A call … a response. Pervading tones of chants and song signal the stroll competition at the University of Arizona’s Homecoming is underway.
Sounds of step and stroll — traditions shared by historically Black fraternities and sororities, called the Divine Nine — are distinct and joyous.
“History is passed down through step,” says Tanisha Price-Johnson ’93 ’13, an Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority sister and a volunteer in the University of Arizona Black Alumni Club. “As you become a member of a fraternity or sorority, you recite specific chants and poems, which become a part of the step. It’s a whole art form that includes giving back to the community and principles to live by.”
UArizona’s stroll competition was a much-missed tradition at this year’s virtual Homecoming. It’s a 15-year tradition that began with cooking chicken and waffles at the UArizona Black Alumni tent. “Then we added the stroll competition to include Greek life,” says Price-Johnson.
“The Homecoming tent is about networking — a way of connecting with the Black community — and it’s a favorite of university President Bobby Robbins. He shows up and joins in the activities,” says Keyshia Conner ’03 ’12, a volunteer in the Black Alumni Club. “The band stops by, too, and it’s free for everyone.”
Usually, alumni and friends enjoy camaraderie and food at the tent while waiting with anticipation for the stroll competition.
Strolling, a part of step tradition, is a dance-like art form that involves rhythmic choreography of stomping, clapping, chanting and singing, all in one. Each stroll in the competition is performed to a song or compilation of remixed songs. The Greek chapters that compete have original moves that represent their organization’s values, character and personality.
Strolling can be traced to the early 1900s when Black collegiate organizations incorporated it into the Greek system. Stepping emerged later in the 1940s during Black fraternities’ initiation rituals.
Stepping is similar to strolling, but movement is in formation and includes a signature step, call and move. It shares the history of the organization. The call-and-response rituals of both stroll and step were influenced by hymnal recitation in Black church services. The traditions were a way for organizations to create their own history in times when access to Greek organizations was limited.
Today, Black sororities and fraternities are defined by their step.
According to Price-Johnson, new steps also are added to represent activism and moments in history, such as Black Lives Matter or voting initiatives. And steps can represent lifelong commitment to community service, an integral part of membership in Black sororities and fraternities.
“Our membership is lifelong, and there is an instant connection when you step,” Price-Johnson says.
Conner, who never joined a sorority, always feels welcome while watching and enjoying the Homecoming stroll competition.
“The steps can change the atmosphere. You get it when you hear the call. No matter whether you are a part of the organization or affiliated, it is welcoming to everyone.”