Written By Jessica Saul
On Saturday, July 27, as the birds where chirping and the sanitation sweepers were coming through, the packing began, and the preparation was started to produce the largest summer National Step/Stroll Championship! For the past year, AOS had been not only fine-tuning the production end of the event, but also been traveling throughout the country teaching, advising and guiding some of the teams in their artistic journey to Nationals.
To understand what makes this show so intriguing and different from others that I have covered one must first understand how it develops. I stepped in two weeks prior, when teams were signing up for slots to be viewed by Professional Judges/Choreographers to ensure that they were “performance ready” for the stage. After the reviews were completed, choreographers were running to their own practices to make sure they were ready to perform on that stage. I requested to sit in on a production meeting and I was really able to witness what they were trying to do. The show was to be streaming live on USTREAM, with a concert-like environment introducing all of the competing teams, followed by a passionate introduction about the history of RISC. When asked by one of the team leaders, “Why so big?”, everyone in the room laughed and simply stated, “It’s an experience.”
RISC Experience: There was a focus on the experience, because the members of production were previous performers/competitors who wanted to create a show that was a reflection of what the teams go through every year when they go to Nationals. They wanted a venue with a respectable, high quality audio and visual production team. New perks were added: from the new VIP Experience that gave VIPs their own concierge service to on-stage interaction with a live Zumba instructor, Sonia Reyna, member of Chi Upsilon Sigma National Latin Sorority, Inc.
OPENING: Hosted by Dennis “Shaheed Swagnificent” Latimer with David “DJ Genesis” Rodriguez, the show began with an opening performance of the Art of Stepping organization which highlighted the status of stepping in the Latino/Multicultural community through an Avengers/DC comic theme, with each performing member portraying the power of coming together to save stepping. Some of the performers consisted members of Lambda Pi Chi, Lambda Sigma Upsilon, Omega Phi Beta and Sigma Lambda Upsilon. At the end of the performance, the AOS Summer Camp, who had been training hard for their performance was introduced as the future of stepping. This was the perfect opening of what was yet to come.
Upon the completion of the 1st performance, Lambda Upsilon Lambda Fraternity, Inc. and a representative from Lambda Sigma Upsilon Latino Fraternity, Inc. took to the stage to accept the trophy for being 2012 RISC National Step Champions. Apparently there was a recount last year and AOS wanted to provide the platform to finally get the prize they earned. Although I was surprised (as I have never seen this before in a step show), I accepted that there are often behind-the-scenes twists with all types of competitions. So I sat back and began to take in what RISC truly was. I was ready to see what this year’s teams would bring to the table.
RISC STEP SHOW: The 1st performance was brought by the brothers of Sigma Phi Rho Fraternity, Inc.. When I say, “brothers” I would like to clarify that there were only two people on the stage and they killed it. These men were not intimidated to be on a national stage and performing in front of their peers on their own. Instead they stepped from beginning to end demonstrating the love of their organization. But was the two-man routine going to hurt them? Precision and synchronization is not as hard as it is with more than 4 people however the competition was still early and there was much more to see.
The 2nd performance was the sisters of Chi Upsilon Sigma National Latin Sorority, Inc.. After seeing their promotional video for RISC, I could tell that this team was waiting, anticipating and had been training for this all year. From their intricate beats, smart use of their uniforms to create beats and the various positions to incorporate the theme from start to finish, I must say I “Remembered the Titans”. However, was the tough routine too tough for them? There were some mistakes in the beginning but the recovery and overall performance was phenomenal. I could feel the story behind this team and wanted to know more.
Two teams down…two more to go.
The 3rd performance was by the brothers of Lambda Upsilon Lambda Fraternity, Inc. The defending National Step Champions were ready to take their place with a larger team this year comprised of new steppers mixed with veterans. They had one of the most complex routines and a well-thought out concept. Additionally the incorporation of some new steppers helped provide a balance. The question is, was their theme too complex? Would it cause the judges to pass them over? It wasn’t the sharpest performance and beats did drop and fall in the midst and start of the routine. However, you could see in their eyes how much they wanted it. Was their desire to win strong enough to win them the championship?
The 4th and final performance was by the defending Back to Back National Step Champions, Omega Phi Beta Sorority, Inc. They ladies started their routine based on “The Illusionist” by reminding us why they are step champions two years in a row. With a much smaller team than before, the routine was sharp and precise. There was one or two drops on beats, but for the most part, theirs was the sharpest and cleanest out of all of the teams. However, I felt they played it a little safe. Would playing it safe cost them the title? We would all have to wait. The fate of the four teams was now in the hands of the judges.
With only four organizations competing against each other in order to keep a 14-year tradition alive, there was time for a break in competition action while the scores were being tabulated. At this time, the audience was able to witness the induction of the Class of 2013 into the Art of Stepping/Strolling Hall of Fame. This honor is given to legendary leaders in the stepping/strolling community who have gone above and beyond to enhance and educate about the art forms. This year the induction included, Dr.Andrea Duhon, Lambda Pi Chi Sorority, Inc., Andres Marrero, Lambda Upsilon Lambda Fraternity, Inc. and Jannira Roman, Hermandad de Sigma Iota Alpha, Incorporada. What was notable about this class is that they were the visionaries of the RISC Stroll Show, a concept developed in 2011 to help provide another avenue for Greeks in creating a show that was a reflection of who they are.
The next presentation was that of the AOS Community Leader Award with a presentation from Junior steppers. This newly-created award is given to a leader in the community who is dedicated in preserving the art of stepping through our younger generation. The 1st time recipient was Loralee Cruz.
