Thursday, April 23, 2015

J-Setting, JSU's Prancing J-Settes, And Black Gay J-Setters

Edited by Azizi Powell

The debut of The Prancing Elites Project television series on April 22, 2015 marks Americans' latest introduction to the performance art of j-setting (jsette). That reality series which airs Wednesdays on the Oxygen network follows five gay and gender non-conforming j-sette dancers from Mobile, Alabama. Read a long quote from an article about The Prancing Elites Project in the comment section below.

The term "J-sette" (J-setting) is a tribute to the auxilary dance line of Jackson State University's Sonic Boom marching band, the Prancing J-Settes (formerly "the Prancing Jaycettes") which originated that dance style, though some say that it was first performed by Black gays in the South or in the New York City gay ball rooms. (more on that later). The first that what is now known as "j-setting" was shown on nation-wide USA television was in 1990. To quote Wikipedia's page on j-setting*, with the noted hyperlinks added:
"[in 1990] Jackson State University's marching band's dance team the Prancing J-Settes performed the J-Settes style of marching and dancing on the “30th Anniversary of Motown” television show. The dance team appeared as part of the JSU Marching Band in performances to “I Heard it through the Grapevine”and other songs. A video of part of this performance is available on YouTube.[ "Motown 30th (Part 1)"

In 2003, the Prancing J-Settes performed the J-Settes marching and dancing style on the “34th NAACP Image Awards” television show. The dance team appeared as part of the JSU Marching Band in performances with comedian “Cedric the Entertainer” and “Sugar Bear of E.U.” A video of part of this performance is available on YouTube. [ "Sonic Boom of the South" at the 34th NAACP Image Awards"]

In 2008, both the BeyoncĂ© Knowles’ Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)[3] and Diva [4] music videos included a J-Setting style dance routine." and]
*Quotes from Wikipedia's page on j-setting (henceforth given as Wiki: J-Setting).
-end of quote-

J-setting is featured on a number of YouTube videos of JSU's Prancing J-settes and other Black university band dance lines. YouTube also showcases j-setting competitions (battles) between various Black gay dance teams (more on that later). J-setting dancers are called "j-setters".

In addition to YouTube videos, a major way that people are being introduced to j-setting is through the Lifetime network television series Bring It. The focus majorette dance group in that television series is Jackson, Mississipi's Dancing Dolls. The Dancing Dolls and the dance teams they compete against refer to themselves as "majorettes". JSU's Prancing J-Settes (formerly "Prancing Jaycettes") were a majorette squad who gave up their batons in 1970 and originated what is now known as the J-sette dance style and aesthetic. [Wiki:J-sette].

The Dancing Doll's coach D (Diana Williams) and some of that group's fans publicly recognize the influence the Prancing J-Settes have on the majorette style of dancing as exemplified by these two comments from the Facebook page "Bucking? J-Setting? Stand Battles? Oh My! More Videos by Bring It"
Dianna Williams, March 3, 2014 at 5:10pm
"YASSSSSSSSSSSSSS GET CHA LIFE MAJORETTES!!!!!! WE ARE MISSISSIPPI BRED BABY!!!!! Jsettes is where it all started for us all Anitra Williams-Bender especially for me!! Must give respect where due!! you see 2 more of our community dance fams in the video!!! PURPLE DIAMONDS AND PRANCING STEPERETTES!!! STAND UP MISSISSIPPI!!! #DD4L!!!! NOW YALL BETTER TUNE IN TO BRING IT THIS WEDNESDAY 10/9C ON LIFETIME!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"

Myzz Sdcd Richardson, March 3, 2014 at 7:58pm
"Shout out to the PrAncing Jsettes for paving the way for these babies"
-end of quote-

Note that the word "prancing" is commonly used in the names of several j-sette dance lines and dance teams, for example "the Prancing J-settes", "the Prancing Elites", "the Prancing Steperettes", and the "Prancing Tigerettes". The word "prancing" is partly a tribute to the Prancing J-settes, and partly describes the movement style of Black marching bands and their dance lines:
"prance = to to walk or move in a lively and proud way

of a horse : to move by taking high steps : to lift each hoof up high when moving

to strut"

