Stepping up: ‘Greek Scene’ brings crowd to its feet

Jennifer Sterling

Cheley Young flopped onto the floor to stretch Saturday night after performing in the National Pan-Hellenic Council’s annual step show.

“I’m so sore,” said Young, president of Sigma Gamma Rho, as she leaned over to touch her toes.

Nearly every seat in McCormick Auditorium was filled Saturday night for the annual “Greek Scene” step show put on by Northwestern’s historically black fraternity and sorority chapters.

Stepping is a type of precision dancing where dancers wear heavy boots to increase the sound effect. Performers also use their feet and hands to make noise while they dance, usually in syncopation.

“It’s always been popular in the Greek community,” Young said.

Three of the NPHC chapters competed for a $500 prize in the annual step show. Chicago high school students, NU students and parents in the audience threw their hands in the air, clapping after each performance, while fraternity and sorority members shouted their chapter calls.

Delta Sigma Theta sorority took the prize after a performance that lasted about 15 minutes, while Sigma Gamma Rho sorority came in second and Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity finished third.

Members of Delta Sigma Theta said they plan to use the $500 prize to fund one of five scholarships that the sorority awards each year. The show was also a fund-raiser for the chapters.

But the main purpose of “Greek Scene” is for the houses to “all participate together and work alongside each other,” said Medill senior Keith Carter, outgoing president of NPHC.

Young said she learned how to step when she joined her sorority.

“Stepping is synonymous with being in NPHC,” said Young, a Speech junior.

The stepping tradition derived from west Africa and was brought to the United States by African slaves. The tradition continued through black slaves, who were chained together and forced to walk in unison, said Ross Grimes, a Medill sophomore who stepped for Alpha Phi Alpha.

The step show has been a tradition at NU for more than 10 years. The teams are judged on their style, originality, power and crowd reaction, Carter said.

A highlight of the Saturday night show was Alpha Phi Alpha’s imitation of a train. Wearing all black, their faces painted gold and black, fraternity members stood in line, stomping their feet and making sound effects with their mouths.

New to the show this year was comedian Daran Howard, who has appeared on “The Drew Carey Show” and on Black Entertainment Television.

Audience members bent over in their seats laughing as Howard, an Alpha Phi Alpha member, gave relationship advice and shared his opinions of the recent scandal surrounding the Rev. Jesse Jackson. He emceed the almost 2-hour show, doing stand-up for about 20 minutes and offering his comments after each team performed.

The show was the final event in NPHC’s Greek Week. Every day last week, the five NPHC chapters joined in a different event, including a clothing drive and Greek Spirit Day.

After the show, NPHC sponsored a party in the Louis Room, where students danced until about 1:30 a.m.

“Tonight was a great night for the Greek community and the black community as well,” Grimes said. “It lets a bunch of people get together in a peaceful way.”