Part choreographed dance, part free-wheeling foot-stomping, hand-clapping, spoken-word performance, the traditionally African American art of stepping is experiencing a surge in popularity with Latino fraternity and sorority members on college campuses across the country.
“Stepping gives us an opportunity as Latinos to tell our story,” says Jessica Saul, president and CEO of Remo Production Inc. and former leader of the Soul Steppin’ Divas, the national step team for Omega Phi Beta sorority. “The minute you step on stage you are defining yourself.”
In 2007, the Divas were the first Latina step team in history to enter and win a previously all Black national step competition.
The growth parallels that of the Latino Greek system, whose membership has swelled the past few years.
Today, according to Juan Guardia, Vice Chair of NALFO, the National Association of Fraternal Latino Organizations, Latino fraternities and sororities are expanding “very rapidly. In the last 10 years the Latino Greek system has expanded by as much as 50 to 75 percent.”
According to Guardia, the oldest Latino Greek letter organization is Phi Iota Alpha Fraternity Inc, established in 1931. He said, "It wasn’t until 1975 when the first Latina sorority was established, Lambda Theta Alpha Latin Sorority, Inc. and also Lambda Theta Phi Latin Fraternity, Inc., but they are not the first."
The University of Texas at Austin had four Latino fraternities and sororities on campus in 2000, and has tripled that to twelve today. In Florida, Florida State University doubled their Latino fraternities and sororities in the last two and a half years. Lambda Sigma Upsilon fraternity Inc. was the first Latino fraternity and Lambda Theta Alpha Latin sorority Inc. was the first sorority to be established at the University of Georgia when they became officially recognized in 2006. There are now six Latino fraternities and sororities on campus.
No single person has had a bigger impact in popularizing Latino stepping than Saul. Known as “Remo,” she is the creator of the how-to program “The Art of Steppin’,” which brings together Latino fraternity and sorority members from all over the country, encouraging them to learn techniques, choreography, and discipline from one another for the purpose of progressing the art-form.
“You can actually teach young Latinos salsa through the art of stepping,” Saul says. “It gives us an opportunity to teach our culture to our kids without us losing it through the generations.”
Stepping is not the only form of expression used by young Latinos. Some fraternities and sororities have adopted two other original genres called strolling and saluting.
Strolling is referred to as a “party-walk” where Latino fraternities and sororities showcase themselves and their culture with a dance routine set to a mix of traditional merengue, salsa, or cumbia and mainstream music.
Saluting is a military-style showcase combining rigid movements and fierce yelling. José Hernández, a student at the University of Georgia and member of the Lambda Theta Phi Fraternity, affectionately calls it “poetry in motion.”
Hernández says it was seeing a saluting show on campus that first ‘sparked his interest’ in joining a Latino fraternity.
He now participates in community outreach performances for Latino high school students and their parents. Speaking in both English and Spanish, the fraternity members answer questions about the college process and the importance of education.
“I was shaking after the show,” said Hernández a student at the University of Georgia and member of Lambda Theta Phi Fraternity Inc. “It’s an overwhelming surge of pride of who we are and where we come from.”