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, tap dance, march, or African and Caribbean dance, or include semi-dangerous stunts as a part of individual routines. Some forms of stepping include the use of props, such as canes, rhythm sticks and/or fire and blindfolds.
The tradition of African American stepping is rooted within the competitive schoolyard song and dance rituals practiced by historically African American fraternities and sororities, beginning in the mid-1900s.
African American 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, traditionally Black fraternities and sororities
on United States college campuses traditionally sang and chanted to celebrate "crossing over" into membership of their respective organizations. Notwithstanding its collegiate roots, stepping is also performed by schools, churches, cheerleading squads and drill teams.
Popularized by National Pan-Hellenic Council member organizations who perform at local and national competitions, stepping has been featured in films and shows such as School Daze (1988), Mac and Me (1988), Drumline (2002), Stomp the Yard (2007), and the TV series, A Different World and Sister, Sister. The first nationally syndicated stepping contest, S.T.O.M.P., aired in 1992, and 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 attire may consist of many types of clothing, including boots, high-heeled shoes, and tap shoes
. Many of today's steppers also wear ties, and bowties along with a full suit. There may also be usage of canes, fire sticks, swords, and other objects that are rhythmically tapped together, on a hard-surfaced floor, or swung at other participants in often-complex dance maneuvers.
- In the finals of America's Best Dance Crew, the two finalist crews - Jabbawockeez and Status Quo (not to be confused with the English rock band) - for the first time in the competition, battle and cooperate in a step performance.
- Stepping has been seen in the mainstream, with involvment in motion pictures including School Daze, Mac and Me, Drumline, and How She Move.
- In the 2007 box office hit Stomp The Yard, stepping was used throughout the entire film. The main character, D.J. (played by Columbus Short), looks to lead his step team to win the national step show competition.
- Since 2005, BET Networks has aired numerous short step show competitions in its programming. Namely on its original show, 106 & Park (during the Wild Out Wednesday portions), and its annual spring event, Spring Bling (on the show "Get 2 Steppin'").
- At the beginning of Alicia Keys' video, Teenage Love Affair, which is based on the 1988 movie School Daze, a step team is shown strutting in an all black outfit during a rally.
- Fine, Elizabeth. Soulstepping: African American Step Shows. Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2003.
- Malone, Jacqui. Steppin on the Blues. Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1996.
- Ross, Lawrence Jr. The Divine Nine - The History of African American Fraternities and Sororities. Kensington Publishing Corporation, 2001.