Sounds of stepping and clapping filled the stage of Lisner Auditorium Saturday night at the Alpha Phi Alpha Step Show, but the rhythm was heard by only half the expected crowd.
Besides catering to mostly empty seats in a 1,500-person venue that was expected to be filled, the eighth annual dance competition also failed to attract half of the acts scheduled to perform.
“People just didn’t follow through with their commitments,” said senior Isaiah Pickens, president of the Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity.
Based on African traditions, step dancing combines a hip-hop beat with foot stomping and clapping to create elaborate rhythms.
Out of seven teams expected to perform, three cancelled two days before the event and one never showed up. Pickens cited a lack of step dance teams in the D.C. area and a long travel time as possible reasons for the low turnout.
“It also doesn’t help that this is President’s Day Weekend, and people wanted to relax,” said Pickens, who added that one of the teams that was a no-show would have had to travel from Atlanta to compete.
Lack of commitment was only part of the problem, however. Last year’s first prize-winning fraternity, Phi Beta Sigma of Moorehouse College, cancelled their performance due to a death in the family. It ended up sending their members from a citywide step team in Philadelphia with one day’s notice.
Despite the challenges faced by a lack of attendance, Pickens said he still considered the night a success. For the first time since it began organizing the event, Alpha Phi Alpha was able to present a District high school senior with a $1,500 scholarship to help cover college expenses.
“I joined the step show because I wanted to give back to the community,” said Reggie Field of the Phi Beta Sigma fraternity said. “I teach and coach in Philadelphia, so doing community service for kids is something I love to do.”
Wendy Pena, a senior from the Lambda Pi Chi Sorority at Johns Hopkins University, expressed a similar sentiment. “Our motto is ‘Latinas promoting community service,’ which is one of the main reasons I joined,” she said.
In addition to walking away with a sense of community, most of the groups left with a prize for their efforts. The Federal City Alumni chapter of Delta Sigma Theta sorority won $1,000 for best overall sorority, with a “hip-hop meets step” theme. The women dressed in 1980s-style sweatsuits and impersonated rapper L.L. Cool J and paid homage to the late Jam Master J.
“We’ve never lost a competition,” said Isis Stanley, a member of the sorority that took first place for the second year in a row. “It takes practice, hard work, and a collaborative effort.”
The citywide alumni chapter of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority earned a $500 prize for top sorority, which is awarded to the runner-up in the competition. Inspired by the reality series “The Apprentice,” these women danced in white business suits with sparkling blue ties. A voice offstage represented the boss, a character played by a young child who fired steppers and later emerged to perform with the group.
The only men in the competition, from the Phi Beta Sigma fraternity, won the $1,000 prize for best overall fraternity.
Alpha Phi Alpha will sponsor another step show next year, but this will be the last one for Pickens, who plans to pursue a doctorate in clinical psychology from Fordham University. He said he is proud of the legacy of service he and his fraternity were able to deliver.
“We transcend all,” Pickens said. “The greatest gift of being an Alpha man is being so involved and being able to do so many things at the same time.”