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Jackson State Prancing J-Settes continues a rich legacy of sisterhood

“The Thrill of a Thousand Eyes,” said Dr. Jimmie James, Jr., chair of the wonderful music department and professor at Jackson State, in 1971. This year, “Prancing J- Settes, Jackson State University’s popular and widely recognized dance team — an ancillary of the popular marching band, “The Sonic Boom of the South” — celebrates its 50th anniversary.

Dr. James’s excitement had grown to “the thrill of a billion eyes”, as the giant trains were the harbinger of Black culture. J-Settes’ influence extends beyond the campus in Jackson, Mississippi, and the HBCU pocket universe becomes mainstream through other icons, including Beyoncé. Dancers’ signature, famous “lead and follow” format. Remember the music videos for “Single lady (Put a ring on it)”or“Diva“?

“To see it in the mainstream – because we are not used to seeing the Prancing J-Settes and HBCU culture in the mainstream – is important to all of us because representation is so important,” said Chloe. Ashley Crowley, director of Prancing J-Settes since 2013, told the Daily Dot.

With that comes pressure from the public eye, social media, and the supposed (and ever-moving) landmarks of different social norms for Blacks, especially regarding respect for women. Black female. Here, we look at what it means to be a J-Sette in 2021 in relation to commitment, the cultural importance and what 50 years of J-Setting has represented.

The birth of ‘Thrill’ – a brief history

ONE tragedy and the looming sociopolitical conflict over the group’s formation: “The Jackson State Murders.”

Eleven days after the infamous Kent State shooting, on May 14, 1970, city and state police confrontation a group of students protested against the war and eventually opened fire. Authorities killed two students — Phillip Lafayette Gibbs, 21, a JSU 12th grader, and high school student James Earl Green, 17 — while injuring 12 others. No one is charged. Various reports say the shooters scrambled for a sniper in a JSU dormitory, although investigators found insufficient evidence of false claims. Today, the massacre is a teaching point of significant change. But this period was also a period of cultural transformation for one of the university’s face-to-face campuses.

According to Jackson State’s account of the history of J-Sette, in 1970, ballet dancer and director and sponsor Shirley Middleton and experts met with Dr. John A. Pe People’s, th president. six of the organization, asking to “put down their batons. “Middleton would set the tone for the dance crew, adapting their dance to a natural early 70s funk. Significantly influential, Hollis Pippins — a gay Jackson State alumnus who swings the club cui for marching band and last Dancer/singer Soul Train Gang—Worked with Middleton on creative direction and original J-Sette choreography.

Narah Oatis served as director for 21 years, starting in 1975, during which J-Settes, along with the growing popularity of the band Sonic Boom, flourished. “Salt and Pepper,” “J-Sette Walk,” “Strut,” and “Tip Toe — all marching techniques now legendary — appeared during Oatis’ tenure. Following in the footsteps of Oatis, sponsor Kathy Pinkston-Worthy, a former J-Settes captain under her predecessor, will add extremely effective technical routines. Crowley, a former captain who studied as a J-Sette under Pinkston-Worthy, will follow.

Make no mistake, though: Prancing J-Settes is, in this day and age, serious business as a live Jackson state ambassador, along with the band “Sonic Boom”. Inviting the football team also means, by contract, the invitation of the entire marching band. “We didn’t have the best musicians or the most precise drill lineups,” says O’Neill Sanford, a former band director at Jackson State. told Smithsonian Magazine. “But no one else can bring the same energy and ingenuity and electrify a crowd of 110,000 as we can. It’s something everyone wants to see.”

The group is said to not only represent the HBCU standard but also represent the vanguard of all of America’s college dance groups — a few that have matched their skill and consistency since their inception. They are the ones who provide the Black physical language of elegance, power, and grace.

The group did not occur some controversy. In both 2015 and 2019, members of J-Settes were suspended for alleged hateful conduct. There is also a unique standard that some say stretches across the internal politics of respect, even essentially codifying strict behavioral requirements. This is not to suggest error or to indicate negligence in any way; however, the consideration of behavior and presentability is obvious.

