Fraternities ‘Stomp’ their way to the film industry

CHICAGO – When Stan Fleming thinks about Alpha Phi Alpha, community service, not stepping, comes to mind.

Fleming, a member of the African-American fraternity, worries that a new movie downplays the civic deeds of black Greek life while playing up its most visible aspect: the syncopated stomps and claps known as stepping.

“My main fear is that people who don’t know anything about black fraternities and sororities will think that all that we’re about is putting on step shows,” said Fleming, of Des Moines, Iowa. “For me, being an Alpha means being a role model.”

Even before its nationwide release last week, “Stomp the Yard,” the first Hollywood depiction of black Greeks since Spike Lee’s “School Daze,” has stirred debate among the 1.5 million members of the country’s nine black Greek organizations.

Most were founded during the early 20th Century at a time when lynching and Jim Crow segregation stalled the social and political advancement of African-Americans. And over the years, the organizations have nurtured a who’s who of Black America – from the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Jesse Jackson, to Rosa Parks and Mary McLeod Bethune.

A few black Greeks have called for a boycott of the film, arguing that it mocks the rich histories of the organizations by portraying them as glorified dance groups. But many support the film due to its positive portrayal of black collegians .

The film’s plot centers on a rebellious college student who introduces street dancing into his fraternity’s step show – highly choreographed performances in which the fraternities and sororities do intricate, rhythmic dance steps in unison.

film’s high-energy depictions of stepping, an art form with African roots.

Some say the film reflects the increasing evolution of stepping as the hip-hop generation joins black Greek organizations and infuses the dance with urban street moves. Others say the movie features more street dance than traditional stepping.

“It would be a travesty if our tradition of stepping on the yard became commercialized, if we stopped stepping and started ‘ dancing’ simply because that’s what sells tickets and wins step shows,” said Andre Lundkvist, an Alpha in California.

Walter Kimbrough, author of “Black Greek 101,” said the organizations should use the attention to educate the public about their social mission.

“Outside of (a hazing incident), black Greeks don’t make the news,” Kimbrough said. “We have to use stepping as a vehicle to get a message out.”