Absinthe Wu, Contributing Photographer

On Saturday, Feb. 2, UR lost Strong Auditorium to a rhythmic invasion.  The stage shook, the air rang, and the building — though just shy of a full house — pulsated. Fresh faces mixed with UR students, uniting in the meticulous, rowdy art of step dancing flung on the stage for the University’s tenth annual Step Show: “Step Up or Step Aside,” a celebration of unity and diversity sponsored by the Black Students’ Union. The show was a spike of groovy exuberance that, for two-and-a-half hours, bashed all traces of dullness from the campus scene.

The show began late, but at little cost to the overall experience.  Though the audience had to wait an extra 30 minutes for tardy teams to file into the auditorium and set up backstage, the atmosphere within Strong was so unrecognizable that it alone was a deliverance from the ails of boredom.  Gone were the formalities of Orientation to be replaced by a grand mellowness, charged through with the sounds of today’s hip-hop and rap culture.  Beyoncé and Lil Wayne shared a play queue with the likes of Big Sean and Rihanna, pumping pure, distilled chill over the auditorium seats.

Once all the competing teams were in line, the hosts took the stage.  Their energetic banter fostered mild delight, but the audience was restless for the show to begin.  After an awkward attempt at stirring up the crowd (“Rochester we steppin’!” was the beloved catchphrase), the stage cleared out and the lights dimmed. It was finally time to step.

First up was UR’s own all-female step team Xclusive, clad in black shirts and camouflage fatigue shorts.  The theme was military, and the drill sergeant was Sergeant Big Booty, apparently a common name among the hip-hop persuasion. In becoming with their theme, the ladies in Xclusive kept their faces straight and their movements sharply aggressive, chopping and stamping with fierce resolve.  What began a simple, orderly arrangement quickly progressed into more complex and staggered rhythms which, coupled with the austere costuming, amounted to a striking visual style.  At times, individual members took turns leading off dance sequences, giving the impression of a wholesome team dynamic.

The G-Steppers of SUNY Geneseo took stepping in a wildly different direction, infusing the conventional hip-hop swagger with an almost Broadway theatricality.  The steppers were not so much dancers in a regimented routine as characters in a story production. Fairy-tale idyll and rustic garb manifested a Dickensian world upon the stage, and the choreography evoked a lineup of song and dance numbers.  And yet, through it all, the G-Steppers never lost sight of stepping, and their technique boasted both poise and precision.  One particularly impressive formation set to “Tomorrow” from the musical “Annie” began in a single-file line and effervesced into a flurry of limbs in motion.

The ladies (and gentleman) of the predominantly female University at Buffalo Step Troupe (UBST) were up next, bringing the boisterous courtroom of the honorable Judge Booty into session.  White shirts, black ties, and tight shorts comprised the visual aesthetic, and the stepping was similar but slightly superior to Xclusive’s choreography.  As of 2012, UBST held the competition title, a fact that showed through in the group’s beautifully synchronized rhythms, even if the organization of the entire performance felt somewhat uninspired.

After UBST lay down step law for a few numbers, Destiny Desgouttes (DD) took over, establishing its reign with an abundance of color and camp.  Hailing from Monroe Community College and Finger Lakes Community College, DD reveled in hip-hop dance.  The group popped and shimmied its way around the stage, upping audience enthusiasm to new heights. As competitors in a step show, the group could have incorporated more stepping into its routine, and the performance felt a bit disheveled at times, but overall DD’s intoxicating energy neatly offset any sense of disorganization.

Following a brief intermission, UR’s Indulgence continued the show’s hip-hop run, as the group’s very mission statement is to promote hip-hop culture. This entailed a myriad of light effects and showman’s swagger, and that was what the audience got.  Indulgence’s performance could have been “Destiny Desgouttes Extreme”: messier in rhythm and choreography but even more unhinged and fun-loving.  Like DD, many of the group’s dance sequences lacked actual stepping, but their performance raced by with its infectious vigor.

Buffalo State’s Xquizit Moverz came next, dressed in mock-formal, purple bowties and matching black uniforms in the hopes of playing students in a class for their routine. Really though, the stagy setup was unnecessary because the group hardly incorporated the classroom theme at all, and when it did, the result felt heavy-handed.  Compared with the other troupes, Xquizit Moverz demonstrated passable technique but fell short on creative design.

Last up were the Wilson Pearls, the only high school team vying for the title. With a theme of Mental Asylum, their performance was appropriately eerie.  Out of all the competitors, the Pearls invested the most in artistic presentation; theirs stood head and shoulders above the others’ in terms of sheer elaborateness.  The lights flashed harshly white, a slideshow in the background cycled through a montage of the psychologically condemned at their worst, and a cage housing a trio of young girls squatted ominously at one corner of the stage. The Pearls themselves were slathered with gothic makeup and danced with zombie-like movements, arms stiff to their sides as one bound by a straitjacket.  Though uneven, the sheer audacity of the entire sprawling production overwhelmed most of the flaws in the Pearls’ performance.

After a rather tedious segment in which Greek life representatives promoted their respective fraternities or sororities through dance, the winners were announced.  UBST came in third, Destiny Desgouttes second, and the Pearls took the title.  Props to DD and the Pearls for making the cut, but I would have swapped UBST for the G-Steppers’ charmingly original flair.  Either way, it was a battle well fought and one dynamite show.

Jeng is a member of the class of 2016.

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