Is the Tradition of Step Trancending or Dissolving?
Due to, the predominantly white sorority, Zeta Tau Alpha‘s win in the 2010 Sprite Step Off over Divine Nine competitors, there is now a fear within the historically black organizations that the cultural significance of step is being lost. Outside organizations have been adopting it without demonstrating knowledge of the significance behind it.
Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority, Inc. member Briana Buckner said, “A lot of people do not understand black Greek life. You should know the history of something you’re trying to be a part of. Out of respect to those people whose traditions you are practicing, you should understand it; otherwise, you could be participating in something that may in reality stand for something that you disagree with.”
Author of the blog Fraternity Communications, Phillip L. Velez disagrees, Velez writes, “Some may say the win by an all-white female team from Arkansas minimizes something sacred to African-American fraternities and sororities, however I think it honors the organizations and the tradition. Unity step-show competitions may bring diverse organizations together and help promote Greek life in a manner never seen before.”
Diversity does not seem to be the issue here, but ignorance. Historically black organizations have continually accepted people of non-African American descent into their sororities and fraternities. It is the act of organizations practicing step, while being devoid of legitimate understanding for the background of the tradition.
According to the article Step into Step History, by Kiyanna Johnson, step originated from African minors who were forbidden to communicated with each other. Johnson writes, “They were isolated in almost total darkness wearing bandanas, no shirts, jeans and gumboots.”
Johnson writes that the minors created what was then called “gumboot dancing,” to act as Morse Code as well as to express their pain. The article continues to say that later the Black Letter Organizations adopted the “gumboot dancing,” renaming it step in the 1920s, as a way to create unity, and like the minors, express themselves.
Buckner said, “Even though it’s a historically black tradition, if a non-historically black organization can come and win, then black people are not doing their part. Diversity is good because it keeps competition interesting. If you see people stepping when it is not their tradition and they’re winning, it keeps people (within the Divine Nine) on their toes.”