The "et/ette" suffix that is found in a number of [Hip hop] majorette dance teams and j-sette dance teams was typically used to feminize masculine names, for example "Georgette", "Paulette", and "Bernadette" and words, for instance "majorette". Note that JSU's Prancing J-settes is a female dance line. That "ette" ending highlights that j-setting is considered to be a female dance style on historically Black university campuses. That said, Black gay dancers were j-setting at Jackson State University in the 1990s if not earlier.
“The young men would be on the sideline during practice watching and learning,” recalls Anthony Hardaway, a gay activist and historian from Memphis who was a student at JSU from 1990 to ’94. “My friends would be on the side doing the dance alongside the girls.” However, their imi-tation was not seen by all as flattery. “Teachers and coaches would run the gay boys away,” Hardaway says with a laugh, “because when it was time for the games, the gay boys would be in the stands doing the routine and outperforming the girls on the field.” “The Big Idea: J-Setting Beyond BeyoncĂ©”, (February 2009. Retrieved 2009-11-22) quoted in "Single Ladies, J-setting and battle", 24th September, 2012

The Wikipedia page on j-setting supports this statement, indicating that "During the late 1970s, African American gay men who were fans of The Prancing J-Settes regularly attended the dance team’s practice sessions, and performances at college football games and other events. Young gay men brought the J-Settes dance style back to their home towns, and to nightclubs like Club City Lights in Jackson, Mississippi; Club Skittles Baton Rouge; Incognito, Allusions, and 901 in Memphis; and Club 708 in Atlanta...

J-Setting troupes compete in dance-offs at gay cultural events. These groups of young gay men imitate the JSU Prancing J-Settes marching and dance style and dress. These dance groups perform in costumes that are similar in appearance to the JSU J-Settes uniforms; including sequined one- and two-piece leotards, with long flowing capes, sheer stockings and white marching boots."

In a 2014 announcement of a J-Sette sponsored dance competition, a spokesperson for JSU's Prancing J-Settes wrote
“Prancing J-Settes” is the official name of the Jackson State University dance line, an auxiliary group of the Jackson State University Marching Band. J-Sette marching techniques such as the “Salt and Pepper,” “J-Sette Walk,” “Strut,” and “Tip Toe “can be seen all around the world. The J-Settes consisted of lines of 12-16 squad members who marched in rows affectionately named “Short and Sassy,” “Magnificent Middle,” or a “Tall and Tough. The LGBT community totally embraced this style of dance as a way to express their creativity and love of dance which turned into the J-Sette movement. Currently, guys and girls all over the national are simulating their danced moves where competitions are held everywhere and squads come from near and far to compete, including the J-Sette Competition during Jackson Black Pride.” "J-SETTE COMPETITION"

The Wikipedia article on j-setting provides additional information about that dance style, including these statements:
"This dance style is characterized by a lead and follow format where one dancer initiates a series of dance steps, and the other dancers follow or join in the movement...

the “Salt and Pepper” is a type of prance step for which the Prancing J-Settes are named and known. It is a high-knee lift or “high step” style of marching. Alternating legs lift with a bent knee to bring the foot up to the height of the opposite knee before returning the foot to the ground.

The JSU Prancing J-Settes typically march and perform in rows organized by height. J-Setting dancers also typically perform in a line or in multiple lines. While performing, dancers may also change dance formation similar to the way that marching bands change formation during shows on football fields.

The J-Setting style of dress is modeled after the dance uniforms of the JSU Prancing J-Settes. It normally includes a one or two piece bodysuit or form-fitting garment that covers the torso and crotch; and hosiery with knee high boots on the legs. However, other types of garments are also worn during a performance."
-end of quote-

However, that Wikipedia article doesn't provides any information about the sources and early influences on j-setting besides the fact that it was performed by majorettes who put down their batons. The implication is that what is now known as j-setting derives solely from Southern Black marching band traditions. However, there are those who believe that Black gays were the real originators of what is now j-setting. And those same people or others believe that j-setting is an adaptation of the drag culture's voguing. Here's an excerpt of a discussion about the announcement that the Oxygen television network was preparing to launch The Prancing Elite Project series:
From "The Prancing Elite... Smh" [a discussion forum about an announcement about a proposed television series featuring The Prancing Elites, a gay j-setters group]
Post Posted: Sat Oct 04, 2014 12:20 am
[quoting Danceholic and Sarge316]
"SARGE316 wrote:
Danceaholic wrote:
Hmmmmmm. An all male J-setting squad televised. Interesting!"

