For Joseph Shephard, the dance form known as “stepping” is too much fun for African-Americans not to share.
That’s why “Shock the Yard,” a show started by some of Wichita State University’s historically black fraternities and sororities, is featuring performers from white, Asian and Latino organizations as well.
“This is very big for all historically African-American Greek organizations,” said Shephard, a WSU junior and the show’s emcee. “We want to take it a step bigger and share this with the entire campus.”
“Shock the Yard” takes place Saturday at the Orpheum Theatre. Now in its fifth year, the competition-style show has drawn about 800 people in the past, and organizers are hoping for an even bigger audience this year.
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“It is a very high-energy evening full of fantastic performances,” said Gina Stewart, coordinator of fraternity and sorority life at WSU.
Stepping is usually described as form of group dance in which a participant’s body is used to provide the sound, including spoken words, footsteps and hand claps. Moves and stunts drawn from marching bands, break dancing and a variety of other sources are incorporated into the performance. Although its roots are not precisely known, it’s been a big part of African-American Greek groups since the early 1900s.
WSU’s Multicultural Greek Council, which is made up of seven fraternities and sororities, stages “Shock the Yard.” The competition is broken into two competitions, one in which college groups typically participate and another made up of younger teams (although this year at least one group of high schoolers is trying to win the first division).
Teams from Texas, Oklahoma, Colorado and Kansas State University are competing along with several from the Wichita area.
Many of the multicultural council’s members sponsor youth groups that participate in the show. For instance, Zeta Phi Beta sorority members mentor three groups who will perform – the Pearlettes, Amicettes, and Archonettes, consisting of 30 girls ranging in age from 5 to 18.
“Part of what we try to teach our youth groups is about leadership, teamwork and also giving back to the community,” said J’Vonnah Maryman, an alumni member of the sorority. “ ‘Shock the Yard’ provides an opportunity to exhibit skills in a fun way.”
Maryman said she stepped when she was a WSU undergrad – she’s currently a Sedgwick County Health Department employee working her doctorate at the school – “and it’s a good workout. The beats are different, and the movements are different. It takes a lot of time and energy and practice. I’m good and retired from it now.”
Maryman said the competitive angle of the event is downplayed for younger teams, but the college-age teams definitely try to win by upstaging each other. Last year’s winner, from Colorado Springs, is back attempting to retain its title.
Shephard isn’t just emceeing the show, he’s also coaching the members of Alpha Phi sorority.
“They’re starting from scratch, they’ve never stepped before,” he said. “It’s pretty much a Greek unity thing, coming together to collaborate on an event.”
Alpha Phi member Destiny Meredith, a sophomore from Wichita who’s participating, said her goal “is for everyone to understand that we’re all sisters and brothers. We are really proud that Joseph wants to help us.”
Asked how the team’s routine is coming, she said, “I think we’re doing surprisingly well. We made it simple.”