Black History Month, History & Now, Key Topics

Stepping originated with the traditional African Dance, “Gumboot”

It was first used as a method of communication.

words by: Natasha Marsh
Feb 24, 2021

As you know, or are starting to find out, a lot of popular trends and movements in American culture started with Black or African culture. And stepping is of no exception.

 

Stepping, originally known as Gumboot dancing, originated in the gold mines of South Africa. During the bleak days of the apartheid, miners were forced to work in extremely poor conditions. There outfitted in a uniform with no shirt, a bandana and Gumboots (Wellington boots) to combat the damp mines. Because they were denied formal communication with one another, they developed their own sort of Morse code by slapping their gumboots with their hands. It didn’t take long for this communication system to develop into an expressive art form.

 

The miners would use their whole body to perform the moves, often with a collection of other miners. A stomp and spoken word (in Xhosa, Sothu or Zulu) would often be the result where Black Africans would express their concerns with working-class life, low wages, tyrant bosses and family. The bosses took a liking to this dance and allowed the dancers to represent the company and entertain visitors with their art — blissfully ignorant that the dances often mocked them.

 

Soon, the dancing spread outside of the mines and became the foundation of American stepping. Today, stepping (or step dancing) uses the whole body to produce rhythms and sounds with feet and hands. It can be performed individually or in a group setting and is best seen at Historically Black Colleges and Universities. Fraternities and sororities alike have used stepping for years to show their pride in Africa.