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Before I ever saw a real cheerleader in person, I understood women-led, team dancing through Black majorettes. In fact, I’m pretty sure that my first independent outing with friends was to witness a drill team competition. Some of my fourth grade BFFs and I were “chaperoned” by an older sibling, and we shared beauty-supply-store lip gloss anticipating the presence of middle school boys. But through all of the noise and commotion of the packed community center auditorium, it wouldn’t be boys who would enchant me on that day. On special occasions while I was coming of age, like Chicago’s annual Bud Billiken Day Parade or a community festival like the one that day, I would be enraptured by the majesty of Black majorettes over and over again.
Fast-forward several decades, and I can easily watch these performances come to life from start to finish on Lifetime’s unscripted series Bring It!. The show is centered on the Dancing Dolls of Jackson, MS, a hip-hop majorette team that competes against other teams from across the country. Bring It! viewers get a more robust understanding of the young women on these teams, the parents who are rooting for and investing in their success, and what is at stake for them long-term.
The Dancing Dolls operates under the tutelage of their no-nonsense leader Diana Williams, who lacks the callousness of Dance Moms
‘ Abby Lee Miller but demands the same amount of respect. The youth of the Dancing Dolls undergo the same body conditioning and training as any other athletes. They sacrifice just as much as students who commit to any other serious hobby. And as a condition of working with Ms. Diana, they have way more discipline that I do. She may not have the direct connections to Hollywood that Miller is able to offer her students, but for four seasons now, Ms. Diana has still brought both realness and opportunity with every kick and buck. I equate the value of Black majorettes in their respective communities to that of step dancers, as documented in Amanda Lipitz’s documentary
However, for all of their similarities, the differences between step and majorette matter as well. The movements necessary in majorette were always so powerful to me because they directly resisted the legacy of restriction over Black girls’ bodies. Where step dancers maintain rigid formations in order to execute their controlled formations, majorettes are able to put every part of their bodies on display — even the parts that get us called “too fast.” I love that Bring It! presents a televised form of engaging with Black girls’ bodies in a way that isn’t exploitatively sexual.
My 10-year-old self had no clue that I was witnessing such a layered moment for people who shared my identity as a Black girl. As a spectator, my meaningful joy was merely a residual effect of the Black girl magic.