Pri’sizhen steps, stomps and claps its way to first place victory

Pri'sizhen step team

The Pri'sizhen step team shows off their street art and performance art theme for their recent routine at a step competition, held at Temple University in Philadelphia, Pa. (Photo courtesy of Tyara Parris)

By Kenna Caprio

April 27, 2017 — Step is not dance. It’s aggressive. It’s a good way to release tension, say Tyara Parris, president, and Darlenny Checo, secretary of the Pri’sizhen step team at Fairleigh Dickinson University’s Metropolitan Campus. The team recently competed in two competitions, taking first and second place wins.

“With stepping you have to step so hard and put your all into it. If you’re having a bad day, the best way to relieve it is through stepping, putting all that energy into practice,” says Parris, a junior psychology major from Carteret, N.J.

It’s also poppin’ — as in popping popcorn. Parris says sometimes when she seeks inspiration for new steps, she pops a bag into the microwave and listens. “When you listen to it, you hear all kinds of beats and pops, and when they come together, it’s a rhythmic beat,” she says. Pretty soon, she’ll have an idea for a new routine, and will start putting together the steps, claps and beats to make it happen.

“You can’t step unless your heart, body and mind are in it,” says Parris.

This spring, Pri’sizhen competed against three other step teams in Step or Die 2017 at Temple University in Philadelphia, Pa., winning first place. Shortly thereafter, the team came in second place at a 1990s themed-competition, “All That and a Bag of Chips,” at St. Johns University in Jamaica, Queens, N.Y.

When Parris joined Pri’sizhen her freshman year, she saw a struggling team that had potential. She started stepping in kindergarten, competing for the first time in middle school, all the way up through high school, when her team Blue Fire won state and national competitions. “Step kept me out of trouble,” Parris says.

She worked hard sophomore year as president to turn the team around — teaching the craft of stepping and its significance. “People forget where stepping originally came from. It was a way of communication before it was iconic,” says Parris. “The clapping of hands, stomping of feet and slapping of legs was communication between tribes in Africa. It’s the root of what sororities and fraternities do. Its root is self-expression. Step started a lot of things, including tap [dancing].”

Parris instilled discipline, extending practices from 8:30 p.m. to midnight, and taught the team harder steps.

“With step, you make the music,” says Checo, a junior criminal justice major from Somerset, N.J., who started stepping in eighth grade. “Step requires attitude and a lot of emotions. It requires energy and precision. They judge you on attitude.”

She drilled the team to build stamina. “Stepping just overcomes you. You become a whole other person. You have your normal self and stepping self,” adds Parris. Typically the team rehearses twice a week, but to prepare for competitions this year, they upped the practices to every weeknight.

Right before they went on stage at Temple, Parris felt very positive. The team’s mindset had changed and she noticed. “Everyone was really pumped up. It came out right then. I had a feeling we were going to win.”

The team performed an 11-minute routine, telling a story through movement and words about battling street art performers. “Leave your mark on the stage so they won’t forget. I always tell them that,” says Parris. Teams were required to have a script, a theme and four main steps. The vocals and steps have to be loud enough so that judges and the crowd can hear the performance clearly — and teams work to whip up the crowd to get them invested in the show.

“The competition itself is fun. You get to see the other teams perform. You feel the tension. You feel the rivalry, but we’re all cordial,” says Checo.

The team has finished competing for the year and is looking toward next season with hopes of holding a step competition in Wilson Auditorium, Dickinson Hall, in the Spring 2018 semester.

“When people think of step, they think it’s hard energy, but we’re a family. We look angry on stage but those aren’t our personalities. That’s just who we are on stage,” says Checo. “Pri’sizhen is a team of unity. When one steps, we all step,” she says, echoing the team motto.