When Cal Poly’s Driven Toward Sisterhood (DTS) took the stage to kick off the evening, members of the audience screamed in anticipation — immediately indicating this would not be a quiet evening.
Driven, a club at Cal Poly devoted to “bridging the gap between all African American women by enhancing the quality of life within the community,” according to their website, acted as hosts for Cal Poly’s first California State step show at the Christopher Cohen Performing Arts Pavilion, Friday night. The evening included step dances as well as other traditional dances such as saluting, strolling, marches, chants and sword dancing.
One of DTS’s members, Kando Ogunrinola said they use their entire body when they step in order to make a beat. When there are more than one people doing it, groups combine voice with rhythmic body movements, she said.
“It’s rooted in African dance,” Ogunrinola said. “Miners used to be chained while they worked, so they would stomp to let people know where they were; it became a form of entertainment. I loved doing each of our skits and getting the audience to interact with us. I was just glad people were entertained.”
The groups performing included Cal Poly clubs, fraternities and sororities as well as two guest groups from other schools. Many multicultural fraternities and sororities participate in stepping to celebrate their new members, to show respect to the older members of the organizations and to compete with other fraternities or sororities, Ogunrinola said.
Ten different groups, including DTS, danced and showcased the history and culture of their organizations for a packed audience. Many of the dances included an element of speech that was carefully synchronized, as were the dance steps themselves. One of the Latino fraternities clashed swords together as they danced to traditional Latin music.
The groups dancing included Cal Poly’s Pilipino Cultural Exchange, Latino fraternities and sororities, black fraternities from visiting schools as well as DTS, who hope to be Cal Poly’s first black sorority. Groups like these are very important to members of underrepresented groups at Cal Poly, Ogunrinola said.
“There’s such a lack of diversity on campus,” she said. “This is a chance for us to get our name out there and get more attention at Cal Poly from people that aren’t white and get some of them to be interested in going to school here, as well as a place to feel safe.”
But the evening spent little time talking about racial issues. Friday was about dancing and getting the audience involved. DTS had little difficulty getting the interest of the audience for the night.
“When I say ‘step,’ you say ‘hard,’” the voices of Driven rang. The audience replied, each time getting louder and louder until the members of Driven were satisfied. This continued throughout the night — at any point that the audience wasn’t cheering or clapping, Driven made sure to change that.
“Hard,” the audience replied. This continued until almost every voice in the room was shouting back at the six women on stage.
Once Driven got the attention of the crowd, they introduced themselves and the rest of the groups performing.
DTS announced the first step group, Pilipino Cultural Exchange (PCE), and a group of about 50 men and women took the stage as their song blasted from all corners of the room. The members, all dressed in red and black, nearly ran into each other as they used every inch of the dance floor. Their moves varied from what looked like slow-motion karate to moves borrowed from Michael Jackson’s “Thriller.”
As soon as the next group took the stage, the variety of styles involved with the step show became apparent.
“Hermanas, march!” the first of six women yelled as they marched onto the stage. Instead of stepping, the six members of Lambda Theta Alpha (LTA), the nation’s first Latina sorority “salute” or stroll, one of the dancers said to the audience. Their salute involved all of the members reciting history about the creation of the sorority, traditions the sisters share, as well as who they are and how they identify themselves.
“We are Latina by tradition, not definition,” they all said together. “We have a bond that will not be broken.”
They then performed a stroll, following a leader around the stage while performing synchronized dance moves. Strolling, or party walking, involves a line of dancers following a leader around the stage, and all of the dance moves are performed in unison, one of the Lambda’s said.
The evening continued with the rest of the eight fraternities and sororities performing dances close to their organizations. Some of the dances had been passed down since the creation of the fraternities, many were newly created.
“The fraternities started creating dances based off of traditional African dances somewhere in the middle of the 20th century,” Ogunrinola said. “These groups have been dancing ever since.”
Although many of these groups have been stepping for decades, this was the first step show to take place at Cal Poly. The center puts on many performances like this throughout the year including dance shows, as well as poetry and spoken word performances. It is responsible for providing a place where students who are a part of underrepresented social groups at Cal Poly can feel safe and do something about the lack of diversity, Bryn Smith, assistant coordinator for the center, said.
“We would like to have more members of these underrepresented groups on campus,” Smith said.
Smith said that events like the Step Show are important to Cal Poly for the students performing as well as anyone who attends them. Since Cal Poly is the least racially diverse of the California State University schools, students can benefit from attending performances like this that they’re not used to attending, she said. Usually when they do, they continue to come back, she added.