How can you miss The Prancing Elites? In last week’s season opener of the hit Oxygen show, their new manager said he could hear them around the corner and I believe him! I hear them and feel them coming through the television. They are the black queer family that some folks have never had. They are everybody’s country cousin. They are our reminder of the beauty and resiliency of black queer community. They are my BFF’s in my head and in their first season it felt like we went through EVERYTHING together.
We were there to comfort Jerel when his house burned down. We cheered Kentrell on as he navigated baby fever and decided to name his future baby Tink Tink. We silently prayed that he would treat the real Tink-Tink better than he did baby doll Tink-Tink. We grieved Tim’s bad breakup and encouraged Adrian to quit first his job after one day. How dare they not let him eat with the customers! We were ready to fight the homophobic men that made them feel uncomfortable on the party bus and waved a blissful Bye Felicia at the haters that pulled their teams from competing against them. We cried with them when Kareem revealed to the team that he tested positive for HIV and encouraged the team when they decided to use their voice to raise awareness around HIV prevention.
This buoyant group of exhilarating dancers navigate stereotypes and shrug off judgements to live life out LOUD in Alabama. It’s hard enough living as a black person in Alabama. Living as black, trans and gender-nonconforming men and women seems impossible. They continue to talk smack, make jokes, laugh and dance as if nothing else matters. They have become role models for other queer dance groups and even role models for young kids struggling with loving themselves while people tell them what they can and can’t do.
As if all of that wasn’t enough, when they hit the floor they slay the stage. Much like Lifetime’s hit show Bring It, the cameras follow the team as they navigate the southern dance team circuit. The circuits of both shows revolve around teams that compete in J-Sette style dancing that was made popular in the 70’s by Jackson State University’s J-Sette dancers. Jackson State’s Prancing J-Settes created a whole culture that included a particular style of dance and dress that has become a way of life. It is the synchronized strutting, jeweled leotard wearing tradition that LOGO still thinks we have RuPaul’s Drag Race to thank. Ummm…no maam. All black cheerleading and dance troupes in the Southern states have been doing this for generations. It hasn’t been lost upon me that ON both shows there seems to be two different circuits. One for young women and one for gay men and women. I sure there is no mistake in that. This fact becomes just another not so imaginary hurdle that this team and all the other teams on the hurdle jump right over.
So why hasn’t queer media picked up on this amazing black queer dance group? They have appeared on various shows like Bravo’s Watch What Happens Live which led to a visit for Real Housewives Nene Leaks. They were actually brought to national prominence by a complimentary tweet from Shaquille O’Neal. They been in every bit of mainstream media: MSNBC, The Grio, Bustle, Essence Magazine, the Washington Post and more. They have made appearances and performed in parades nationwide. The community as well as the general public is clearly watching and loving this group but when it comes to queer media you hear very little about them. The very media that’s supposed to be all about challenging world views on gender and sexuality while also highlighting celebrities and public figures that are amazing representations of our community. Nothing. Well not nothing. Not quite crickets. Just a barely audible hum.
Most importantly, they collectively give us various windows into the life of black gay men. Never in recent memory have we had a show that talks openly about HIV amongst black queer men. Not only did they talk about, the group went out into the community to provide HIV advocates the opportunity to speak openly and provide hope for those that have had a positive diagnosis. Judging by the commercials it also looks like this season Tim will open up a little more about navigating as a black transgender woman and dealing with family who may or may not be supportive. The commercial has a particularly triggering statement by his mother that says “I know he was born a boy.” These are things we need to be talking about. These are things we talk about in vague detail and very rarely have public figures with their families opening up in this type of space. These young men and women are opening up their lives so that have an avenue to finally have these discussions. Why are we not taking it?
I have read countless articles about white celebrities who simply hint that they may be queer. Every time a white celebrity dresses slightly androgynous we get treated to an onslaught of articles about it. However, in the grand tradition of white centered queer media it seems they have maxed out on black queer representation. I struggle to think of the difference between celebrating a personality like Big Freedia and celebrating the Prancing Elites and the only answer I can come up with is this: White people are familiar with twerking. They haven’t figured out how to J-Sette yet.
The Prancing Elites airs on Oxygen every Tuesday night at 8pm EST