ST. PETERSBURG — Eleven-year-old Isaiah Lapointe wasn't so sure he was going to like Saturday's step show.
After all, his mom's friend, a 40-year-old high school teacher, was performing.
But shortly after he won an impromptu dance contest with break-dancing moves that brought the crowd to its feet, he'd decided he wanted to learn step, too.
"It's really exciting," he said, eagerly watching men in red suspenders stomp canes against the St. Petersburg College gym floor in perfect rhythm.
The show, called Stomp the Bay, was the first of its kind in St. Petersburg in years, said Sharon Wilson, head of the National Pan-Hellenic Council of St. Petersburg that organized the event. Seven Greek organizations competed for a $1,500 grand prize before a raucous audience of about 800 people.
But the show meant a lot more than a chance to show off slick moves. Stepping is a tradition started at black colleges that participants say fosters solidarity through positive self-expression.
Dressed as secret agents in red ties, white shirts and black pants, the ladies of Delta Sigma Theta sat behind a curtain waiting their turn as performers drummed on buckets.
Even though she learned step just weeks ago, Tammy Heyward, 39, felt confident. Her alumni chapter practiced several times a week for more than a month to prepare for Saturday.
She joined the sorority two years ago as a way to do service work.
"Usually we're out in the community," said Heyward, who works in marketing and management for Verifone in Clearwater. "This is totally different."
For Will Packer Jr., the show's stylish host and producer of the movie Stomp the Yard, the show fulfilled his father's last wish. Before Will Packer Sr. died in January, he asked his son to fly in from Atlanta to be in the show. As a representative on the organizing council, he wanted his son involved in step's homecoming to St. Petersburg.
Packer, who grew up here and went to Florida A&M University, said his father was fiercely proud of his fraternity, Alpha Phi Alpha, one of the oldest and most prestigious black fraternities.
"He used to tell me you can do anything you want, you can marry anyone you want, but don't come home from college anything but an Alpha," said Packer, 33.
Packer said his work on Stomp the Yard was another way to honor the stepping tradition. He tried to present stepping in a genuine way, but also hoped it would educate a broad audience. The movie, which came out last year, grossed about $60-million.
Brooke Taylor, the Dixie Hollins High teacher who encouraged Isaiah to come on Saturday, watched Stomp the Yard with the fifth-grader to teach him about step.
To her, step is about encouraging young people to get an education. When she taught middle school at Lealman Intermediate, she introduced step into the dropout prevention program to give students confidence and motivate them to go to college.
"Today, you can only be a true stepper if you get an education," she said.
Stephanie Garry can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 892-2374.