Eleven multicultural fraternities and sororities competed in the largest step show Saturday night for $100,000 in scholarship money and boundless bragging rights. The night also included performances from celebs Ciara and Wale.
The sisters of Delta Sigma Theta at Clark Atlanta University, who came in third last year, took the win at the second annual Sprite Step Off competition, held at the Show Place Arena in Upper Marlboro, Md.
"It was a movie moment for me," said team member Amber Eddings, 21. "It went in slow motion and then he [a judge] said that first syllable and it started with a 'D,' and I knew he was going to call us. We went insane."
Eddings said the team's "Pinocchio" theme, was about "puppet divas who wanted to lose their strings and become real-life divas." As the 10-minute performance progressed, the dancers came to life, she said.
Among the fraternities, Alpha Phi Alpha of Ohio's Central State University nabbed the grand prize for the second year in a row.
"The first step is to entertain the audience, and if you do that you don't have to worry about the win," said Carlito Gilbert, 27, the team's choreographer. "We had so much confidence in ourselves, in our show."
The team went with a church theme, in which some members were dressed as old men with chalked-on beards, with others as youngsters. The performance's humor, Gilbert said, came from the "old men being very old and doing these steps that young men were doing, but better." After every step, the aged men would feign pain in their backs.
"I would just tell them to go out there and do what they do with passion and with love and excitement and energy and just have fun," Ciara said before the show.
Step dance is rooted in African- American traditions and combines the flexibility of dancing with the precision of marching.
A fundamental part of the competition was the volunteerism that resulted from Sprite's partnership with the Boys & Girls Clubs of America. To enter the competition, each team had to submit a video highlighting their step routine and a description of how the team engages in community service.
"...Stepping is not only what you see on stage… a part of what they do is give back," said Eric Liley, vice president of Marketing and Communication for the Boys & Girls Clubs of America.
"Our grandparents stepped; our parents were in fraternities and sororities," he said. "It's a natural synergy over time that the kids can relate to, so when they hear about stepping, it's a form of entertainment and creative expression."
The participating teams visited the local Boys & Girls Club in their areas, and the finalists stopped by the D.C. chapter to donate more than 50 books and present a $4,500 check.
"We have an opportunity to put college students, many of them graduates, in front of our kids," said Adam Guy, director of Sports and Entertainment for the Boys & Girls Clubs of America. "They're positive role models."
Shawn Dixon, 34, of Upper Marlboro, brought his son to the show as he said it would be an "inspiration for him to go to college and to move forward in life."
The fraternity and sorority members mentored the students and even taught them steps.
"You can't really put value on making an impact," Eddings said. "You know that's what the kids will remember as they grow older."
Gilbert said he told the students to "be cool, but at the same time be serious about college and the next stage of life."
The regionals had kicked off March 19 in Charlotte, N.C. and continued through New York, Atlanta, Los Angeles, Houston and Chicago. The winning fraternity and sorority from each region made it to the nationals.
Among the sororities, the University of Houston's Delta Zeta Sorority took second place to win $25,000 for the team. The Sigma Gamma Rho's of the University of Illinois at Chicago came in third place, winning $15,000.
As for the fraternities, Morehouse College's Alpha Phi Alpa came in second place and Virginia State University's Omega Psi Phi took third.