At University of Southern California vs. Fresno football game earlier this month, USC’s newest dance team made history by becoming the school’s first all-black cheerleader team, the Cardinal Divas.
The dance team was started by USC junior Princess Isis Lang, who wanted to create a safe space for other black students at her predominantly white institution. Majorette dancing is a style of dance that began in the South and Midwest in the 1960s and is often closely associated with historically black colleges and universities. In recent years, cheerleader dancing has reached the public via the Lifetime reality series “Bring It,” which featured The Dancing Dolls of Jackson, Mississippi.
After the match, Lang made a Posting on Twitter celebrating their first performance, but she could never have imagined the backlash. Two days later, the Cardinal Divas were not only trending on Twitter, but had also received thousands of messages from people expressing their opinions. On social media, many celebrated the stunning display of black culture; others were furious.
“Honestly, the backlash hasn’t affected me because I know they can’t take away my joy and my gratitude for what I and this team have done,” Lang said. “In terms of support, it’s just amazing how creating a small group has become so important!”
So why was there so much outrage? One of the most frequent comments under Lang’s Twitter post referenced the PWI vs. HBCU debate, a perennial conversation on Black Twitter. Some people often argue that black students at predominantly white institutions (PWI) should not be allowed to participate in certain activities considered synonymous with HBCU culture.
Some feel that having an all-black cheerleader team in a PWI is offensive to HBCU traditions and heritage. Teams are often seen as an integral part of the historically black college experience. At sporting events, along with the marching band, cheerleaders are a main attraction of the halftime show.
But, of course, not everyone can and wants to attend a historically black college. In the Twitter conversation, many people mentioned that HBCUs are expensive and many do not offer substantial scholarship packages for certain programs, often limiting who can choose to enroll.
Maya Tillett was shocked when she first saw Lang’s tweet. She is a Hampton University alumnus and former captain of Ebony Fire, the school’s cheerleader team.
“For those who don’t know, being part of an HBCU dance line is no easy feat,” Tillett said. “It’s a lot of hard work, and there’s a lot of deep story behind it.”
Tillett, a dancer with Ebony Fire for five years, said the team is seen as a crucial part of the school’s image. The team was often invited to special events, such as Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade and a New Year’s Eve celebration in Rome.
“We are brand ambassadors for the school,” she said. “We’re on the front lines of recruiting students, and a lot of people don’t know it.”
Tillett said the Cardinal Divas received the kind of publicity and opportunity that HBCU teams rarely get. The dance group appeared on Jennifer Hudson’s new talk show this week.
“She’s gotten a lot of public recognition, where there’s a lot of HBCU dance lines that have years and years of experience but have never been honored with those opportunities,” Tillett said. “But all of a sudden, now that she’s doing something different at a PWI, it’s under consideration.”
However, Tillett agreed there was a need for black students at predominantly white colleges to create safe spaces.
The Cardinal Divas aren’t the first majorette group at a predominantly white institution — and they’re not USC’s first predominantly black dance group. In 1998, Lisha Bell, Maya Mitchell and Amanda Hall founded the USC Fly Girls. What began as a hip-hop group to showcase black culture became a source of pride for black private university students who often didn’t see themselves represented on campus. However, the band has not played since 2008.
When Lang began her journey at USC in 2020, there was no dance group that suited what she wanted to do. Lang had been dancing on cheerleader teams since middle school and wanted to bring some of those experiences into his college career.
“I didn’t see a space for black women, so I created one,” Lang said. “Black people deserve to be seen anywhere and everywhere. They also deserve to take their culture everywhere.
USC is located in a predominantly black area of South Los Angeles, but black students made up just 5.8% of the student body in the 2021-2022 school year, according to the college’s website. school.
Cardinal Divas sophomore Akilah Perry has known about HBCUs, cheerleaders and bands since elementary school, and after watching Lifetime’s “Bring It!”
“To be able to create this space for black students, and women in particular, has been really amazing and a wonderful thing,” Perry said. “I’m really happy to be part of this journey with these exceptional girls.”
USC has several dance teams on campus, but they often don’t cater to black students. In a recent Los Angeles Times investigation of USC’s most famous dance team, the USC Song Girls, former coach Lori Nelson said she was only looking for “the Southern California look.” . Many team members interpreted this to mean “white, skinny, blonde, conservative, Christian, sorority girl,” Ryan Kartje reported.
“I created the Cardinal Divas because I didn’t see anything that spoke to me,” Lang said. “I didn’t want to change who I was, what I look like and how I dance to fit in.”
Since Lang’s post, the Cardinal Divas have also received many words of encouragement and support.
“Well sister, let’s start this training!” tweeted Dianna Williams, the star of “Bring It!” and coach of the Dancing Dolls. “I’m on the next flight to California!! Dm me.
Saweetie, a USC alumnus and former cheerleader, expressed pride in seeing black students at her alma mater making history.
For many students and admirers, the Cardinal Divas created a new space for Black students on campus while continuing to inspire future generations everywhere. The group plans to continue ignoring the enemies and doing what they love the most: dancing.
“Being on this team makes me feel like I’m invincible, like no one can really say anything to me or my teammates,” Lang said. “We really arrived with strength, power and dedication. Speaking on my behalf, as the founder, captain and president of the organization, this really proves that black women are amazing.
Their next goal is to dance on the field with the USC group at halftime, and they won’t stop until they get there.
“This is just the beginning,” Perry said. “We’re going to be that team to watch and because we come with all the gas, no brakes. We just have to live up to our name and we will be the best cheerleader team in California. »