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Dem Boyz: Making Moves

 

The movie Stomp The Yard gave the mainstream a history lesson of the art of stepping and the significant role it plays in African-American fraternities and sororities. Not since the 1988 film School Daze had we seen such a profile of Greek life on a college campus. Stomp The Yard had numerous dance performances and step routines, but the most memorable came from a step team called Dem Boyz. Together since 2003, all 10 members of Dem Boyz were part of a mock fraternity [Theta Nu Theta] in the movie, but are actually all members of the Phi Beta Sigma fraternity. To date, the group has been part of over 60 stepping competitions. Since Stomp The Yard was released, they have been offered numerous opportunities, ranging from commercials to being cast in another movie. Team member Ike Anyanwu spoke with us about the inception of Dem Boyz, Greek life and how the group’s career continues to flourish. AllHipHop.com Alternatives: In your own words how would you break down the art of stepping and its history? Ike Anyanwu: First and foremost, to me, stepping is an African art used to express yourself through dance. The hallmark of it is the beat crown. When I think of dance coming from Africa, the first thing I think of is the African drum; the beat making, the dancing with the beat, the beating and the percussion sound with your body. I think that dancing is great; swing dancing is great, but this is the actual core of it. This is me stomping my feet and making a rhythmic movement and sound. It’s all coming from my body. There aren’t any instruments involved. I’m expressing myself. I’m hitting my chest. You’re hearing the beat of my expression. I’m not tapping it; I’m hitting it for you to hear it. You feel that intensity. You feel that enthusiasm – it’s like your performing uncharacteristically through me on stage. I feel that this expression is what Africa is all about. AHHA: How did the group Dem Boyz come together? Is the team made up solely of graduate students? Ike: No, actually I just graduated. A lot of the members are still in school. When we began in 2003, I was a freshman in college. I belonged to a chapter step team. We were winning local shows here and there. As the years went on, we started winning bigger and bigger shows. We started traveling until it came to a point that we were a team that kept on winning step shows. The name itself, the people would always say, “Who are them boyz?” So we decided to call ourselves Dem Boyz. It started with a team of seven, coming from the college of New Jersey and Rider University. From there, it just branched out. It became more like a Phi Beta Sigma all-star team that consists of 10 members. AHHA: How did the opportunity come about for you to actually get to participate in Stomp The Yard? Ike: One of us saw an entry that was sent out to a lot of Greek organizations about an opportunity to be in a movie that was coming up. All interested groups had to audition and send in a performance tape. So we said, “Why not?” We sent an entry, and they called us. There were two stages, so if you made it the next stage, you had to go to three locations. The closest location for us was Howard University. We were there with a couple of other teams and showed them what we had. About three weeks later, we got a phone call stating that we would be in the movie. That was just a blessing! They gave us the dates. We rented a transportation vehicle, we drove down to Georgia, we filmed the movie. AHHA: Do you know who you beat out? Or do you just know that you won? Ike: No, we don’t know who we beat out. We just know that it was a lot of teams trying to get into it. We felt like we had a good chance. We have been winning step shows throughout the East Coast for the last three years. So we really felt as though we had a good chance to help generate a buzz. But, we’ve been doing it for so long that it’s almost like… finally! AHHA: How did you prepare for the movie? Ike: We didn’t know what to expect. We had steps in the bank and wanted to make sure that all of our steps were precise and that we were flexible. Oddly enough, we went down there and showed them what we do regularly. That amazed them. They were like, “We want you to do that.” We actually did one of the routines we already had in our repository; and they liked it. AHHA: How do you all stay in shape? Ike: There’s a lot of practicing with the whole stepping thing. What we do isn’t something easy. Our step master, Seye Charles, usually gets us up at 12, and we usually don’t leave until 7:00. If you mess up on a step, he had us doing calisthenics. It’s not more of a punishment, but getting you more in shape – because once you get on stage you can’t be like “I’m tired. Can I take a break?” because it’s just 15 minutes of straight performance in front of an audience. AHHA: I read you all have about a five-hour practice? Ike: Yes, on an average about five hours, twice a week. It depends on if there is a big show coming up, if so it can be up to four times a week. AHHA: Did you all teach the actors in the movie your routines? Ike: Not really. That was the hardest part. It just seems like it was a big disconnect. As we were stepping, they would watch. The dance choreographer that was there would study our steps, movements, and facial expressions and relay them to the actors. To us it’s something natural, but to someone else it’s not the easiest thing to get acquainted with. AHHA: Did you have to prepare the main character or how did that work? Ike: When we got down there, they had pretty much already had the routine. I guess it’s from the tape that they had seen. They had already what they were going to do. We didn’t have