Original RedStepper returns to Indiana University stadium for dance team's 50th anniversary

Fifty years ago, Marty Motia charted new territory on Indiana University's Bloomington campus through her role as a charter member of the celebrated RedSteppers.

In 1972, the RedSteppers — IU's dance team featuring high kicks, bright smiles and iconic red footwear — was in its infancy. At the time, the Marching Hundred did not allow female members in its ranks, so RedSteppers members were among the first female students to walk the IU football field and become a beacon of university pride.

In the early 1970s, inaugural auditions were advertised during freshman orientation, so Motia, then a junior, didn't know about the new team until it was nearly too late. A former "pom pom girl" in high school and daughter of two IU alumni, Motia wanted to start performing again ― especially if it meant celebrating the university she had come to see as a second home.

Trying out for the RedSteppers

Motia was late arriving at the old Field House for tryouts, but she stayed anyway, watching through a window as the other RedStepper hopefuls performed. She studied their movements, eager to memorize every step and kick. Afterwards, as the dancers filed out, Motia approached then-choreographer, Karen Bailey, at her desk, timidly asking if she could still join. Bailey politely turned Motia down, noting she had already taught the routine.

“I don't know where I got the nerve to say this. I was very shy — a goody-two-shoes, little obedient girl," Motia admitted. "But I took a deep breath and I said, ‘I know the routine.’”

Slightly incredulous, Bailey switched on the music, watching as Motia, true to her word, performed the entire dance by herself.

Motia said she still remembered how a smile stretched across Bailey's face as she told the student, "Come back tomorrow." A little while later, Motia would discover she had secured her spot as a charter member of the soon-to-be-infamous RedSteppers.

"I was running back to my sorority, (shouting) ‘I made it!’” Motia described her elation.

Motia, who turns 70 this week, still shows the same determination as her 20-year-old self. Every day for the past week or so, she's been practicing a new routine, one that attendees of the IU homecoming football game against Michigan will see this Saturday. Alongside dozens of other RedSteppers throughout the past 50 years, Motia will participate in an end-zone-to-end-zone chorus line across the field.

While noting she may not be able to kick as high as she used to, Motia is determined to link arms with her peers and hype up the crowd once again.

"I'm gonna be this gray-haired old lady. But (RedStepper Dance Team Coach) Brookelyn Wood has assured me that if I can kick only waist-high, that's good enough," Motia said.

RedStepper charter member's experience with IU Marching Hundred

In the intervening decades since her time as an IU student, Motia remembers her involvement with the RedSteppers in flashes — her peers holding her up when she nearly lost her footing at Cincinnati's Riverfront Stadium, dancing with umbrellas in a Mary Poppins-inspired routine, hearing the vibrating roar of the Marching Hundred in her eardrums.

“(It takes) a lot of trust to be a stepper," Motia said. "You hold onto each other. You’re confident that your neighbor is going to be doing the right thing at the right time.”

It takes a lot of practice, too, which wasn't always easy. Motia remembers crowded exercises in the old Fieldhouse.

"We didn't even have a mirror. There were people pole vaulting around us and running track," Motia recalled. "There wasn't a designated place (and) we didn't have the whole place to ourselves.”

The concentration required throughout those endless practices pales in comparison to the adrenaline that would shoot through her body during a performance. She vividly recalls the first time she walked on the field.

“I still remember walking into the stadium and looking at that huge place and all those people. It took my breath away,” Motia said.

That very first night, like nearly every performance after that, they danced to IU's fight song. Motia had already known the melody by heart, having heard it hummed under her parents' breath throughout her childhood.

During rehearsal, the RedSteppers would use a recording of the Marching Hundred. When the dancers heard the booming bass and brass of the band in-person, some type of fervor was ignited. For Motia, she came to life.

“They don't miss a beat ― literally,” Motia said, jokingly. “You can feel the excitement and the motivation that they give you. When you have that band supporting you, right behind you, you can't help but just give it your all.”

Motia was only able to be part of the dance team for a year due to her class scheduling. In her final days as a RedStepper, Motia penned a letter to Bailey describing how appreciative she was for her time in the group. It would be decades before she could explain just how impactful the experience truly was.

“It's about being part of something that's bigger than you are, working together toward a common goal – these are all life lessons that you carry with you," Motia said. "You can't do it alone.”

RedSteppers as a legacy, 'sisterhood'

Motia is among the crowd of alumni returning to the IU campus once again for the university's homecoming celebration.

"It warms my heart to be going back to Bloomington. Every time I return, it feels like home. I feel my parents' presence and my grandmother's presence," Motia said.

She said she is most looking forward to connecting with her RedStepper peers. For some, the last time they had seen each other was at the dance team's twentieth reunion. She described how the RedSteppers are a sisterhood, and she's excited to see both new and familiar faces of that sisterhood this weekend.

“IU just feels like home. Bloomington is in my blood. I’m a third generation graduate, and being a RedStepper was the icing on the cake of a faithful tradition to go to IU," Motia said.

About this year's IU homecoming

IU homecoming activities will be Oct. 7 and 8 and begin at 5:30 p.m. Oct. 7 with the homecoming parade starting at the intersection of 17th Street and Woodlawn Avenue and running south on Woodlawn, east on 13th Street, north on Fee Lane and then west back to 17th and Woodlawn.

On game-day, Oct. 8, fans can gather two hours and 15 minutes prior to kickoff for tailgating. Stadium gates open 90 minutes before kickoff at noon, when the IU Hoosiers compete against the Michigan Wolverines. The pre-game show begins around 11:40 a.m.

This article originally appeared on The Herald-Times: Indiana University RedSteppers celebrate 50 years at IU 2022 homecoming