Step Show goes from impromptu serenade to tradition

Jocelyn Robinson

The tradition of “stepping” has gone from serenading fraternity sweethearts to dancing in front of thousands. The Step Show as it is known today goes back about 20 years.

“They are a relatively new phenomenon,” Dean of Student Life Howard Bailey said.

After pledge meetings, the young men would stand outside the women’s dorms and sing to their girlfriends and sweethearts.

Members of the black Greek organizations would teach their pledges rhythmic steps to go along with the singing. But in those days, the emphasis was on the singing, not the stepping. And only pledges were required to step.

Western’s first official Step Show was in 1969 with Kappa Alpha Psi’s first pledge class.

In the beginning, the Step Show was held on the sidewalk in front of Downing University Center. Large crowds would gather on the steps to watch the groups perform.

Sororities began taking part in the performances in the early 1980s.

Eventually, Greek organizations started having their pledge classes put on talent shows used as fund raisers. These talent shows evolved into the active members putting on a Step Show, with fraternities and sororities participating.

Crowds at Western eventually grew so large that people began to complain they couldn’t see the performances. Bailey persuaded the organizations to move the show to DUC Theater and charge admission.

“They were very much opposed to that,” Bailey said. “They thought it was a terrible ripoff to charge people to watch an African-American Greek experience.”

The organizations agreed to the change and donated the money to charitable organizations and scholarship funds.

The popularity of the Step Show continued to grow, so the show had to keep moving locations, first to Van Meter Auditorium and later into Diddle Arena.

“It’s a pride thing,” said Louisville senior Candice Johnson of Delta Sigma Theta. “Whoever’s the best gets bragging rights for the rest of the year.”

Lexington senior Lorenzo Suter said that part of the show’s significance is the bond that develops through long hours of practicing for the show.

Suter, president of Omega Psi Phi, said the group practiced two hours a night since the second week of school.

“That makes us come together,” Suter said. “There’s a lot more brotherhood.”