With no music to guide them, the D.O.P.E. Steppers at Ithaca College stomped their feet, clapped their hands, chanted call-and-response phrases, and hit their chests and legs to create a precise, unified rhythm with just their bodies.
The group’s name stands for Dedicated, Overachieving, Precise, and Entertaining, and that definition showed as the team took the stage at Step Fest, a celebration of dance for Black History Month.
The origins of step-dance come from African foot dances, but the style has other influences too.
“The stepping tradition in the United States grew out of song and dance rituals practiced by historically African-American fraternities and sororities in the 1900s,” said Mariel Marshall, captain of the D.O.P.E. Steppers. “Mix in WWI and WWII veterans-turned-students for military precision and throw in elements from the ever-evolving culture of hip-hop, and you have the art form as we know it today.”
Step Fest also showcased other forms of music and dance influenced by African cultures. The event featured guest performances from Pulse (a hip hop team), Ground Up Crew (a breakdance team), Island Fusion (an Afro-Caribbean dance team), and IC Beat Boxing.
“I value the platform to perform because I love the energy the audience gives me,” said Sabrina Knight, a member of Ground Up Crew. “Especially when I hit a skill I’ve been working on.”
Marshall is also hooked on the performing aspect of dance. “It inspired me to channel my energy into something productive,” she said.
Dance has the unique ability to unite people, despite how similar or different they may seem. Both Ground Up Crew and the D.O.P.E. Steppers saw this at Step Fest.
“Ground Up Crew is about more than breakdancing—we celebrate many aspects of hip hop culture, which for us includes supporting other ALANA student organizations,” Knight said. “Being a part of Step Fest gave us the opportunity to showcase our talents and demonstrate our perspective of the breakdancing culture outside of our typical environment of b-boys and b-girls”
The D.O.P.E. Steppers also valued the opportunity to connect with both the audience and with other organizations.
“We are now getting more invites to perform in other groups’ events,” Marshall said. “The knowledge of the existence of the step team is limited. Some even call us ‘the stomp team.’ The Step Fest event was a great way to show people that we are still around and better than ever.”
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