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. Though stepping may be performed by an individual, 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, break dance, tap dance, march, or African and Caribbean dance, or include semi-dangerous stunts as a part of individual routines. The speed of the step depends on the beat and rhythm the performer wants it to sound. Some forms of stepping include the use of props, such as canes, rhythm sticks and/or fire and blindfolds.
The tradition of stepping is rooted within the competitive schoolyard song and dance rituals practiced by historically African American fraternities and sororities, beginning in the 1900s.
Stepping finds its origins in a combination of military close-order and 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, historically-black fraternities and sororities on United States college campuses traditionally sang and chanted to celebrate "crossing over" into membership of their respective organizations. Stepping is also performed by schools, churches, cheerleading squads, and drill teams.
NPHC Fraternities and Sororities had "Greek Sings" that were popular since the inception of black Greek organizations in the early 1900's. This tradition gradually became to be used to celebrate initiations into the world of Greeks. The chapters would gather on campus and sing uplifting songs and cheers about their Fraternity or Sorority. In later years when the Greeks sung songs they began to add movements such as walking in a circle, and clapping hands. The Sororities were singing songs up to the early eighties, and all of the Sororities still have traditional songs that they sing today. Meanwhile, the Fraternities begin to add movement to their songs. In later years "Greek Sings" became "Greek Shows" which were a major event and still are to this day. Stepping has been popularized by National Pan-Hellenic Council member organizations who gives tributes to their historical Greek letter organizations and also perform at local and national competitions. Stepping has become popular among the Greek organizations to show spirit and pride in their Fraternity or Sorority.
The most popular step routines have been passed down, and many of the songs are still used and housed in each Fraternity's and Sorority's history archives. Many times a step performance ends or incorporates the use of a chant that is associated with the respected organization. A chant is a song that is worded or has a rhythm specific to that organization. Each particular organization has their own.
Over time, more and more organizations have created moves to continue this growing passion, however certain steps and moves originated and are considered signature to particular organizations. For example, "The Nut Cracker" is unique to Phi Beta Sigma fraternity. "The Dove" is unique to Zeta Phi Beta sorority, "the Q Hop," is originally from Omega Psi Phi fraternity, and "The Alpha Train" is a staple of Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity.
The first nationally syndicated stepping contest, S.T.O.M.P., aired in 1992 was created by Frank Mercardo Valdes, produced by the World African Network and Vic Bulluck and choreographed by Vernon Jackson and Jimmy Hamilton of Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity. Again they were also known as Step by Step Stomp aired 92-96. Stepping was also featured in the movie Drumline (2002) and Stomp the Yard (2007). The Howard University "Beta" chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha stepped at former President Bill Clinton's inauguration, after appearing in a Foot Locker commercial in December 1992. Stepping was also featured in the Opening Ceremony of the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta.
Stepping is a complex performance that melds folk traditions with popular culture and involves synchronized percussive movement, singing, speaking, chanting, and drama. Developed by African-American fraternities and sororities, it is now practiced worldwide. For example, the tradition has been emulated by Latino fraternities and sororities over the past decades. Pioneered by Lambda Sigma Upsilon Latino Fraternity in 1979 they are noted as the first Latino Greek organizations to embrace the traditions of stepping. This has led to an increase in participation of Latino Greek organizations in step show events. Often adding influences from Salsa, Merengue, Bachata, as well as other traditionally Latino music. Latino Greeks are performing in more step shows, stroll competitions, and social functions on college campuses throughout the United States.