History of The Art of Stepping
The Art of Stepping is defined as a style of dance that utilizes the body as its instrument to produce rhythms & sounds through hand claps, footsteps, and spoken word. Moreover, its history can be traced back more than a century to cultural dance traditions derived from the continent of Africa. Historians most reference the “Gumboot Dance” style from the gold mines of South Africa, its birthplace.
FOUNDATION OF STEPPING: ”Gumboot Dance” is proudly South African where it originated in the gold mines during the 19th Century (circa 1880′s). Gumboot Dance was a form of self-expression for isolation workers who carried the weight of the migrant labor system and oppressive pass laws; it was a means of survival. Work in the gold mines was an arduous, long & monotonous process that took a daily toll on the workers. Speaking was forbidden by the black workers and they were often subject to physical punishment by Caucasian workers in higher positions (i.e. foremen). The latter, in combination with deplorable working conditions, resulted in the death of hundreds of workers. Moreover, the mines often flooded due to poor drainage and forced workers to spend hours standing in the fetid water resulting in skin irritations and ulcers slowing down productivity. As such, Caucasian bosses issued rubber gumboots to the black workers as a way to avoid spending money & time to properly drain the gold mines/shafts. This action and event let to the `miners’ uniform’ being created. The uniform from this moment forward was composed of “heavy black wellington boots to protect the feet … jeans [or overalls] and bandannas to absorb eye-stinging sweat as well as hard hats.
On the surface the workers stayed in overcrowded living quarters and the bosses refused them to wear their traditional dress while not working. Also, the bosses forced all workers of the same ethnic and/or tribal background to live together as a method to perpetuate divisions between different groups of African workers. Faced with this repressive regime, workers adapted traditional dances and rhythms to the only instruments available — their boots and bodies. The songs that were sung with the frenetic movements dealt with working-class life, drinking, love, family, low wages and intolerant bosses. This led to some “enlightened” employers allow the best dancers to form troupes to represent the company by entertaining visitors and creating “additional marketing” at no cost. Often song were sung in the tribal dialects of Xhosa, Sothu and/or Zulu, it was not unusual for the performers’ songs to openly mock their bosses and criticize wages & conditions, while their bosses were blissfully ignorant of the content. Lastly, with a focus on precise foot movements and hand clapping, gumboots used this style of dance as a means to communicate.
STEPPING IN THE STATES: The roots of stepping in the United States can be traced back to the 20th Century (circa 1920′s) to the campus of Howard University located in the nation’s capital (D.C.). Stepping at Howard University originated from African American Fraternal organizations, which helped to bring stepping to the forefront in the collegiate market. Over the next several decades (1940′s and 1950′s) stepping evolved encompassing various elements of “military drill” style formations. This style became prevalent during this time period as it was common for individuals from the military to join fraternal organizations upon returning from World War II. Therefore, showcases or events around stepping became the format of choice as a way to exemplify pride in one’s fraternal organization. The feeling of pride and comradeship among steppers has allowed this art form to be present in African-American churches, schools, communities and fraternal organizations. Lastly, stepping has evolved into Latino, Asian American and multicultural Greek-letter organizations.
BIRTH OF THE ART OF STEPPING: The Art of Stepping was established in 2006 by its creator and founder Jessica ‘REMO’ Saul. Mrs. Saul turned stepping into an art form, by introduction of mathematical codes, that can document every movement and beat thus creating original choreography. Mrs. Saul’s love and passion for the arts and education led to her creative approach on the fundamentals stepping. Her goal was to develop an interest in learning, performing and embracing the art of stepping. The latter led to the the birth of the AOS and REMO SYSTEM. This system was formed utilizing Leonardo Da Vinci’s “The Vitruvian Man” as a symbolic basis where each letter of the English alphabet represents a particular movement associated with specified counts and beats based on the movement created. This symbolic base and approach has allowed The Art of Stepping to give dance/step choreography its own language, in both written and verbal context via mathematical codes. At the present, choreography throughout the entire world has only been learned by visual presentation. Since its inception in 2006, The Art of Stepping has only publicly released seven (7) codes to its participants across the nation. Moreover, the system has north of twenty-five (25) codes which incorporate various areas of stepping such as formations, levels, beat definitions and most importantly written and visual choreography. The Art of Stepping and the Remo System are trademarked and copyrighted securing that it is the ONLY company in the world that can teach this curriculum.
AT THE PRESENT: For more than a decade (since 2006) The Art of Stepping has been providing artistic and educational enrichment programs where participants of all ages and demographics love to embrace the art form. The Art of Stepping has taught more than 10,000 participants across the nation and continues to build its partnerships with educational and private institutions. The goal is to continue to break barriers and revolutionize the way individuals learn and perform stepping. The Art of Stepping promotes an environment where everyone can build/create, learn and educate each other. The success of the Art of Stepping has led it to provide services in several key states with large school systems and forward thinking and establish its own After School, Event and Pro Membership Divisions.