The Prancing Elites, an all-male dance team, are on the fast track to fame after years of personal struggles and an unwavering dedication to dance. Blood, sweat and tears have gotten them here, and now they’re enjoying the ride.
Kentrell Collins, 26, of Prichard, says the group was originally led by a man named Elite Haywood who passed away in 2006. Under Haywood’s instruction, the dance team was called “J-Settes of Mobile,” but they were often referred to as “Them.” This name originated from the late WBLX radio host, Ray-Ray, who at the annual Battle of the Bands announced, “Everyone focus your attention to ‘them’ in the corner.”
Collins, who calls himself the “heartbeat of Prancing Elites,” changed the name to “Elites,” but it didn’t catch on until 2011 when “Prancing” was added.
J-Setting, a hip hop-style dance characterized by cheerleading-style sharp movements, originated at Jackson State University in Jackson, Miss., Collins said. J-Setting teams are also all-male, he said.
“We didn’t craft it, but we are the only male J-Sette team that will do it in public. So we’ve already made history because we are the first team to ever perform on national television in a uniform,” Collins said.
“That’s what’s going to happen, we are going to go down in history. Watch and see,” Adrian Clemons, 23, of Mobile chimed in.
The Prancing Elites made their national debut on the live talk show “The Real,” hosted by Tamar Braxton, Loni Love, Adrienne Bailon, Jeannie Mai and Tamera Mowry-Housley. The summer-long show broadcast from Los Angeles is not yet nationally syndicated, but was a big break for the dance group. The Prancing Elites not only performed and did a live interview with the hosts, but also received the opportunity to appear in an upcoming episode of “Tia and Tamera,” a reality show on Style Network.
Collins believes the Sept. 22 show will include footage of their performance on “The Real” and the group’s unexpected meeting with Tamera backstage. The Prancing Elites were surprised by the star’s excited reaction.
“I was like, why are you screaming for me? I’ve been watching you on ‘Sister, Sister,’ since I was little,” Collins explained, laughing.
So how did a dance group from Mobile end up in Los Angeles? Their fame originated from one small mistake. The Prancing Elites have become an Internet sensation, and have gone viral three times for a one-minute six second video of a dance routine that wasn’t even their actual performance.
The video was of the five Prancing Elites at a LGBT basketball game dancing two counts in the bleachers of the William “Bill” Clark Family Life Center in Prichard before they performed on the basketball court. The mistake that shot them to fame occurred when Collins asked Clemons to upload the video to YouTube.
“So he’s uploading away and it uploaded to Facebook instead of YouTube,” Collins explained.
Over the next few days the group members received thousands of friend requests on Facebook and their bleacher dance received more than 25,000 shares. This was the first time the dance team went viral. Collins eventually uploaded that same video to YouTube, and two months later the short, spontaneous dance routine video was tweeted by basketball star Shaquille O’Neal.
O’Neal’s tweet made the video go viral a second time, this time through YouTube.
“Two days prior to him tweeting, (urban blogger) Funky Dineva posted an article about us titled ‘Complete Devastation.’ Shaquille O’Neal came right behind him two days later and said ‘These dudes be jammin,’” Collins said.
The dance team still wonders how O’Neal found the YouTube video, because at the time the retired star posted it on Twitter the video had about 1,000 hits.
“I still want to know. Shaquile O Neal, if you’re listening, let us know,” Collins said.
“We want to meet you. Because if it wasn’t’ for that little one tweet, none of this would be possible,” Kareem Davis, 22, of Daphne added.
The video received more than 200,000 hits on YouTube, then went viral a third time through the urban website “World Star Hip Hop.”
“Your video has to have so many hits on YouTube before they can put it on World Star,” Collins said. “Once they uploaded it to World Star, more and more people started looking at the video. We were like, we only threw two little counts.”
Collins said the Prancing Elites’ actual performance on the basketball court is still not uploaded to YouTube. Although the Prancing Elites are now recognized by many, they are still not familiar with being looked at as celebrities.
“I would have never thought that our dreams of being recognized and praised publically would actually come true. I’m very surprised at how fast things are rising for us because all of this ‘fame’ was much unexpected,” said Jarel Maddox, 22, of Mobile.
Collins said recently he went into the Charlotte Russe in Bel Air Mall and a lady with a baby in her arms became star-struck.
“She starts going ‘Oh my God, Oh my God!’ The only thing I’m looking at is this baby. I’m like if you drop that baby, I’m going to drop you,” Collins said. Shoppers in the store gathered around him and asked for a dance, and he complied.
The group hopes as they continue to receive notice, they are inspiring others.
“We have a mission to be who you are. Embrace what you do. Don’t worry about doing what the next man wants you to. To be a part of Prancing Elites, you have to know the true meaning of I am you,” Collins said.
“I just want everyone to be comfortable with who they are,” the timid Tim Smith, 22, of Daphne, said quietly. “Our mission is to inspire people not to be afraid. Live your life how you want to live it and love it.”
Each member of the Prancing Elites explained how they have been criticized to different degrees by their own family members, and members of the community because they are openly gay men. However, they stand tall and are proud of their identity.
“Being a Prancing Elite takes pride, dignity and courage. You have to be prepared for the worst. It’s not something easy. Being a Prancing Elite involves taking a risk,” Clemons said.
The group doesn’t plan to hold back though, and is looking forward to local appearances including marching in the 2014 Mobile Mardi Gras parades. They also performed at this year’s Nappie Awards at the Saenger Theater in July.
“I’m very excited to be performing in the upcoming Mardi Gras parades. I’m nervous a little because I’m scared to see how people will perceive us, but I’m excited because I’ve always wanted to march in a parade,” Maddox said.
They also hope to soon be in talks with Tamar Braxton, who will be performing at BayFest in October.
“Performing with Tamar is one of the ultimate dreams! She was one of the reasons for our dance fame, because of dancing on the talk show ‘The Real,’” Maddox said.
Suzanne Massingill, agency director of Barefoot Models and Talent Agency which advises the Prancing Elites, says the dance group expects to be shooting a reality series next year.
“I hope that it can be a positive sign for people to actually see what gays have to go through. The drama, sorrows, the hard times and the good times, I think that would be a positive thing for the world to see,” Smith said.
Massingill said Barefoot and the Prancing Elites have already signed a contract with a production company, but the name cannot yet be released.