What Is Stepping?

"Stepping" is a historical form of communication and storytelling that is widely performed by fraternities and sororities that belong to the National Pan-Hellenic Council, an organization which directs the traditionally African-American national sororities and fraternities.

Stepping is partly rooted in the experience of African-American men working on the railroad. To keep up their morale and esteem and to forget about the pain, they stepped. It was a tune that they marched to, a tune about a story and pain. Step served as a sort of code for African Americans to tell their story since speaking out was often times too dangerous. Since then it has grown and evolved.

Today, fraternities and sororities perform step as a means of sending a message to the audience and some step routines are simply for entertainment. Step shows convey positive messages and captivate audiences.

Like much African-American music and dance, step dance relies on improvisation, call and response, complex meters, propulsive rhythms and a percussive attack. Stepping dates back to the early 20th century, when Black veterans of World War I enrolled in colleges. Inspired by their military training, they brought to their dances a highly rigorous, drill like component and combined it with elements from other Black dances, just as today's steppers often add hip-hop movements.

Masonic influences can still be seen in the step process of most Black Greek Lettered Organizations as well as the African influence of the marching armies of antiquity such as the Warriors of Carthage, led by the military genius of Hannibal Ruler of Carthage (247-183 B.C.), the Nubian warriors of the mighty King Piankhy of Nubia (c. 720 B.C.), as well as the Zulu Legion of the famed general Chaka, the Zulu Monarch (c. 1786 - 1828 B.C.).

Others say that stepping replaced the doo-wop sounds and cardigan sweaters of the 50s. At around the same time as the "Black Power" Movements and Africa centered movements of the 60s, stepping started to flourish with the incorporation of some traditional African ritual dancing and the incorporation of other elements like cheer leading, tap, gymnastics, etc. Over the years stepping has become very intricate and demanding incorporating props, high levels of gymnastics and other elements found in team sports. It is through these and many other factors that stepping began to become an intimate part of Black Greek Lettered Organizations.