“The Prancing Elites Project” review: Episode 1

The Prancing Elites Project, Oxygen’s latest show, is a show that hit all of the heartstrings. It succeeds in making me simultaneously disappointed and inspired by the human race.

That’s a tough beginning to an article, right? Well, let’s get into the recap and you can see what I’m talking about.

First, a quick look at the show. The Prancing Elites Project, focusing on troupe members Adrian Clemons, Kentrell Collins, Kareem Davis, Jerel Maddox, and Timothy Smith.

The jist of the show focuses on the troupe dancing in parades in and around Mobile, Alabama, but there’s so much more to the show. For instance, the first episode focused on the troupe bouncing back after their appearance in the annual Semmes Christmas Parade led to an unnecessary backlash from bigoted parade-goers. In an effort to keep their reputation and business afloat, they decide to get into other parades around the area, but no parade will take them. So, as a way to show that they refused to be boxed in and discriminated against, they march alongside a regional parade anyway.

As an Alabamian, I have a lot of feelings about this episode and this show in general. I remember reading about the Semmes Parade back in 2013 and at the time, I remember thinking, “Oh boy, Alabama strikes again.”

The type of dancing the Elites do, known as J-Sette, created by Jackson State University’s Prancing J-Settes, is no different than anything you’d see at any black high school and HBCUs across the nation. So why is it so different that The Prancing Elites are doing it? It’s only because they are a gay male, gender-nonconforming group.

To illustrate my point, here’s a video of the Elites from that now-legendary Semmes Parade:

And here’s a video of Alabama State’s Stingettes doing pretty much the same thing:

The only thing different is gender, and if that’s all that’s really different, is it all that much to be upset about?

Thankfully, in the Semmes Parade video, I heard a few people whoop and holler in happiness at the Elites. Of course, though, that wasn’t everyone in attendance. The usual ridiculous concerns about “family,” “children” and “decency” thrown around. For instance, one woman said “never been so insulted” in her life, while others said they were worried about children watching the dancers, feeling like the dances were too provocative and sensual for a family Christmas parade.

I think it’s best for me to get my recap and thoughts out by using bulleted points, since I have a lot I want to get to.

• Children shouldn’t be used as scapegoats for adults’ inability to deal with issues. If there’s one thing I hate the most about adults in general, it’s the conceit that their bigotry can be excused as them protecting the innocent children from scenes of debauchery. In reality, nothing is happening that will negatively affect the child. But many adults use children as a way to avoid dealing with their own biases and prejudices.

In the episode, there were many people basically showing their proverbial asses on television, wishing evil on the Elites and saying that, once again, they shouldn’t be in a parade which children will be attending. The fear laced the angered voices is telling. These adults aren’t really concerned about children’s safety at all. All they’re concerned with is getting rid of the Elites from their line of view because their presence makes them feel uncomfortable. Those feelings might come from being uncomfortable with their own sexuality or feeling threatened by something they perceive as challenging their worldview. But none of these feelings deal with children’s well-being. It’s all about the adults themselves.

If these adults really cared about children’s well-being, they wouldn’t pass on hateful tactics, such as calling strangers names and condemning them to Hell (something one man did in front of his small son at another event, as shown in the season’s promo). Instead, they would teach their kids that everyone is different and should be allowed space to live in peace.

Three women, one who had a young daughter named Bella, seemed to be the only civilized people in that small group of parade-goers. These women were heavily affected at the sight of people jeering The Elites and gave them their support after the parade. The most moved was Bella, who cried because of the townspeople’s antics. Her dancing with the Elites was the best part of the night.

Prancing Elites Project - Season 1

Adults, please learn that children really aren’t as vulnerable as you think. And, they understand a lot more than adults give them credit for. Bella’s genuine sadness for what the Elites went through shows a lot more emotional and social intelligence than many of the adults had. Or rather, the adults have let their emotional intelligence get beaten out of them by society and other bully-minded individuals in their own lives.

What Bella did was empathize. She put herself in their shoes and felt their pain. She did that and she’s a child. You’d think people twice her age should be able to do that. She has the most powerful lesson to teach the other adults in her town, but they’d rather dismiss her as another child that needs saving from men wearing leotards.

Prancing Elites Project - Season 1

• Christian people should know how to behave better than this. I am a Christian in probably the loosest sense of the word, if you compare me to some of the other Christians there are in society. But I’d like to think that I’m a Christian that seems to abide a lot more by what Jesus taught than other Christians who go to church every week.

