Home News USC’s First All-Black Majorette Dance Team Ignores Outrage

USC’s First All-Black Majorette Dance Team Ignores Outrage

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USC Majorette Dance Team: At the University of Southern California vs. Fresno football game earlier this month, USC’s new dance team made history as it became the school’s first all-Black majorette team, the Cardinal Divas.

Princess Isis Lang founded the dance squad at USC to provide a safe space for Black students at her predominantly white institution. Majorette dancing originated in the South and Midwest during the 1960s and is often associated with historically Black colleges and universities. More recently, majorette dancing has gained wider exposure through Lifetime reality series “Bring It,” featuring The Dancing Dolls of Jackson, Mississippi.

After their debut performance, Lang posted a Twitter post to celebrate. But she never could have anticipated the backlash that followed two days later: not only were the Cardinal Divas trending on Twitter but had also received thousands of messages from people voicing their opinions online. While some praised this stunning display of Black culture, others were infuriated.

“Honestly, the backlash hasn’t affected me as I know they can’t take away my joy or gratitude for what this team and I have achieved,” Lang said. “In terms of support, it’s truly amazing to see how one small group has blossomed into such an amazing thing!”

Why was there so much outrage? A frequent comment under Lang’s Twitter post referenced the PWI vs HBCU debate, a perennial discussion on Black Twitter. Some people maintain that Black students at predominantly white institutions (PWIs) should not be permitted to partake in activities associated with HBCU culture.

Some consider having an all-Black majorette squad at a PWI offensive to the traditions and legacies of historically Black colleges. The teams are seen as essential parts of HBCU life – they usually feature prominently during halftime shows at sporting events alongside marching band.

Of course, not everyone can or wants to attend a historically Black college. In a Twitter conversation about HBCUs, many people mentioned how expensive they can be and that many don’t offer substantial scholarship packages for certain programs – thus restricting who can enroll.

Maya Tillett was taken aback when she first saw Lang’s tweet. As an alum and former captain of Ebony Fire – Hampton University’s majorette squad – Maya had no idea who Lang was.

“For those who don’t know, being part of an HBCU dance line is no small accomplishment,” Tillett said. “There’s a lot of hard work involved and there’s an impressive history behind it all.”

Tillett, who had been with Ebony Fire for five years, said the team is an integral part of the school’s image. They were frequently invited to special events such as Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and New Year’s celebrations in Rome.

“We are the face of the school,” she said. “We’re on the frontline in student recruitment, and that’s something a lot of people don’t realize.”

Tillett noted the Cardinal Divas have received unprecedented publicity and opportunities, something HBCU teams rarely experience. This week, they appeared on Jennifer Hudson’s new talk show.

Tillett commented, “She has gained a lot of public recognition at a time when many HBCU dance lines have years of experience but never receive such opportunities.” But now that her work at Project Women Involvement (PWI), Tillett noted, it seems her unique approach is being noticed.”

Tillett acknowledged the necessity for Black students at predominantly white colleges to create safe spaces.

The Cardinal Divas weren’t the first majorette group at a predominantly white institution — nor are they USC’s first predominantly Black dance group either. In 1998, Lisha Bell, Maya Mitchell and Amanda Hall founded the USC Fly Girls as hip-hop showcase to represent Black culture on campus; eventually becoming an outlet for pride among students of color who often felt underrepresented on campus. Unfortunately, since 2008 the group hasn’t performed.

At the start of Lang’s USC journey in 2020, there weren’t any dance groups that fit her style. She had been dancing on majorette teams since middle school and wanted to bring those experiences into her collegiate career.

“I didn’t see a space for Black women, so I created one,” Lang said. “Black people deserve to be seen wherever they go and they also need to take their culture with them.”

USC is situated in a predominantly Black area of South Los Angeles, yet Black students made up only 5.8% of its student body for 2021-2022 school year, as reported on its website.

Akilah Perry, a sophomore member of the Cardinal Divas, has been aware of HBCUs, majorettes and bands since elementary school, after watching Lifetime’s “Bring It!” documentary.

“Creating this space for Black students and women has been truly inspirational,” Perry shared. “I am honored to be a part of this amazing journey with these extraordinary girls.”

USC boasts several dance teams on campus, but they often don’t cater to Black students. According to a recent investigation by The Los Angeles Times into USC’s most renowned team, The USC Song Girls, former coach Lori Nelson was quoted saying she only wanted “the Southern California look,” which many team members interpreted as meaning “white, skinny, blond,” conservative Christian values and sorority girl attire,” Ryan Kartje reported.

“I created the Cardinal Divas because I couldn’t find anything that spoke to me,” Lang said. “I didn’t want to alter who I am, how I look or how I dance just to fit in.”

Since Lang’s post, the Cardinal Divas have received an outpouring of encouragement and support.

Dianna Williams, star of “Bring It!” and coach to the Dancing Dolls, tweeted, “Well sis, let’s get this training started!” “Im on my way to California!! Don’t wait – message me now!”

Saweetie, a USC graduate and former majorette dancer, expressed her joy at seeing Black students from her alma mater make history.

Many students and admirers of the Cardinal Divas have created a safe space for Black students on campus while inspiring future generations of leaders. The group plans to ignore any negative comments and keep doing what they love most: dancing.

“Being part of this team makes me feel invincible, like no one can really tell me or my teammates anything,” Lang said. “We came in with force, power and dedication – it just goes to show that Black women are amazing,” she continued, noting her position as founder, captain and president of the organization.

Their next mission is to dance on the field with USC’s band at halftime, and they won’t stop until they reach their goal.

“This is just the start,” Perry declared. “We want to be known as that team that comes in with all gas, no brakes. Now it’s up to us to live up to our name and become the best majorette team in California.”

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