Article from The Grio — EDITOR’S NOTE: After this piece was published the Atlanta Journal Constitution reported that there was a scoring discrepancy in the Step Off competition and that the Zeta Tau Alpha will now have to share their first place finish with the Tau Chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha.
The blogosphere is abuzz with the news that a white sorority won the first Sprite Step Off, a national step competition sponsored and presented by Coca-Cola that is also a six-episode docu-drama set to be broadcast next week on MTV2. Zeta Tau Alpha (ZTA), the winning organization among the female competitors, began as a women’s fraternity in 1898 and counts ESPN’s Erin Andrews among its members.
Is it surprising that these young ladies hail from the University of Arkansas? Considering there’s a former president, who, until recent years, was praised for his soulfulness, Arkansas is more than knee deep in the finer points of black culture. But then again, that’s always been an unacknowledged fact about the South. At the end of the day, a lot of what makes Southern culture distinctive is deeply rooted in African-based and African American-evolved traditions.
That does little to comfort those who have accused Coke of rigging the competition and blamed television cameras for swaying the vote. What producer can resist the narrative of the underdog? Very few people could have predicted that ZTA would win. For television, such an unlikely outcome is usually ratings gold.
Not everyone has greeted the news of ZTA’s win negatively, however. A lot of the comments found on various blogs are very encouraging in fact. Unlike many of those commenting, I actually attended the Sprite Step Off finals on February 20 in Atlanta. For over a decade, I’ve witnessed step shows in both the North and the South and even caught a performance very reminiscent of stepping in a village in Swaziland in 2005.
ZTA was very impressive and definitely were among the top three female groups competing. My vote, however, would have gone to Indiana University’s Tau chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha. For me, the move where they hoisted one leg on each other’s shoulder while one-leg stepping in full symmetry was a showstopper. While some male step teams have performed this step, it is uncommon to see women do it. Still, it’s a move that impresses regardless of who does it.
Had ZTA been black, many bloggers have asked, would they have won? Probably not, if my opinion counts. Dressing like the Matrix was a no-no but then again the Tau AKAs launching with “Rhythm Nation” was also deficit-worthy. The Tau AKAs, however, made up for this dated move as their performance progressed. ZTA were tried and true, with much of the surprise deriving from the fact that that many white girls were so on point in precision and execution.
However, ZTA winning is not the real travesty. Those familiar with step shows know that there are few winners not racked by controversy. It’s just the nature of the game. The real travesty is there’s no communication of the history of Black Greek Letter Organizations (BGLOs) or the origins of stepping. And mind you, I cheered early Sprite Step Off promos for not prominently displaying Greek letters because I believed that that tactic locked in those familiar with stepping while also engaging those who’ve never heard of it.