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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Unique steps

Published: November 4, 2005
Section: Opinions

You might have seen us practicing in the Village, doing a step or two in Sherman during meals, or at the Fall Fest Variety Show on Saturday night. If you did, you might have some idea of what stepping is.

Friends have asked me to explain step for them. The best I could come up with is Did you ever see that episode of Sister Sister where they pledge a Sorority? Ive since read a lot of descriptions. According to Jill Nelson of the Washington Post Stepping is tap dance without tap shoes, James Brown without the music of the JBs, Cab Calloway sans piano, a marching band without John Philip Sousa. It is jazz, funk, rhythm and blues, and rap without instrumentsThe music comes from the synchronized interplay of hands and feet, from chants and hollers. It is a way to make music using the body as instrument. Alexandra Robbins, in her book Pledged: The Secret Life of Sororities, says Step is a performance of synchronicity and harmonyIt is marching, cheerleading, call-and-response, rap, tap dancing, martial arts, percussion, gymnastics, military drilling, singing, stomping, stamping, and slapping in one.

In Regeneration through Dance in African-American Fraternities and Sororities, dance historian Jacqui Malone talks about the history of step, which was created in the mid-1990s by African-American sororities and fraternities to show group identity and Greek loyalty. So how did I become part of a step team at Brandeis University, where sororities and fraternities are not accepted on campus? Simple. My friend Rachel, a senior, told me that she had a friend who steps at Princeton and we should try it because its so cool. So we went to the first meeting. (If you read my article about the frisbee team you know that I tend to join things if a friend says we should do it together. This time at least, Rachel has come to practices.)

The old members of So Unique, which was started just last year, explained a little bit about the group and demonstrated a couple of the sequences of steps that they had performed last year. Shanelle, the primary choreographer at the moment, warned us all before the demonstration that they were all rusty as they hadnt practiced together since May. My one thought when they were done was: If this is them when theyre rusty, what must they be like when theyre on. Their steps looked impossible to master. The speed and coordination requiredI couldnt imagine ever being able to do it.

Being part of So Unique, I see step in a whole new light. Sure the rhythms and moves are still difficult but with the old members help, Ive managed to learn how to step in time with the rest of the group. I can watch a performance, see what theyre doing, and understand it for the details that go into it rather than just think of it as cool.

The Variety Show let us see just how far we had progressed in just two months. And now that our first performance is behind us, we are no longer the old members and the new members. We will be making up and learning new steps, performing during half-time in basketball games and the Culture X show.

If you really want to see what step is about, come to one of our performances. Its the kind of thing you need to see to understand.