Thanks to a few widely-publicized grumbles and scowls at a community Christmas parade, followed by a retracted invitation to a city-sponsored New Year’s Eve event, Mobile’s Prancing Elites are enjoying more exposure this week than a man in a leotard already does, and they may be gearing up for their busiest year yet.
The all-male dance troupe are no strangers to double-takes, but after their distinct movements and effeminate attire were scorned during an appearance in the city of Semmes’ annual Christmas parade, group spokesman Kentrell Collins said he was surprised when a Mobile-based parade rescinded an earlier offer to perform.
“We’ve never done Semmes’ parade but one day last week, I called the person that was in charge of the lineup and I was inquiring if they had any spots,” he said. “She said they do and asked me about the group’s name and she said ‘we’d love to have you guys perform,’ but said to make sure you have all your parents fill out a waiver for the girls. It was clear there was a misunderstanding so I told them we are group of guys over 21 and she said ‘that’s great, we’ve never had anything like that.’
“So me being me, I’m thinking that’s OK, all you have to do is put our name in Google, and everything we’ve ever done will pop up, we’re thinking she’s done her homework.”
But once the group arrived on the parade route and began to warm up, Collins said the “uneasiness and tension” from the crowd was “obvious.”
“I felt they should have gave us one of two options,” he said. “Let us know it’s not a good idea and the crowd may not like it, or just go put on our warm up suits.”
Instead, the group marched the entirety of the parade in sequined tops and Santa coats, with bared midriffs and short shorts, Collins said, drawing a few “boos” along the way.
“We just kept marching and were not worried about it so it wasn’t until after, when we were getting calls from news stations and reporters that we were really taken aback because we didn’t know we caused a controversy.”
A story initially aired by FOX10 news in Mobile was widely shared by social media and on news aggregate sites, leading to overwhelming support for the group nationwide. Within days, the group met a $15,000 fundraising goal, which it intends to use to obtain an indoor practice studio and cover the costs of new outfits and travel expenses.
But there was also some backlash. The Monday after the Semmes parade, the organizer of Mobile’s New Years Eve parade called Collins and rescinded an offer that had originally been extended Dec. 11.
“I got a call from the lady saying that ‘I dont think it’s going to be a good idea to perform,’” he said. “I’m asking why and she said ‘we don’t feel it’s fair to you guys to bring more attention to yourselves. Then she said she was afraid she may lose sponsorship dollars. We had our agent call and offer to change uniforms but she still said no.”
Carol Hunter, president of the non-profit organization Events Mobile, which organizes the city’s New Year’s Eve celebration, issued a statement saying, “the Prancing Elites expressed an interest in participating in the New Year’s Eve parade, however the Events Mobile committee has decided not to include the group in this year’s event.”
That committee includes Catt Sirten, Chris Barazza, Greg Cyprian, Judi Gulledge, Maura Guarino, Ann Rambeau, Riley Copeland, Vincent Duncan and Ricardo Woods. Reached later, Hunter said she couldn’t say anything else about the decision involving the Prancing Elites, but the parade was largely organized by the Carnival Association.
This year’s parade will feature 13 floats, two brass bands and two other dance organizations, Hunter said, as well as an equestrian team.
Collins said the group feels left out.
“It’s kind of hurtful especially when we had everything all ready and in line,” Collins said, noting that the group contracted with both Semmes and Mobile for free. “We wanted to do it because we have a passion for it. If you have a passion for something, if you can do it and not receive a check, that’s when you know where your passion really lies.”
The Prancing Elites practice a form of dance known as “j-setting,” which was created at Jacksonville State University and is characterized by cheerleading-style sharp movements and gyrations. Collins said there are other j-setting groups, but the Prancing Elites are the only one he is aware of that practices the art publicly. The group enjoyed moderate recognition earlier this year after retired NBA star Shaquille O’Neal tweeted a link to one of their videos.
“We’ve been doing this for a long time,” he said. “We just want to dance and be recognized. We want people to recognize what we do as a style of dance. Some people look down upon the style and the fact we are doing it in female attire but our attire is pretty much a part of the whole j-setting thing.”
Meanwhile, the Prancing Elites won’t let the parade rejection keep them from dancing. Beginning at 10:30 p.m. New Year’s Eve, Hayley’s bar on Dauphin Street will host a rally in support of the troupe. It will culminate in a “flash mob” at 1 a.m. Jan. 1 on the streets of downtown Mobile.
For more information visit the Prancing Elites’ Facebook page.