The last presentation during the break was an announcement of the AOS Art of Excellence Award in partnership with NALFO (National Association of Latino Fraternal Organizations) which will recognize individuals whose organizations are members of the umbrella organization, for their efforts in the art of stepping/strolling.
AND THE WINNER IS: Upon completion of the presentations, all four competing teams were walked on stage and were recognized as the ELITE 4. If it were not for them, the National Step Championship that has taken place for the past 14 years would have died. After honoring them, the host announced the 1st place winner- Omega Phi Beta Sorority, Inc. A celebratory cheer came from there sisters, as they knew the milestone they had accomplished, which was garnering their 2nd 3 Peat in the National Step Show circuit. It was not an easy task and as a spectator in the audience, I can tell you it could have gone any other way. In the end, it seemed that the judges were looking for clean execution overall.
INTERMISSION: Understanding that this was going to be two shows in one, there was a brief intermission with live performances from upcoming artist BB Bronx who had been a staple for the past two years. Right when I thought I could go grab something to eat, someone came on the stage and began an audience-participation ZUMBA routine. Turned out that she was a sister of Chi Upsilon Sigma National Latin Sorority, Inc. who warmed up the crowd in celebration of National Dance Day. People were grabbed from the audience, the lights were turned on and for two minutes you saw people trying to handle to steps and gasp for air. I have to be honest; it was probably one of the funniest moments to watch thus far.
RISC STROLL SHOW: The show began with a clarification of the rules for the audience. Each organization would have to perform in two rounds. Upon the completion of the two rounds, the judges would chose the top two fraternities and top two sororities who would go head to head for the championship. The winners would be chosen based on their overall score of all three rounds. So what does that mean? You better make sure you kill it in the 1st two rounds, so that by the third you have some cushion points.
The line up began with the fraternities in the following order: Lambda Upsilon Lambda, Iota Nu Delta, Lambda Alpha Upsilon and then finally MALIK Fraternity, Inc. From the start you could tell the men were not playing. There were some interesting costume choices (nerd gear, anyone?) and some smooth moves. I noticed that many of the guys were playing up to the female judges, trying to make them smile and enjoy what was going on on stage. Hey, whatever works, right? I felt that each team had its “moment”, where the crowd cheered them on, whether it was a song choice, a complex move or “a little something for the ladies’. I had my guess for the top two, but was not sure what the judges were looking for.
Immediately following the gentlemen was the sorority competition which came in the following order: Theta Nu Xi, Sigma Lambda Gamma, Chi Upsilon Sigma, Omega Phi Chi and Omega Phi Beta. All I can say each organization got better and better as they went along. I can honestly say that the ladies put more thought into their themes and costumes overall, and some teams even had the hard bouncing moves that the frats displayed. I really enjoyed traveling through the decades of music, felt myself humming a Broadway showtune and had the urge to get up and start dancing. These ladies came to entertain! But who did that the best?
For two rounds the organizations went head to head. Each organization had 92 seconds to demonstrate what they had in front of 7 judges. At the end of the two rounds, it came down to four organizations that would move on. For the Fraternity Division – Lambda Upsilon Lambda and MALIK . On the sorority side: Sigma Lambda Gamma and Omega Phi Beta.
I was curious to see what would happen in the final round, because I felt that all four orgs had really put it all out there during rounds 1 & 2. Yet again, all four orgs did not disappoint, though not all of the performances were what I would call “Round 3-worthy”. The crowd was cheering and clapping, the judges were bopping their heads and the performers were enjoying themselves upon the stage.
Before the winners were to be announced, there was performance from UNITY CLASH III, artistically directed by J-RoMeO, along with the following choreographers La Jon Dantzler, Tavia & Tamara, Rawy “Xonik” Ramirez and Mikala “Mickey” Sakai. This artistic piece is one of the highlights of the night as it combines the dance world with the world of fraternal life. There was a mix of classic, interpretative dance to more modern fusion. To see it all of the pieces come together: step show, stroll show, Zumba and end with dance performance really made this event the RISC Experience.
After Unity Clash III, the winners were announced. Congratulations went to Lambda Upsilon Lambda Fraternity, Inc. and Omega Phi Beta Sorority, Inc. as 1st Place Champions and as 2nd Place Champions – MALIK Fraternity, Inc. and Sigma Lambda Gamma Sorority, Inc.. In my opinion, all four organizations did an amazing job.
When they were announced, the audience finally got up and celebrated. A mixture of new faces and old could be seen, letters of various organizations gathered together and glow sticks of various colors waved in the air. Children ran from their seats excited to meet the winners and great their fellow brothers/sisters who they had seen perform. Live on Ustream from Eqypt to Latin America, people watched one of the most anticipated shows of the year. They watched not only because they wanted to see who would win, but also because they wanted to see the creativity in what would be brought on the stage. As I walked away and passed the staff, they asked me, “Did you enjoy the RISC Experience?” All I could do was turn around and be proud to see how Latino/Multicultural stepping/strolling has grown so much. To see it on a national stage broadcast around the world, I could only say “Yes. This was truly an experience.”
To all of the organizations that competed this year, I would like to thank you for bringing the excitement and passion to the stage that your organizations are known for. And we can only hope for an even better RISC Experience 2014, if that is even possible! To Art of Stepping Staff/Production/Volunteers and Remo thank you for the invitation and allowing us to be part of the experience.