On a moonlit sidewalk outside Howard University's John Burr Gymnasium, a contingent of Omega Psi Phipledges stood rigidly, packed tightly one behind another. With their shaven beads and dark uniforms they looked hke Marine recruits at bootcamp.
In front of them, grimly yelling commands, was a "platoon sergent" dressed in fraternal regaila.
This was the night before homecoming and the pledges were preparing for the annual "Greek Show."
In a low, methodic chant "Live and die for Omega Psi Phi," they responded to their leader's shouts. Their chant ended sunddenly when their leader barked: "Shup up!"
Commonly referred to as the "Q line" or the "dogs," Omega Psi Phi pledges are know for the Omega-shaped brand sometimes burned into their arms with a red hot coat hanger when they are initiated into the fraternity.
Inside the gymnasium, a lightly attended pep rally ended, and students began crowding in for the Greek show. Yellow, blue, red and white disco lights blinked on and off, and refrigerator-sized speakers blared the latest tunes.
In every corner, Greek groups sat like tribal war parties in their organizational colors - crimson and cream, black and gold, pink and green.One fraternity lit candles in the darkness, while sorority members squeeled "greetings" to each other: "Sq-ueeek! Sq-ueeek! Ye-ep! Ye-ep! Oiiiie!"
Announcements of disco parties punctuated the blaring music. As the sound began to shake the gymnasium, the college crowd sprang to its feet, discoing and "freaking" in front of seats and against the walls to songs like "Don't Hold Back if It Feels Good."
The show began at 8:30 p.m. before more than 3,000 spirited spectators.
The Deltas led off by pushing a large, siver foil Pyramid to the center of the gymnasium floor. Apporximately 25 Delta women, as a parody, marched out in the colors of other soronities.
At a key moment. during a song lauding their own sorority, the Deltas ripped off their outer garments to expose the Delta colors - translucent white growns over crimson bathing suits.
They marched off and were followed by members of Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority (AKAs), who the announcer introduced by declaring: "The Supreme Ones have arrived."
More than 30 young women marched into the gymansium wearing olive green, Army-type uniforms with pink sashes. One sorority member boasted to the crowd that AKAs "represent 8,000 soros (memebers) across every continent in the world."
The AKAs were replaced by the member of Sigma Gamma Rho sorority, or as the Sigma announcer put it, " the vivacious ladies in blue and gold."Their performance, which was barely audible to the restless crowd, was followed by the "men of Omega Psi Ohi,"
Wearing white gloves and gold outfits with purple capes, the "Qs" marched into the dark gymnasium through an illuminated, horseshoeshaped Omega sign. They were greeted by resounding applause. Next came the Kappa Alpha Psi men, who "stepped" into the gymnasium wearing smartly vested suits and carrying red and white, candy-striped canes - which they frequently dropped.
The Kappas poked fun at other fraternal orgainzations singing: "If I had a low IQ I'd pledge Omega too," and "You can't tell the difference between an A-phi-A (fraternity member) and an A-K-A (sorority member),"
The show ended after members Phi Beta Sigma "stepped" on and off the gym floor in T-shirts that carried slogans such as "One Wild and Crazy Guy" and "The Stomo Master,"
Despite the hours of preparation for the Greek show, members of the black fraternal organizations say their groups are primarily civic. Members of these group, which in some cases according to Greek members, Hire choreographers to stage the performances, say the annual Greek Show is designed to stimulate interest in the organizations.