On Saturday, the Black Students’ Union stomped out Winterfest with its 8th annual Unity Step Show. Four college and five high school step teams from the upstate region brought Strong Auditorium to life last Saturday afternoon with three hours of soulful stomp routines that were loud enough to pierce through the auditorium’s Fort Knox-styled doors.
BSU’s Unity Step Show is hosted annually as a means for high school and college talents to connect through the cultural phenomenon of stepping. In the spirit of unity, the event also encourages high school students to pursue a college education in Rochester. This year, admissions representatives from UR and Rochester Institute of Technology hosted panels titled “Getting into College” and “Successfully Managing College.”
“Unity” is a timeless feel-good catchphrase that everyone can Kumbaya about over Winterfest s’mores, but Saturday was also about bringing home recognition. The four high school teams — the defending team the School of the Arts Boys, School Without Walls, Wilson Pearls and the Archonettes, a team from Buffalo-stomped it out for $250 and a determination award. The big kids — Syracuse University’s Black Reign, SUNY Geneseo’s G-Steppas, The College of Saint Rose’s Alanna Steppers and last year defending champions, Buffalo State — battled for a $1,000 grand prize. The performances were judged by four panelists, including the Office for Minority Student Affairs’ Thomas Crew and Class of 2009 and former BSU president Ashley Clarke, who tabulated points based on creativity, strength, emotion and synchronicity, among other things.
For those who attended last year’s Unity Step Show, memories of Buffalo State’s controversial victory over Black Reign still lingered. But in this year’s anticipated rematch, Buffalo State clearly came in to the competition with the intent of rinsing out the sour taste they left on Strong.
Indeed, Buffalo was able to make adjustments to what most people saw as the greatest flaw of their 2010 performances — this year, there was more stomping and less performing. As opposed to the long and draining skit that they incorporated into their 2010 routine, Buffalo toned down the theatrics. This year, the Buffalo State performed a “Thriller”-style routine with stomping corpses and preppy student attire.
But Black Reign was still able to give Buffalo a run for its money. With a step routine that included two mad scientists and their genetically engineered Barbie step team, some fans remained loyal to Black Reign. Although Buffalo was able to squeeze a close victory, a majority of the audience was not as displeased as they were with last year’s decision.
“I think that UB is definitely much more into the theatrics and giving their audience a show, but I really enjoyed the performance by Black Reign better, both this year and last year,” sophomore Janise Carmichael said. “Although I am upset that they did not win this year, I am much less disappointed, because I actually did enjoy UB’s performance.”
But Unity was not completely free of controversy. The judges’ decision to grant the pajama-bedecked School without Walls the cash prize raised a lot of eyebrows.
“I had no understanding of how the judges decided upon the team that won,” junior Angela Ketterer said. “I just felt that there were at least two better choices for who should have won, and there are a number of other students who I think would agree. I personally fell in love with the Pearls from Wilson [who performed a Janet Jackson styled step routine]. As soon as those ladies walked on the stage, they commanded all of my attention.”
Perhaps the most memorable part of their routine was a weave incident- two performers stomped so hard that their weave propelled in helicopter formation, which elicited a chorus of “ahs” and hysterical laughter throughout Strong.
“No comment,” a visibly shocked junior, Kindred Harris, said after seeing the piece float to the stage floor.
The audience was most pleased about the defending champs, the School of the Arts Boys, taking home the determination award. No other team was able to demand so much attention and stomp as hard as SOTA (granted that they were the only all male team).
Aside from the actual competition, the hosts did a fine job of getting the crowd involved during halftime and before the announcement of the winners. Hosts, class of ‘09’s Rob Manson, also known as DJ Wavvy, and BSU President Charlene Cooper, called all kids to the stage for a Dougie competition. Despite the one “kid” who was clearly twice the age of her six to nine-year-old competition, the segment drew smiles and cell phone snapshots from around the stage.
The only thing that was missing from the show was an ordinary intermission. The so-called intermission was not a break from the show, but another spectacle in and of itself. In laymen terms, no one wanted to leave for a bathroom break or a Starbucks Espresso when RIT’s hip hop dance team, Velocity, came out on stage with high energy. And surely no one had the audacity to walkout on Indulgence’s roof raveling 2011 Rhythm Nation ensemble — yet another lively performance that has become trademarked to the ever-expanding hip-hop dance team.
“I loved Indulgence’s performance,” Carmichael said. “I saw them at the Rochester Revue and it seemed that they had a difficult time making the formations work because they had so many members this year, which is great. But they really made it work this time, and I loved the tribute to Janet.”
The Unity Step Show is more than just an ordinary stepping expo; it is a nostalgic experience for those of us who attended high schools in urban settings. As the audience would call out the performers’ names and yell out random comments, I could not help but re-imagining myself in my high school auditorium five years ago. There is simply no other event on the River Campus where college students from across Central New York and the Rochester City School District can share a stage and bump to music in-between every performance. No matter when there was down time, intermission or a delay, there was always someone ‘Dougying’ it out or “Getting Light” in the side aisles.
Unfortunately, Unity only happens once a year, and our University does not have its own step team. In the meantime, I encourage anyone who has not experienced a step show for themselves to venture into RCSD or to ask a member of BSU for future local events.
Nathaniel is a member of the class of 2011