Ken Fennal, a member of the Cheltenham chapter of Kappa Alpha Psi, describes Stepping as a cultural dance form, originating in Africa, which celebrates African- American history.
It is traditionally associated with African-American fraternities and sorties, beginning in the mid-1900s, from which school pride competitions, among the Step teams, arose.
Fennal further described Stepping as bravado without the anger, in which a team of dancers uses their bodies to perform tightly choreographed, complex rhythms and sounds through a mixture of footsteps, spoken word and handclaps.
Stepping can also be wildly energetic.
“It expresses joy and excitement,” Fennal said. “You could feel the vibrations in the balcony and hear their cheers echoing.”
The Greater Norristown Police Athletic League (GNPAL) held its third-annual Step Show, on the evening of April 6, filling its gymnasium with 75 high-school Step dancers from around the Delaware Valley, and nearly 200 of their cheering supporters.
According to Fennal, who is also the GNPAL Programs director, while the Step shows and competitions have been held in and around the Philadelphia area, GNPAL was the first to organize such an event in Montgomery County.
He said that the five high school-aged Step teams all have mentors associated with traditionally Black Greek fraternities and sororities, as each organization has a youth mentoring program. As such, Fennal said that having a Step show at GNPAL was a natural fit.
“There is a focus on mentoring at PAL, not necessarily Greek, but [Stepping] ties in with our mission,” Fennal said.
Growing with Each Step
The April 6 GNPAL Step Show is technically the fourth-annual event, but, Fennal explained that its inaugural year was cancelled due to lack of participation from Step teams. However, with each proceeding year, Fennal described a growing interest as he began tapping into the vast network of the black fraternity and sorority communities.
In previous years, local college and high-school aged Step teams demonstrated their routines for exhibitions or engaged in a Party Walk. This year marked the first time the GNPAL hosted Step competitions, which included the teams:
- Central High School’s Lady Lancers
- Enon Tabernacle Baptist Church’s Enon Elite
- Imhotep Institute Charter School
- Mastery Charter School’s Diamond Step Team
- Pi Chapter of Phi Kappa’s Kudos/Xinos
The judges for the competition were Denise Marie Snow of Zeta Phi Beta, first anti-basileus of Kappa Omega Zeta; ad Wanda Graham, Scoaial Action chair of Delta Zigma Theta of the Valley Forge Alumnae.
Fennal said the routines were judged on skill, presentation and overall performance. The judges were specifically basing their scores on the teams’ intro and exit, vocal clarity, originality, complexity, synchronization, appearance and crowd appeal.
First place went to Enon Elite, second to Diamond Step Team, third to Imhotep Institute Charter School.
Each of the teams received a trophy, and a special participation trophy was given to a West Chester University colony, which is a newly forming sorority or fraternity.
Fennal said that interest for the annual GNPAL Step show should continue to grow, and expects at least three more high-school age Step teams to participate next year, including teams from Girls High School in Philadelphia, Chester High School and a second team from Mastery Charter School.