to actually show him steps. I guess he had already learned them – I don’t know what he had been doing before we had gotten down there. So they actually already had the routine down. We got on stage and did an hour routine. They were watching and it worked out for the best. I think it would have helped out a little bit more if they did give us the opportunity to show them more, but overall, it was a good movie. AHHA: How often do you compete per year? Ike: About 25. AHHA: Wow. That’s a lot work! Ike: At one point it was almost annoying. The growth was just crazy. We’ve done all type of shows. We went from doing small step shows to different companies and famous people calling us to shows. We did a show that Usher threw called The New Lucky New Yorker. The sports caster from CBS, James Brown, called us to a show. We even had BET contact us to do Spring Bling. It was just crazy. AHHA: That’s amazing though. Your hard work and ambition paid off. Ike: Yeah, we’ve done a lot of traveling. We actually did another movie that is supposed to be coming out later this year called How She Moves. We drove up to Canada to for the shoot. AHHA: By you being Greek, how do you feel about different auxiliary groups? Ike: Well me personally, I think it’s not right. What happened was back in the day when the pledging was legal, the auxiliary groups were used to help those who were interested in becoming initiated. It was more of helping them through their process. Whether it was giving them food or helping them study. Then organizations such as Phi Beta Sigma would give them t-shirts. We would be like, “We want you to help these five or ten individuals with whatever they need”. It was more of a support base. As the years went on, hazing and pledging got abolished – if you want to call it that – I think that we started move away from what they were originally there for. That’s why none of these organizations are listed in the Divine Nine’s constitutions. It’s more of a support base. Somewhere down the line they started wearing letters, throwing up hand signs, having their own calls and that is not what it was about. AHHA: Do you ever feel like you’ve been criticized that stepping is underriding what sororities and fraternities are about? Ike: Yes and no. I think that stepping was something that happened before sororities and fraternities anyways. I think that sororities and fraternities popularized it. We actually brought the art to America in a way. This is something that was way before us and was used for us to compete between organizations. I believe and one day someone said, “You know what, we’re going to bring stepping into this”. Like with any other group, once you’re with a group of organizations, you’re expected to compete in our history using your hands and feet. You went from a nation or people that solved their problems through fist and hands to an organization telling another organization, “You know what? We’ll see you at the next step-show.” You’re using another way to compete. That helps, but now in some ways it’s turned into something negative like everything else in history. You get more from it like, “How has stepping helped you?” Some people might have joined a fraternity to join the step team, but when you joined, look at how much more you’ve gained. A lot of people don’t want to look at that aspect. AHHA: Do you think that one’s style of stepping differs depending on what part of the country you’re from? Ike: Definitely, every region has their own style of stepping. But we said, “You know what, we want to change the game.” We decided not to use any of our new steps; none of any of the old Sigma traditional steps. We’ve remade a lot of stuff. It helps that a lot of us have been stepping since high school. We all brought our different ideas and just started making up things from scratch. A Sigma team from the West Coast would have the same reaction as a Sigma team from the East Coast; “Where did those steps come from?” I give credit to the creativity of a lot of members on the team. AHHA: Do you think the art of stepping has transformed over to Hip-Hop? Hip-Hop artists have used different Greek organizations and step teams in videos and performances, like Kanye West and Busta Rhymes. Ike: I think it’s going to have a huge impact. It’s been a lot of videos before the ones that you had listed. I remember when I saw the Jay-Z video when the Alpha’s were stepping, and other videos when the Sigma’s were party walking. It’s only a matter of time. AHHA: How has the success of Dem Boyz affected the team as a whole? Ike: If anything, I would say it’s made us more mature. It came to a point where we started out as a team that was just stepping and said, “If we can do this we will, and if we can’t we won’t.” We have to represent ourselves professionally. We now wear a shirt and tie and have a manager. We’ve paid the money to incorporate ourselves like a business. and are starting to see more opportunities. It’s not just a chapter team anymore. We actually have to send out letters, contracts, and the business aspect has made everyone grow. AHHA: Overall, what else do you want to accomplish? Ike: We hope to set up a base where we can be traveling, not nationally but internationally, doing what we do, showing the art of stepping. If given the opportunity, speaking to people, enlightening them on what we do. I think that a lot of people might have gotten the wrong message after seeing the movie, and think that being part of a fraternity or sorority is all about stepping. No, it’s not just about that, but the organization itself. I would like to let people know the history of stepping and what each Greek organization actually does.

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