The History of Stepping -All the way back

Alright, in this piece, we're taking you waaay back to the origins of stepping.

The History of Stepping spans over 60 years of time. Step dance as we know it today has evolved much thru those years, as anything does.

The first form of step dance originated in the gold mines of South Africa during the Apartheid Pass Laws during the 1940's and '50's.

The conditions in the mines were off the hook in a bad way, with disease infested water rising as high as the workers knees. This was bad news, cuz not only were their workers gettin sick easy, the constant wetness and rubbing of their shoes was messin up their feet too.

The owners of these mines and workers decided it was best to begin buyin' Wellington boots for the workers to wear while doin their jobs in the mines. These boots were made out of rubber to handle all that water and it came up to their knees so their feet could stay dry.

Another name for these boots were called gumboots.

Since the workers weren't allowed to talk to each other, they began lettin their bodies do the talkin by slappin on the gumboots and ringin' those bells which were attached to them boots. It was like a form of Morse Code for them, they could understand each other just by sound effects.

Okay, back to the history of stepping, this grew into a form of entertainment for the workers because they were able to joke around to lighten the mood, or communicate other matters of importance, all this without sayin a WORD!

Eventually, it got to a point where the mine owners would let the workers do shows at the end of the day.

This form of dance became popularly known as the gumboot dance.



Moving right along, we bring the history of stepping on over to the USA where we now have black fraternities who begin to use a form of dancing that they call stepping. It evolved by incorporating dance moves from popular Motown groups from the 1950's and '60's like the Temptations and the Four Tops.

You still got your traditional stomping of the feet and slapping the body, but it is remixed by adding in those new and hip dance moves, keeping it funky and fresh.

It is rumored and strongly believed that the first 2 black fraternities to originate stepping as it is today was Omega Psi Phi (which was the first African-American national fraternal organization to founded at a historically black college-- Howard University in 1911) and Phi Beta Sigma (which also was founded at Howard University 3 years later in 1914).

Stepping began as the fraternities would begin chanting or singing out in the open on college campuses (aka "the yard"). At some campuses in the South, a "step show" was originally called "a sing".

It quickly evolved, when fraternities would do " pro shows " on college campuses to aid in recruiting people to their black greek organizations. The best steppers would get the most recruits. A few years later, black sororities began to step as well. This picture (courtesy of http://www.auburn.edu/pbs1914/home.html) is of some original Sigma steppers and their sister sorority steppers Phi Beta Sigma.

Evolving further, a member of Phi Beta Sigma by the name of Brother Kwame Nkrumah from the country of Ghana introduced some steps from the traditional African culture. Stemming from coming of age or rites of passage ceremonies, he brought in the idea that stepping was supposed to be used as a crossing over celebration. Crossing is when a pledging participant graduates from the pledge line into the greek organization they were pledging allegiance to.

The pledge process can take up to 8-10 weeks depending on the organization. So then, when the "line" was getting ready to cross into a frat, they would perform a step show routine that night as part of the ritual.

During this time, Brother Kwame Nkrumah introduced an additional prop into stepping, starting with the cane. Phi Beta Sigma (or a.k.a. the Sigmas) took the history of stepping to even another level by perfecting the use of canes into their step show routines.

Towards end of the 1980's, the history of stepping began to go mainstream by being featured in movies and tv shows. One popular movie was School Daze by director Spike Lee which shows a hollywood version of the pledge process.

Going into the 90's and new millenium, the history of stepping has continued to be featured in movies and television series as well as reality tv shows, being strongly influenced by hip hop dance. The gumboot dance also continues to live on and thrive, still being performed by African groups today.

Now that you've seen the history of stepping, click here to take a peek at the black greek organizations that have continued the rich tradition and history of stepping throughout these years.

Check out this interesting article on the difference between a greek step show and a probate or proshow and see a couple Christian video proshow clips. If your group or organization or church step team ministry has been going strong for a few years now, CONGRATULATIONS, why don't you give us a shout out here and let us know the history of your team?!

Return to Creating Christian StepTeams--Where the Steppin Never Stops from history of stepping

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