A room with a center stage, overflowing with guests, music, chanting, and stomping. Excitement filled the atmosphere. Last Tuesday evening, the fourth floor of the campus center was host to a stroll off, a major dance competition between Greek organizations.
This stroll off was the first major competition in about four years, the last one occurring early in the fall 2012 semester. This is the first year that a stroll off has been advertised as a part of Homecoming Week. Six organizations from the National Panhellenic Council (NPAC), Phi Beta Sigma, Alpha Phi Alpha, Alpha Kappa Alpha, Delta Sigma Theta, Zeta Phi Beta, and Sigma Gamma Rho, danced for a prize of $250 and a trophy.
A stroll off is a form of competitive, choreographed group dance that incorporates bodily percussion, common among historically black fraternities and sororities. Spectators may notice whistles in the mouths of group leaders, which are used to keep pace. Teams use props, uniforms, chants, and symbols alongside music to convey their message while entertaining the crowd.
“A stroll off is basically where the historically black Greek organizations do a lot of traditional strolling, and strolling is like, a combination of dance moves and a combination of fraternity movements, whether it be throwing signs or doing different gestures,” Nicholas Curry, a member of Phi Beta Sigma, said.
Stroll offs are all about representation, both as individuals in a group, and as groups in a larger association.
“It’s kind of a trademark for each organization. Each organization can express themselves, we can differentiate between each organization,” Jaron Kiki, vice president of administration and Alpha Phi Alpha member, said.
Unlike many other dance competitions, there was an emphasis on audience participation, be it cheers or dancing while the judges made their final decision. Team sizes varied from over a dozen to as small as five members, but it did little to affect the performances and final outcome. Wardrobe and performance time were also unrestricted. Alpha Kappa Alpha women strutted their stuff in high heels in the second round.
Each of the three rounds had its own unique music: ‘90s, slow R&B, and a wildcard. Teams could use whatever medley of songs they wanted as long as they fit the category. Some songs, like “Tootsee Roll” by 69 BOYZ and “Promise” by Ciara, saw multiple uses from different groups.
“We wanted to mix it up a bit. The majority, probably 90 percent of the students here, right here in this room, are ‘90s babies, so why not incorporate when we were born?” Ayana Thomas, member of Delta Sigma Theta and the National Panhellenic Council, said. “We gave organizations the option to go ahead and express themselves with their music, their dances.”
Stroll offs and smaller yard shows are a significant part of black Greek life, but the dancing itself dates back centuries to African roots.
“There’s a lot of history. It signifies each organization … How we stand out from each other, but as NPAC, how we come together as one,” Thomas said.
As with all public performances, nervousness and excitement are infectious. Some groups worked on their routines for months, while others only had a week’s worth of free time to practice.
“The butterflies in your stomach, that’s kind of what I get. But, I’m excited to do it because we’ve been working so hard on it, so I’m ready to show them and get it over with,” Fatima Gunn, a member of Zeta Phi Beta, said.
Participants were happy to receive support and such a large turnout that there were more people than chairs and those who came late were turned away.
“It’s always good to get people from campus to interact,” Krystian Davenport, a member of Alpha Phi Alpha, said.
After the chants, the costume changes, and the occasional acrobatic feat came the final judgement. Although each group gave everything they had for almost two hours straight, two runner-ups and a winner were crowned. Third place went to Delta Sigma Theta, second place went to Sigma Gamma Rho, and first place went to Phi Beta Sigma.
As the first stroll off to be featured as a part of Homecoming Week, there is hope that the NPAC will have more major events in the future.