What does all of this mean today? What does their day entail? How do they cope with the daily pressures in the age of social media? We spoke with a few of them to understand the responsibility of being a Prancing J-Sette.

A day in life

The current members of Prancing J-Settes have come to the group in many ways. Ken’Janae McGowan, former valedictorian of Provine High School in Jackson, studied ballet and initially focused on his studies. But then she gets into a few games and crashes. She is also connected through Dancing Dolls, a youth dance group whose members are J-Settes. “I admire them,” said McGowan, reflecting like a former Doll. “I admire them because their dance style is so strategic and unique.”

Alayah Bell, a pre-nursing major, was in her first year as a J-Sette but had failed her first year on campus. She expressed her shock after learning she was one of the “only four girls over 60”, through an arduous audition process. Current captain Amber Johnson, a criminal justice major who graduated in 2022, said being a J-Sette has been very transformative.

“Before J-Sette, I was very closed-minded; I don’t like to talk much,” she admitted. “I don’t like talking in front of people.”

McGowan, like others, explains that being a J-Sette is all-consuming, no different from other fellow sports. Activities outside of the classroom and training J-Settes are not feasible. “You are a school and dance minded person,” she explains. “You don’t have time for too many other extracurricular activities because J-Settes is your job, not a student.”

After classes, practice sessions usually take place from 4 p.m. or 5 p.m. to 10 p.m., depending on the time required by the director. All J-Settes must definitely stay hydrated as running is part of their intense training.

Each interviewee was extremely aware of their place in the student body and the larger JSU community. Johnson mentioned Gibbs-Green Plaza, a site built in memory of slain students Philip Gibbs and James Green. While safe from white glare, the Plaza is also the site of light warfare, investigation, and judgment of all who pass by.

“You have to be persistent, that you are keeping your school first, respectful and responsible on and off campus, on and off the team,” Johnson said. “Whether it’s what you do on the Plaza, walk down the Plaza because people always see us as on social media. I had people come see me after we got off the bus from a game at Walmart, and they knew who off campus was crazy, but like, wow, this is real. ”

‘Unchanged and unchallenged’

Sheila Evers-Blackmon, one of the first members, is famous told WJTV News that, when the group arrived, “We didn’t know we were breaking through.”

The second part of the quote is equally valid: “We’re just doing what we love from someone who guides us.” As more than 180 former J-Settes lined up together from across the country, and across generations, for the 50th anniversary, deep respect became the theme.

Despite the glory and the challenges, everyone the Daily Dot spoke to expressed gratitude and pride to be part of such an illustrious group, especially considering their place in history history and the 50th anniversary of Prancing J-Settes in her hometown of Jackson State in October. It’s a history of sisterhood, about going back to helping those who came before. It is the edification of Black women in a world that is always ready to take off their crowns.

“It feels unreal,” Johnson said. “As the 50th anniversary approaches, we have to meet legends – frontline women. And to be able to meet them? To hear them offer different gems and knowledge for us? It is just wonderful. ”

Considering his past, Crowley, whose mother is a Jackson State student and former J-Sette, understands better than most the pressures — everything J-Sette does has to be earned. “Even my mother told me at the time, ‘It’s not just a piece of cake. You didn’t just get promoted because I was on this team. You have to dance for yourself because I can’t dance for you. I can’t perform for you. ‘”

But she is grateful to continue a legacy and tradition. “I knew I was an integral part of it and played a big part in it, but I found it bizarre,” she said of the celebration. “Watch our growth from when we were founded in the Seventies to now, 2021. Before I was a fan, later I am a fan and I am still a fan. because my team is still doing something that I’m just amazed at. ”

Must-reads on Daily Dot

https://www.dailydot.com/irl/prancing-j-settes-jackson-state/ Jackson State Prancing J-Settes continues a rich legacy of sisterhood

Mike Sullivan

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