By DANIELLE HOWARD
This Saturday, in honor of Black History Month, Women of Color and the Black Student Association partnered together with the James Farmer Multicultural Center for the 26th Annual Step Show Competition.
Recognized as a staple in African American culture, stepping has been traditionally tied to fraternities and sororities that were started at Historically Black Colleges and Universities. These organizations, sometimes called the Divine Nine, use step as a way of passing down tradition and as a symbol that enables a sense of sisterhood and brotherhood between the various groups.
Each organization has their own signature routines and calls, both highlighting the distinctions between the groups, on top of their colors and Greek letters. This year’s competition tied well into the 2017 Black History Month theme of drawing parallels between the past and present by having not only members of the Divine Nine gather together, but local high schools and middle schools as well. The competitors performed in chronological order, showing both the evolution of step as a genre and the impact that it has had on African American communities and culture.
Although much of the university’s community attends the step show for entertainment, it also serves as one of the major events on campus that introduces a large number of people to one of the biggest eras and traditions that originated within black colleges and education. As an underrepresented student attending a predominately white institution, the annual step show serves as one of the major events that highlights an aspect of black culture that is not typically showcased at UMW.
During Black History Month, this event and other programs that shine a light on the many facets of black history and culture offers a positive representation to all UMW faculty, students and staff. Though Mary Washington is not an HBCU, we do have a step team, the Alter Egos, who participate in the show and exhibit with grace that you don’t always need to be tied to a culture to respectfully appreciate it.
The show itself resembled that of a typical competition by having the visiting Divine Nine organizations perform alongside the other invited groups, with an intermission in the middle that was made to resemble the legendary “Stroll Off.” The Stroll is when popular R&B and Hip Hop songs that are tied to memories and iconic dances or steps are played for the Divine Nine members to showcase themselves and their signature calls and/or moves. However, the act of strolling is not only enjoyed by members of the Greek organizations but also those in attendance, both young and old as groups stroll to songs that have been historically or presently important to popular black culture.
“Every year I look forward to going to UMW’s Step Show because of the positive energy that is brought,” said sophomore communication and digital studies major Nancy Pham. “Having different chapters coming from different schools gives everyone the chance to see how unique and talented people really are. Going to UMW, there isn’t any Black Greek Life and the fact that we even host a step show makes it that much more exciting to attend. I’ve always loved the feeling of having the community unite as a whole and support our students of color.”
The annual step show not only helps foster a sense of community, but also helps to better express belonging here for students whose cultures and traditions are not usually represented on campus.