My expectations were low. Since they had no connection to stepping, I thought they were going to be flimsy. But they shocked the hell out of me."

Although they did not place, Gooden said he was proud of them.

Alpha Chi Omega practiced four times a week for up to three hours during each practice. At practice the day before the event, they ran through their choreographed drills again and again, working out kinks and determining whether or not they would "diss" their fellow sororities during their routines.

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Dissing, in step, "signifies to the audience the individual's commitment and loyalty to their organization and the fact that they could never and would never go back on their loyalty," Fraser said.

In the end, only Delta Gamma and Pi Beta Phi chose to diss during their performances, but their taunts brought loud, cheerful roars from the frenzied crowd.

"I think they [and their routines] are phenomenal," said sophomore Nabila Rahman, who attended the event. "I came from a school with an actual step team and [these sororities] are doing pretty great so far!"

All around the room, audience members yelled their support or chastisement of certain routines. Some attendees were so passionate that they stormed out of the room when the teams they were rooting for lost. The event's energy ran high throughout the night as did the pride of the young women who performed.

Ellie Friedman, a freshman and stepper for Kappa Kappa Gamma, said she was proud that her sorority placed and that the time the team spent practicing brought her and her sorority sisters together. Her parents and sister came to show their support for her.

At the end of the night, the scores of the judges were tallied and Delta Delta Delta walked away with the $700 grand prize for a routine that involved performing a complicated leap-frogging sequence while blindfolded. The sorority plans to donate its prize money to its philanthropy organization, St. Jude Children's Hospital.

Aside from the competition, the most important part of the entire event was the cultural sharing that took place, several interviewees said.

"To see the university come together to celebrate a cultural event was spectacular," said Alison Bartel Keller, associate director of student activities and director of Greek Life, who acted as one of the judges for the event. "Nothing mattered except the celebration and heritage of stepping. I just wish we could duplicate that exchange across campus every day."

Gooden agreed, saying: "We wanted to show how serious, how clear an art form and cultural act stepping can be. We showed a bit of my heritage, which originates from predominantly black fraternities, and now we can share it with everybody."

The event also served a charitable function that married well with the feeling of brotherhood and camaraderie that Alpha Phi Alpha sought to produce. Because the event attracted more than 400 guests, including prospective parents and students who were wandering by, the fraternity hopes to make the event an annual fixture on campus.

"We all have the same goals," Fraser said. "Everyone's trying to make the world a better place and working together, we can affect change.

"There's an old saying that goes, 'Two hands are better than one, and three are better than two.' The more people get involved, the stronger impact you're able to make"

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