Viral cheerleader dance crew blazes new trail amid backlash

When a clip from the Cardinal Divas, a majorette dance team at the University of Southern California – Los Angeles, went viral last month, the group’s founder, Princess Isis Lang, said she didn’t care. did not expect his life to change radically.

“Honestly, my life has been so crazy,” said Lang, 20, who is studying musical theater at USC. “Some people have come up to me and said, ‘Oh my God, are you a princess? Are you that girl who started this cheerleader team?’

“I am truly blessed. And I can only really thank God, my friends and my family,” she added.

USC Cardinal Divas.Aziza Hutcherson

The clip, which has garnered over 3 million views on Twitter, brought Lang and his teammates praise from across the country, including supportive responses by rapper Saweetie and former “Bring It!” starring Dianna Williams. However, amid celebrations and accolades for making history by launching the first-ever majorette dance team at a predominantly white institution (PWI), the group has also been met with backlash on social media for the exact same. reason: to bring a traditionally black dance style that is associated with historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) to a predominantly white institution. Some social media users have accused Lang of cultural appropriation while others said it would have been better if she had created this team in an HBCU.

HBCU expert Joy Williamson-Lott, dean of the University of Washington Graduate School in Seattle, said she was not surprised by the criticism. She said HBCUs are underfunded and some are under-enrolled compared to predominantly white colleges, which is why many believe that popular HBCU traditions — which are a big draw for incoming students — don’t shouldn’t be in the PWIs.

“They don’t have the same kinds of resources as the PWIs and so what they don’t want are elements of who they are, their essence being cut off so they have nothing left – and then there’s no reason for people to go there,” Williamson-Lott said, adding that HBCUs are “to fight for their own existence.”

Although the dean questioned online claims of cultural appropriation since cheerleaders are “always black women,” she acknowledged that having a cheerleader dance team at a predominantly white school could lead to major issues like racial stereotyping.

“Before Instagram and Facebook, you had to be in black college to see these things, it was all happening in a black context,” she said, adding that this dance was happening, “far away from all the black people around them. in the stands might cause white audiences to view them through a stereotypical lens.

“When these black women dance like this in an HBCU, it’s always sensual and charged, but people also know these black women as students, as scientists, as sisters, as aunts, as friends, as whole human beings,” Williamson- Lott said. “But, when you put them in a white context…it’s with all the interpretations they bring.”

Lang, who has been dancing since she was a child, said she started the cheerleader dance team because she wanted black women to have a space on campus where they could express themselves freely through movement. . She said she didn’t see herself reflected in the other dance teams on campus.

“I didn’t see any curly-haired girls, I didn’t see any dark-skinned or brown-skinned girls,” Lang said. “I knew I would go to a space where…I wouldn’t feel comfortable dancing and I wouldn’t feel comfortable being myself.”

“It’s really my way of creating space for people who look like me because I know if I feel like that, I’m probably not the only girl who feels like that on this really big campus,” said she added. .

The history of majorette-style dance teams

Beginning in the 1960s, majorette dance teams became popular in HBCUs for their high-energy moves that permeate jazz, West African, and hip-hop dance styles. Majorette dance teams often perform alongside a marching band in sparkly outfits while doing leaps in the air or performing other gymnastic moves.

“It’s about freedom of expression, letting go and brotherhood,” Williamson-Lott said. “These are athletes who love dancing, who have danced often all their lives and now they can continue to do so in university.”

Williamson-Lott said cheerleader dance lines in the 1960s moved away from the politics of respectability and entered an era where black people could show off their full potential. These performances, usually held at HBCU football games and homecoming events, provided an opportunity for majorette dance teams to show off their skills and even duke it out with rival schools.

“So you see bands starting to play different music, including contemporary music like jazz, even now you see them doing hip-hop songs,” Williamson-Lott said. “When a black school plays against a black school in a football game, it’s all about which girls bring it.”

She said the dancers also participated in many call-and-responses “with the crowd and with each other.”

‘Why can’t she dance?’

Along with online reviews, Lang has received positive feedback from HBCU’s majorette dance teams. Christine Jenkins, coach for Howard University’s Ooh La La! dance line, said she supported Lang’s efforts.

“She’s creating her own community and I’m so proud of her for doing that,” Jenkins said, before adding that she hoped the Cardinal Divas would “recognize those who came before them as well.”

Still, like many other HBCU advocates, Jenkins said she’s aware of the concerns about line dancing at PWI given the history of racism on white campuses. She said some members of the Howard University band community were concerned that the HBCU tradition was out of place.

“They’re very upset, especially coming from HBCUs because … it was their safe space, ‘so now you’re bringing our safe space into a space that didn’t want us to start,’” she said. “I had to inform my friends that she’s a young girl who probably doesn’t have many people who look like her?” …why can’t she dance?

Jenkins said it’s not the job of HBCUs to be “gatekeepers.”

“We want to be better than those who keep their institutions… So why are we doing this to ours? she asked.

Another team coach, Princess Alintah, agreed, saying groups like the USC Cardinal Divas show majorette dance teams aren’t monolithic.

“Now we’re starting to see it in different forms,” ​​Alintah said, adding that majorette dance groups are diverse and it’s important that they are accepted and have “the space and the ability to produce”.

Meanwhile, Lang said she’s not allowing criticism to overshadow the movement she’s created to uplift black girls across the country.

“I can’t take ownership of what I’ve always been a part of,” Lang said. “I’m not here to take culture away or take it as my own. I’m here to put cheerleaders on an even bigger platform and want everyone to know what majorette style dancing is.

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