A new style of dance has found its way to the University of Southern California, and although the dancers have faced backlash online, they are happy to bring their fire and diversity to campus as the first team of school cheerleader dance.
SC Cardinal Divas was co-founded by Princess Isis Lang this year. They specialize in the style of dance known as “j-setting,” popularized by the Jackson State University Marching Band, and traditionally found only at historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs). Despite this, Lang is happy to bring culture to USC, a sentiment backed by a huge outpouring of support on social media.
“The new cheerleader squad is going a little crazy on the internet right now,” Lang said Wednesday. “It’s the perfect way to showcase and elevate black dancers, black entertainers, and black joy in general.”
A video that has gone viral shows the Cardinal Divas in SC’s opener against Fresno State on Sept. 17.
“It really is like a dream,” she said. “I didn’t expect it all to happen so quickly.”
Flaunting a dance style they say none of the other teams on campus have, the Cardinal Divas stepped out of the comfort zone, bringing their moves to a PWI, or predominantly white institution.
“I think something that cheerleaders have that other styles don’t is that we listen to the band and it comes from a feeling,” said Jada Walker, one of the Cardinal Divas.
Jai Robinson, the team’s choreographer, explained that j-setting was a style that started “in the 1960s at HBCUs, and it’s a blend of high-level brass band with the aesthetics of jazz and West African hip-hop, alongside the modern”.
Even with the support they found online, they faced negative feedback, especially from people who don’t believe the dance style belongs in a school where the student body is black unless 6%.
“We had a lot of backlash and controversy about bringing HBCU culture into a PWI,” Robinson said. “But I believe that as black students, we deserve a space to feel comfortable and bring our culture.”
“Not everything was positive, but for the most part we stayed positive,” Walker said during a practice on Wednesday. “I like to take negativity and use it as motivation.”
While the Cardinal Divas plan to give it their all, the end goal is for their team to get on the pitch in one of the Trojans’ home games.
“Hopefully my choreography can make it to the field,” Robinson said.
“Finally, fingers crossed, we get to the field and with the group,” Lang said. “That’s exactly why I came to USC as well, not just to study musical theater, but to be a black woman and really bring the black community with me wherever I go.”