By 7 p.m. on Oct. 26, the Ferst Center of the Arts was full; The National Panhellenic Council’s (NPHC) 15th annual Homecoming Step Show was in full swing. The competitive event gives teams a chance to win $1,000 for their individual organization.
A panel of judges awards one winner for each of the men’s and women’s divisions based on factors such as creativity, precision, unity and showmanship.
This year’s show featured performances from the eight active Divine Nine organizations on Tech’s campus (Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc., Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc., Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc., Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc., Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Inc., Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc. Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority, Inc.). Each with their own distinct theme ranging from Scooby Doo to Jumanji, the event itself was a beacon of cultural representation for African Americans at the Institute, drawing out an audience of current students, alumni and members from other chapters.
“Steps shows in general are a way for NPHC organizations to showcase their talent [and] their culture as well as a little bit of history and everything that we are about. With this [Tech] being a PWI [Predominantly White Institution] this is a really good way to create Black spaces and showcase a little bit of Black pride,” said Amari Murry, fifth-year CHBE and a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc.
Stepping is an art form that relies on rhythmic arrangements of body percussion: clapping, stomping and slapping different parts of the body to produce a unified sound. Performers often wear heavy boots to maximize the sound of their powerful movements. Some groups, such as Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc., are known for using props such as canes to add to the acapella style beats, occasionally accompanied by vocal chants unique to each organization, similar to a military-style cadence. Other groups are known for using props such as canes to add to their acapella-style beats and some steps are accompanied by additional vocal chants that are unique to each organization, similar to a military-style cadence.
The event provides an opportunity for organizations to show off their unique skills and hallmark characteristics, with groups like Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Inc., who worked their infamous “Sigma wiggle” into their routine.
Each routine’s theme and contents are decided by their organization and take months to prepare. As a step show is a sound-oriented event, performers must be in sync with each others’ movements. This emphasis on collective action is present from the very beginning of the process to the end.
“Our theme for the year was Scooby Doo, and we had a mystery where we were trying to show the missing steppers. We come together during the summer time or spring semester, and everybody throws out ideas. We vote on what we think is going to be the best idea once we finally flesh them out and develop them,” Murry said.
Janna Stewartson, third-year ME and a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. echoed this sentiment, explaining the evolution of the team’s theme.
“It was a whole lot of collaboration. Initially, we started out with a time machine, but then after we went through it and saw what fit, the theme of a genie with three wishes really set in. So that was our theme … we were looking through old Xi Alpha [chapter] history, looking back from 70s all the way to now and they unearthed the genie which gave them three wishes and took them on a journey,” Stewartson said.
Stewartson continued, elaborating on her opinion on what role the Step Show holds at the Institute, placing an emphasis on continuing community.
“This has to be not just one of the biggest NPHC events, but one of the biggest Black events on campus every single year. It’s definitely not just a place for current Georgia Tech students to show what we have going on … but at least for the Xi Alpha chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc. I can see at least 15 different lines coming back to support the current students,” Stewartson said.
Each “line” is comprised of that year’s new members into a Greek organization. In line with Stewartson’s statement, the front third of the auditorium was packed with alumni flashing their organizational garb and calling out unified chants in support of their brothers and sisters as they performed throughout the night.
One such attendee Milan Johnson, BMED ‘19, explained that for her, the Step Show and membership with Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc. is deeper than just a one evening event.
“[My sorority] played a major role in my student life. My mother actually pledged through Xi Alpha, so I grew up around the chapter and it showed me what sisterhood and giving back to the community looked like from a young age. So, when I came to Georgia Tech and got the opportunity to pledge and be a part of this chapter and sorority, it meant a big deal to me following that legacy one, but two to show and prove what a community of Black sisterhood looks like that makes an impact [and] that’s devoted to social justice and maintaining that peace in the Black community,” Johnson said.
Ultimately, Johnson had a simple and straightforward reason for returning to the event, nearly half a decade after her graduation,“I came back because people poured into me when I was in this chapter, so I would like to do the same now that I’ve graduated. Continue to see the younger members … to show up and show out for our chapter.”
Attendee Sharon Daniels of the Chi Tau Omega chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority. Inc., who had no direct connection to the Institute came out simply to “support one of our sorority sisters … one of our church members, who is very near and dear to our heart,” Daniels said.
Others like Eric Lee ISyE ‘02 and a member of Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Inc., traveled out of state from Charlotte, North Carolina to be in attendance.
As the Step Show is only in its 15th year at the Institute, Lee reflected on how the tradition was carried out before it was officially hosted by NPHC.
“There was a step show, it was usually in the spring. But it wasn’t a whole lot of stuff for Black alumni, so when homecoming happened it never really felt like it was for us. Sometimes we would have a little something or
tailgate around OMED [Office of Minority Educational Development]. This feels different though, because this feels like it’s made specifically for us,” Lee said.
With the night coming to an end, the DJ played early 2000s classics, and the different sorority and fraternity lines were allowed on stage to step and stroll to the music, many of whom simply did so by dancing throughout the crowd in single-file lines as the crowd waited for the judges to tally the winner’s scores.
Ultimately Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. and Delta Sigma
Theta Sorority, Inc. emerged victorious, claiming the jumbo-sized check and the bragging rights that accompany first place.
Even amidst the stiff competition, Stewartson acknowledged the show’s ultimate role, “to continue to show that the family is here, the family is always going to be here. We have a long history, although we may be a PWI, we are here and we are present.”
Those looking for more information on the annual Homecoming Step Show and NPHC’s upcoming events can visit their Instagram @gt_nphc.