Jessica Saul, 33, has been “stepping” ever since she was a freshman at Herbert H. Lehman High School in the Bronx, NY — and she says she doesn’t see herself ever stopping. The young Latina started the Art of Stepping Foundation, which recently produced its third annual national RISC Step/Stroll Competition.
More than 1,200 people attended the sold out two-day event held in New York City’s Columbia University. Seven teams, consisting of members of Latino, Asian, and African American fraternities and sororities, had minutes to prove to the judges they were the best at storytelling on the stage.
“I think we have originality and our style is different than most,” says Josmery Brito, stroll captain of Omega Phi Beta Sorority, champions of women’s step and stroll competitions. “We’re known to be tough badasses that break barriers. We’re not going to dance how ‘we’re supposed to dance’ — that’s what set us apart.”
She says she is so happy to be able to take part in something she really loves every day. In addition to training for her sorority’s competition, she also teaches step and dance for a living.
“It takes a lot of creativity and hard work,” says Brito, 25, who began preparing the dances for the competition three months before. “I love the showmanship, the stage presence, and the creativity it takes to put together. It’s usually a 3-round competition and a different theme each round.”
Saul explains that stepping creates sound by using your body as a tool, either by dancing, clapping, or using your voice, while strolling utilizes sound. In other words, you use the music to dance in unison – usually the team performs in one line.
“I don’t think a lot of people know the roots,” says Hector Lugo, Captain of Lambda Sigma Upsilon Latino Fraternity’s winning step team, about his sport of choice. “It was a form of communication among slaves. I’m Dominican so I have some ancestors who were Taino slaves.”
African-American students were the ones who brought stepping to the forefront in the college market, according to Saul. However, there has been a growth spurt among Latinos. According to the Art of Stepping Professional Members, which is 90 percent Latino, they started with 9 members in New York, and this year alone the group has grown to more than 60 members in California, Florida, New York, Illinois, Indiana and New Jersey.
“You see it hitting the mainstream market now,” says Saul, who also works teaching step to children as a way to combat childhood obesity. “It’s growing in popularity among a lot of fraternities and sororities.”
“She says she feels the recent surge of Latinos in stepping/strolling is opening the doors for other cultures too.
“We have had our first Asian fraternity dance this year,” says Saul.
Nino San Andres, 26, and captain of Sigma Lambda Beta’s stroll team, says nationality doesn’t matter when it comes to strolling or stepping.
“It’s all about the dedication, passion, and will to create winning performances for the art of dance and ultimately the love for our brotherhood,” says San Andres, who has been strolling for four years.
Hector Lugo says he thinks it’s a great art that can entertain people. It’s difficult to do, however.
“I think Latinos have revolutionized it,” says Lugo. “We’ve added our own flavor to it just by doing it.”
Saul says she wants stepping/strolling to become a place where Greeks can come together.
“I want them to understand that this is their history,” she says. “It’s a platform for artistic expression. We want to open the doors to up-and-coming dancers.”