The step competition has been a part of GC’s Greek Week since it began in the mid-70s, continuing to spark interest and excitement within Greek communities and the student body as a whole.
“The foundation of step derived from the culture of Africa . . . and it was translated to Greek Life as a sign of appreciation, a sign of uplifting one another within our community,” said Michael Igbonagwam, assistant director of Fraternity and Sorority Life.
According to “Many Steps,” a documentary on the history of step, this form of dance originated within African culture and has been a part of predominantly African Greek communities since its very beginning. Every rhythm and/or beat incorporated into a step routine is reflective of African culture.
Step dancing was introduced to GC when the school was a regional flagship institution, and members of the National Pan-Hellenic Council (NPHC), the nine historically African-American sororities and fraternities, actively participated in step.
“As time evolved and our mission changed, what happened was our predominantly white students would see those students of color who belong to these Greek organizations stepping,” said Stacey Milner, director of the GC Cultural Center. “So they kind of took on that role and brought it into their organizations by asking those Greek letter organization members if they would teach them.”
Milner explained that a defining moment in this process was when groups like Delta Zeta reached out to the ladies of Delta Sigma Theta, an NPHC sorority, to learn how to step.
“Although they don’t know where they learned it from, because it’s been handed down from sister to sister to sister, there are members who learned how to step from those NPHC groups,” Milner said.
While step has managed to cross social and cultural barriers in countless Greek life communities, it has also merged into something almost entirely different in today’s Panhellenic groups. Though its underlying influences are present in each Greek Week step routine, its outward appearance seems far from where it began.
“If you were to go to an NPHC step show, and if you were to attend Sunday night’s step show, they’ll look real different,” said Tiffany Bayne, GC’s director of Fraternity and Sorority Life, in regards to Greek Week’s step routines.
Greek Week’s step routines have transformed so much from what they originally were that questions have been raised about potentially changing the name of the step competition. However, there are currently no ideas for what it might be called.
What has traditionally been a masculine art form now has a huge majority of female participants in Greek Systems at colleges around the country—so much so that ATO has been the only chapter from the IFC to perform a routine at the GC competition in the last four years.
There was speculation of two more IFC chapters participating this year. However, due to their inability to get their routine done time and follow the regulations required to enter a routine, both withdrew from the competition.
“I do think we’re on the cusp of a culture shift there,” Bayne said.
While GC students may not have left the Greek Week step performance understanding what original step looks like, or its sacred roots.