By David-Elijah Nahmod, April 23, 2015.
In Oxygen’s new docu-series, “The Prancing Elites Project,” we’re introduced to five gender nonconforming dancers in Mobile, Ala. This troupe is known for their “J-Setting,” a form of dance that combines cheerleading-style movements with hip-hop.
With the kinds of moves Beyoncé served us in her famous “Single Ladies” video, Adrian Clemons, Kentrell Collins, Kareem Davis, Jerel Maddox and Timothy Smith move in perfect unison to the music that inspires them to do what they love with spirit and strength.
Soon enough it’s clear: The Prancing Elites are embraced by some but reviled by many. One woman expresses concern that children will see them. A straight man says that seeing men dressed like women makes him “uncomfortable.”
As a result, the group has been banned from performing in several hometown and national parades, but that doesn’t stop this group of uniquely talents performers.
“All we want to do is dance,” said group leader Kentrell Collins in the premiere episode, which aired April 22.
Their bravery is impressive. Viewers in the “gay safe havens” on the east and west coasts are free to march through the streets of their respective cities, proudly proclaiming their sexual and/or gender identities. In Alabama, it’s not so easy. In addition to the scorn of the local populace, the Elites are warned by the police to be respectful.
“In the beginning, it was tough,” Collins told Echo. “But we’ve grown accustomed to the rejection. Now that we’re adults we can handle it better.”
Collins admits that the group has thought about leaving Alabama, and adds that moving to a place that accepts LGBT people is tempting.
“We’ve talked about leaving, but we’ve not yet set it in motion,” he said. “We have family here. We want to get more established here because when we leave we’ll have to get re-established at life.”
Collins recalled a childhood in which he was told to refrain from being himself, and that boys “were not allowed” to do what the Elites are now doing. He added that his family had reservations about his dancing.
“They grew accustomed to it,” he said, as a testament to the growing acceptance. “They saw that I wasn’t going to stop being myself.”
Today, the Elites are not without their fans. During the first episode, “Real Housewives of Atlanta” star Nene Leakes tell the Elites how fabulous they are, and that they inspire her.
Most movingly, however, is a teary-eyed young white girl who tells the Elites that people should treat them better. The girl and her mom encourage the Elites to keep doing what they’re doing.
As the Elites give that little girl some of their bracelets as a gift, viewers can only shake their heads with awe and pride at the strength and dignity of these talented dancers who refuse to back down.
They’re going to dance, and they’ll do it on their own terms – paying no mind to stereotypes or discrimination.
“We hear from all walks of life, not just from LGBT people, [saying] ‘you are living your dream, you inspire me to live mine,’” Collins said. “We are telling our story. We’re telling people that it’s OK to be who you are.”
Look for “The Prancing Elites Project” on Oxygen on Wednesdays at 10 p.m.