Stepping to the beat: Phi Beta Sigma hosts homecoming step show

The University of Texas at Arlington Phi Beta Sigma step team took home first place Friday night. Claire Boston | Multimedia Journalist

By Maya Butler | Reporter

The men of Phi Beta Sigma fraternity immersed audiences in the world of stepping with their third annual Royal and Pure Homecoming Step Show Friday night at the Waco Hippodrome Theater.

Greek organizations traveled from all over Texas to participate in the step show competition under the judging of the National Pan-Hellenic Council — the council that governs historically African-American fraternities and sororities. Five NPHC alumni attended the show as judges for the competition and Phi Beta Sigma alum Jabari Jones served as the MC. Hosts Phi Beta Sigma warmed up the crowd by performing a medley of step routines.

Atlanta, Ga., senior and president of the fraternity, John McDonald, described the concept of stepping.

“I describe a step show as the NPHC version of Sing,” McDonald said. “We have a theme, we have a show similar to Sing, but instead of dancing, it’s stepping. Pretty much it’s stomping and clapping to make intricate rhythms, so it comes together for a full show.”

Step-dancing, or stepping, is a “historical form of communication and storytelling” that has become an integral part of NPHC organizations. In it, step dancers use their entire body as an instrument to create complex, rhythmic sounds based on footsteps, clapping and voicing.

McDonald went on to discuss all the effort that goes into perfecting a synchronized stepping routine.

“It takes hours of practice,” McDonald said. “You have to break it up. You may do a full step in maybe 45 seconds, but it can take you like two hours [to practice].”

The acts featured in the competition were the Zeta Phi Beta sorority chapter from Texas Women’s University, the Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity chapter from Texas A&M University and the Phi Beta Sigma chapter from the University of Texas at Arlington, who ended up taking home the first place trophy and a cash prize of $3,000.

While they weren’t included in the competition, the male and female step teams from James Bowie High School in Austin showed off their own step routines for the show. An interactive dance by all the acts, recognized in their Greek letter jackets, served as an entertaining intermission for the show. Two men and two women from the audience were then chosen to show off their dancing skills on stage for a chance to win a cash prize.

All proceeds from ticket sales went towards March of Dimes, the philanthropy for Phi Beta Sigma.

Phoenix, Ariz., sophomore Akanksha Mishra, who is a member of the Asian Student Association step team, revealed what she thought of attending her first ever Royal and Pure Homecoming Step Show.

“My expectations were definitely fulfilled,” Mishra said. “I was expecting to come in for a super-hyped show, and that’s what I got.”

Houston senior Louis Rodriguez, vice president and philanthropy chair of Phi Beta Sigma, discussed the history behind stepping.

“We [Phi Beta Sigma] were created in 1914, so it was in the time when America was still pretty segregated,” Rodriguez said. “It was just a way for African Americans to express themselves.”

The Royal and Pure Homecoming Step Show began when Trevor Thompson, a Phi Beta Sigma member who has since graduated, recognized the lack of a step show on campus and worked to create a new stepping tradition for NPHC organizations during homecoming — an idea modeled by other universities that put together such a show every year.

Phi Beta Sigma reported around 400 people in attendance for the step show’s debut and an estimated 550 its sophomore year. The fraternity booked the venue at the Waco Hippodrome Theater this year in expectation of a large audience (around 700) and anticipates the step show to increase in attendance and gain more prominence in the Baylor community.

While this year’s step show was Rodriguez’s last before graduating, he talked about what he envisions for the future of Phi Beta Sigma.

“Our goal is to be known as one of the best step shows in the south [and] just be a show that everyone really knows about and that makes Baylor unique, NPHC wise,” Rodriguez said.