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Interim President Jeff Ettinger inside Morrill Hall on Sept. 20, 2023. Ettinger gets deep with the Daily: “It’s bittersweet.”
Ettinger reflects on his presidency
Published April 22, 2024

Movement, image and sound

The University chapter of the nation’s oldest black fraternity uses a unique form of dance to maintain its traditions

It is not hopping; it is not dancing; it is stepping. And while the University’s Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Inc. step team prepares for their upcoming performance Friday, they are emphasizing the message behind the movement.

Stepping is a choreographed series of dance movements that uses hands, feet, chanting and songs. It is high-paced stomping and clapping in unison. You might have caught a glimpse of it in films such as “Drum Line” and “School Daze,” but to understand its meaning and energy, it is essential to see a live performance.

Each rhythmic motion combines to create a melodic symphony of beats. It is apparent in the facial expressions and physical prowess of the steppers that there is an immense amount of brotherhood, joy and intent behind each movement.

“Stepping does several things: it provides people an opportunity to learn about fraternities; it also helps to promote unity on campus,” Bryan Gilmore, a senior from Pewaukee, Wis., said.

The steps, in essence, are an expression of unity. There is a togetherness that exudes from performances and is portrayed by the fact that no one performer outshines the other, Gilmore said.

Charles Helm, a senior from Racine, Wis., said stepping is more than a form of entertainment; it is an illustration of success and demonstration of potential.

“Stepping is celebration; it’s pride,” Helm said. “We are black men succeeding in higher education.”

Alpha Phi Alpha was the first collegiate fraternity established for black men. It was founded at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., on Dec. 4, 1906. It was also the first black fraternity at the University of Minnesota. The University’s chapter was founded in 1912.

Stepping has been a tradition of black fraternities and sororities for centuries.

Its popularity sprouted during the Black Renaissance period. While stepping is a component of what the Alphas and other black fraternities and sororities do, it is important to know that it is a small portion of what the organizations are about.

Stepping is a way for the men of Alpha Phi Alpha to connect with other black youth. They have step shows for elementary schools and high schools, promoting a message of scholarship, responsibility and success.

“We incorporate the message in our step,” said Cory Croft, a junior from Milwaukee, Wis. “We design the steps around it. When it’s over,

they can still hear the beat and the words and it stays with them.”

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