The main lesson Jesus taught was to love others, especially those that are not like you, and to treat everyone just like how you’d want to be treated. Jesus took Mary Magdalene, a prostitute, into His fold even though everyone else had cast her out of society. He touched lepers and others whom society had viewed as unworthy to live. Christians like to teach that Jesus embodied the true meaning of humanity. Yet, so many Christians fail at actually learning from His life.

I’m bringing up Christianity because— if my experience with small Alabama towns is correct—most, if not all of the bullies in that parade crowd, are Christians. Yet, even though they might say they live by the Golden Rule, they forget their manners when it comes to a few dancers like the Elites. In general, Christians have come up with many excuses as to why they say one person isn’t worth a holy greeting of kindness, and it always boils down to the idea that somehow, they know just what is Jesus’s true plan and what isn’t. Somehow, they’re the rightful judge of who should be treated with humanity.

I wasn’t raised in the church, but I know a lot about Christianity, and I know that everyone who was calling the Elites out their names during the parade aren’t following scripture at all. They became animals and, if they happened to watch the episode and saw how they looked to the world, I hope they are ashamed of themselves. They shame all well-meaning Christians for acting like that. The three women and Bella truly exemplify what it means to be a Christian.

Prancing Elites Project - Season 1

• As a black American, what hurts me the most is when I see black people act horribly to others who are demonized by society. To go back the man in the promo who condemned the Elites in front of his son, it’s so ironic that he, a black person, would do that. Just 50 to 60 years prior, someone would have told him to go to Hell just because he wanted to sit at a lunch counter. Yet he wants to condemn the Elites just because they’re not acting in accordance to his view of manhood?

Homophobia in the black community is something that’s widely known, but I want to stress that black America isn’t homogeneous; we don’t all view homosexuality as a sin. But for the black people that do, I would suggest they really think about this: At one point, black people were considered the descendants of Cain because our darker skin was viewed as the mark Cain received from God. This ideology made people comfortable with slavery, discrimination, and subjugation. We know this ideology is false. So if that’s the case, then what gives us the right to say that the Elites are somehow terrible people and unworthy of Godly love just because of their sexuality and dress?

In today’s time, homosexuality has become viewed as the new “mark of Cain,” as LGBT activist Stampp Corbin states. However, while someone would laugh at a person who would assert dark skin is evil, there people who believe that homosexuality as a denotation of sin is true. None of this makes any sense.

• It’s about time black gay men got the national recognition they deserve. Even though there are more rights and freedoms for America’s LGBT citizens as a whole, there’s still less movement when it comes to the minority LGBT citizens. Those problems get even more complicated when the citizens in question are black men.

Due to slavery, Black men have always had a tough road towards reclaiming their manhood, as I’ve written about on occasion. To me, part of the black man’s road to reclaiming their manhood comes from an over-assertion of that manhood in everyday life. When a black man doesn’t adhere to those rules, then that man is seen as a threat, not just to another man, but to black manhood in general. We as a group have to get over this mindset.

There are many black men in America who are either estranged from their families or are living in fear of their families leaving them if they come out. There are many families torn because of this overwhelming need to protect black manhood. However, we have to realize that black manhood comes in a variety of forms, and none of it really has to do with sex. “Being a man” should be redefined as “being your own person.” If you are allowed to express yourself the way you want without worry and fear, then you are truly being your own person.

Prancing Elites Project - Season 1

To distill all of this down, I’m writing that I support The Prancing Elites and I’m proud of their success. I also know that they are a lot braver than me, because I honestly don’t know if I have the gumption to be able to march in a place where I know I’m not wanted. I would hope I could have their courage.

I do know that God places people on Earth for specific reasons. One of the reasons is that they are meant to test us and reveal to us what humanity should be. Usually people think this mantle is only reserved to those who have been called prophets, but the ordinary person can be God’s steward as well. I, as a Christian, believe The Prancing Elites are doing God’s work by, in their own way, confronting people with their own thoughts and ideas.

They are simply a group of men dancing, but for many, they are the human embodiment of a litmus test. You have to stop, think, and put yourselves in their shoes. How would you want to be treated if all you wanted to do is dance? I would think you’d want to be treated with respect and dignity. That’s what The Prancing Elites want as well.

Cover photo: Pictured: (l-r) Adrian Clemons, Tim Smith, Jerel Maddox, Kareem Davis, Kentrell Collins. Photo credits: Jake Chessum, Maxwell Mason/Oxygen

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