Regional collegiate teams ‘step’ into the spotlight

On Saturday night, the MainStage of the ’62 Center was packed all the way up to the third balcony with a ticket line stretching out the door for the sixth annual Steady Steppin’ Forward Competition, an event which every year attracts teams from universities across the Northeast to compete. Some previous participants include groups from Princeton, Boston College and NYU. This year, step teams S.O.L.I.D. of Siena, Urban Flava of the University of Vermont and BlackOut of Tufts gathered together to dance it out before judges to determine which group deserved the honor of being awarded first place. The result was a unique performance that had the audience cheering and applauding over and over again.
If you’re anything like me, the first word that comes to mind when you hear “step dance” is “Irish.” But when these groups call themselves “step teams,” they mean something entirely different. In stepping – a dance form begun by African American college students in the mid-1900s – dancers making coordinated movements use their bodies as instruments, creating intricate rhythms and patterns by slapping, clapping, stomping and even speaking.
During the competition, these steppers often performed entirely without music, creating beats of their own. However, this certainly wasn’t the only unconventional aspect of the performance. The MC, Ifiok Inyang ’11, began by “laying some ground rules,” telling the audience, “This isn’t like other performances. I want you to yell if you like something! If you know someone, call them out!” Throughout each number the audience kept up a barrage of applause, laughter and screams of encouragement, creating the atmosphere almost as much as the talented steppers themselves.
As is tradition, the performance opened with the College’s own resident step team Sankofa, which roughly translated from the Akan people of Ghana means “reaching back to move forward.” The intricate rhythms and coordinated movements of these talented steppers made a thrilling introduction to the world of stepping, whetting the appetites of the audience, who screamed and hollered their approval all throughout Sankofa’s performance.
The first group to compete was Siena’s S.O.L.I.D., a talented all-girls group who, dressed in army pants and combat boots, engaged the crowd with quick, exciting beats and cheers of “This right here is S.O.L.I.D!” With their coordination and intensity, the group’s performance set the bar high for the next group, Urban Flava.
University of Vermont’s all-girls group Urban Flava gave another strong, though very different, performance. A much smaller group, Urban Flava’s dance was full of humor from the start, when the steppers rushed out onto the stage dressed as stereotypical nerds (complete with suspenders and thick, oversized glasses), fleeing from a bully who had just stolen one of their lunches. As their performance progressed, the thread of the story continued, following the “nerds” as they stepped to beats while chanting phrases like “Are you ready to rumble?” “I’m making A’s” and “Who says nerds ain’t got no rhythm?”
The final group, BlackOut, was just as impressive as the two that preceded it. An all-male group wearing black suits and ties, the Tufts steppers had the audience applauding from the beginning as they alternated between exciting step routines and hilarious references to popular culture (or as the group themselves called them, “gimmicks”). In one instance, the stepping suddenly stopped in the middle of the performance as one of the group members, wrapping a towel around his waist, proceeded to perform the Old Spice Man monologue, while in another a member confessed his ambition to get “The Situation”-esque abs. The end of their number marked the end of performances for the night – at last it was time to pick a winner.
Although the College’s own team was not in the running for the competition, the excitement of the audience was by no means dimmed as they waited eagerly for the judges to finish deliberating and announce the first, second and third-place winners of the step competition for 2011. The presenters were greeted with a roar of enthusiastic applause as they took the stage one last time.  “In third place … Siena College’s S.O.L.I.D.! In second place … the University of Vermont’s Urban Flava! And that leaves in first place Tufts University’s BlackOut!”
The Steady Steppin’ Forward Competition had an energy that was contagious – the steppers, filled with passion and commitment, put on a memorable show and filled their audience with a supportive and vocal enthusiasm unique to this performance. That auditorium, filled to the third balcony, was a testament to the fact that whenever Sankofa next performs, they should certainly have no trouble finding a crowd!