Tradition and dance: NPHC Step Show going strong after over 30 years

Oct. 21 will showcase the continuance of a tradition dating back over 30 years. An annual evening of entertainment, the National Pan-Hellenic Council Step Show is highly anticipated by the traditionally Black Greek organizations on campus popularly known as the Divine Nine, who will compete in the event at the Coleman Coliseum. 

The eight chartered Divine Nine organizations on the University of Alabama’s campus — Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc., Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc., Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc., Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc., Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Inc., Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc., and Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority, Inc. — will come together to put on their annual step show, a highly anticipated event hosted by the NPHC. 

“Stepping is an expressive performance art that also functions as a ritual of group identity,” said Yechiel Peterson, a senior majoring in African American Studies and nursing. He’s also the vice president of the NPHC and member of Alpha Phi Alpha. “It’s how we represent ourselves,” he said.  

Stepping is a form of percussive dance that is a well-known facet of Black Greek culture. Each year, UA’s NPHC organizations come together to perform choreography and compete against one another.  

Stepping originated within the Black community as a means of expression during slavery around the 18th century. During the mid-20th century, historically Black colleges and universities began to use stepping to induct members into the Black Greek organizations. Around the 1970s, Greek shows with step competitions became popular in NPHC organizations and led to the step shows seen today. 

To Peterson, stepping is more than just a type of dance, especially on Alabama’s campus.  

“Coming to the University, I didn’t know how big of a platform the University would give diverse programming,” Peterson said. “And so, I think that was really my main concern because there were a lot of events that the University holds but as far as representation for myself, I don’t see very many.”   

Peterson said he found a community within NPHC through the step show and wants to help others do the same.  

“If I could actively get hundreds of people together to enjoy themselves, watch a performance and display their Greek unity, what else could you ask for?” Peterson said. Thats what I’m here for. To be that representation at a predominantly white institution, it’s hard. I feel like the step show is that sense of community that we don’t get often, that’s the piece that I will fight hard every year to make it the best it can because it’s our experience.” 

Carrigan Collins, a sophomore majoring in criminal justice and a member of Zeta Phi Beta, will be performing in the step show for the first time this year, and is excited for the students to see what she and her sisters have been working on for the last month.  

“We’ve been practicing really hard, and I feel like we all collectively think that we’re going to put on a great performance,” she said.  

Collins discussed how much stepping means to her family, many of whom are members of Greek life as well.  

“I know it means a lot, particularly to my sister, who’s also a member of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority Inc. She’s watching me do a lot of the things that she did when she was in her early years of being Greek. She’s going to cry,” Collins said. 

Cameron Smith, a senior majoring in public health and the president of Alpha Kappa Alpha, said she’s excited to see the creativity of each organization expressed in this year’s theme.  

“The step show is important to me because it allows all members of the Divine Nine community to showcase the culture behind our organizations. It also allows us to come together as a community, pay homage, and celebrate, what makes us unique,” Smith said.   

CJ Byrd, a senior majoring in creative media, is a member of Omega Psi Phi and a first-time performer.  

“The step show is a way to get Black students involved in Black culture. It unites them in a unique way. For Greek organizations, it provides us an opportunity to show them what Black UA is all about,” Byrd said.  

Although he’s excited about the opportunity, Byrd said he still finds himself getting nervous about his performance.  

“It’s a little nerve-racking. The thought of performing in front of hundreds of people is very unnerving. But ultimately in the end it’s going to be an unforgettable experience,” he said.  

The organizations will compete against each other by coming up with a stepping routine that adheres to the theme set by the NPHC – this year’s theme is movies. The teams will go one at a time, and a winner will be announced at the end — one sorority and one fraternity. The judges of the event are picked by each organization for a total of eight judges.   

The doors open at 7:30 p.m.