SARGE316 wrote
"Please remove the word J-Setting.........
Just use all Male dance squad..........

[Cally]:"Perhaps you need to do a little history on why it is even called Jsetting....because that is exactly what it has been branded started right in JSU's back yard with male gay it hasn't changed in 40+ years and it won't...get over it."

Post Posted: Sat Oct 04, 2014 1:02 am
Location: Charlotte, NC
“For the record, "J-Setting" is a form of dance created by a female at Jackson State University which evolved into what you see today. The urban myth of it being originated by "a gay man/men in Jackson" is as completely false and ignorant as "Southern blew the Boom off step in 1997." :lol: Mofos with no affiliation to the Boom or Prancing J-Settes will still argue you down until this day with "Yuh huh! I heard that from my cousin! " even after showing them proof. :handicap:

At any rate, the style of dance is used by many men and women, regardless of sexuality, throughout the South and among our show style craft. As it pertains to men J-Setting, doing drag, or anything else concerning their effeminate behavior, meh. When you are secure in your own sexuality and masculinity, you'd really care less what the next mofos are doing with their time. Live and let live. :thumbsup:

...Carry On.."

Post Posted: Sat Oct 04, 2014 3:40 am
“Did you know that this style of dancing was utilized in balls in Harlem in the 1960's? Even Chicago in the 1950's...

Of course unlike voguing, which back then it was referred to as "presentation" I don't recall the name, I too always thought the Jsettes invented the style....but they clearly adopted it and made it their own...

Seems to me the proper word is introduced by a female at JSU, not invented....considering a variation of this style had been used prior to the PJs putting down their batons.."

The Show Sat Oct 04, 2014 12:17 pm
"Two different styles with no similar roots.

In the 1960s, a bunch of country, backwoods women from MS adopted a style in the gay scene of New York. The reach is real.

If you really want to know about an organization's history (D9, band, J-Settes, church), just meet a member and ask. All this "mismatched socks" information is bogus.

...Carry On.."
I'm assuming that the sentence that refers to "a bunch of country, backwoods women from Mississippi" is supposed to be facetious. The implication is that those Mississippi women wouldn't be familiar with the New York gay scene.

That statement might not be true. Furthermore, some of the Prancing Jaycette choreographers in the 1970s-1990s may have been familiar with voguing and other gay (drag) dance styles such as "waacking".

The author of the 2012 article "Single Ladies, J-setting and battle" that was previously mentioned writes that "...J-setting began with marching band dance troupes, and with women dancing. It was taken up by black gay men, partly because of the influence of a male dancer in the troupe*, but more probably because the j-setting was totally fabulous, totally competitive, and totally awesome. It retain(s) its competitive element in a gay club context”.

*This comment may refer to the statement in the Wikipedia article that one of the members of the 1997 Prancing J-Settes line was a male student who replaced a dancer who was injured.

An ABC [television] News article seems to take both sides of this debate about whether what is now called j-setting was "invented" by a female or females from the Jackson State University dance line or was a dance style that was created by gays and then adapted by JSU's dance line.
From "How J-Setting Is Changing Pop Culture" April 26, 2013
By Alex Alvarez
"... in order to know where it's [j-setting] going, we must learn whence it came. Singer Our Lady J sums up why it's important for children to learn their roots: "Everything interesting in pop culture starts with the queens on the street. And then cis-gendered men sell it to cis-gendered pop stars, who then sell it to the masses. The queens on the street may never collect the coins, but we know where it starts. Watch this emerge in pop culture in the near future." Isn't it always the way....

So. What is J-Sette? The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage offers a succinct description in an intro to their interview with Jumatatu Poe, the founder and artistic director of idiosynCrazy. J-Sette, they write, is "an underground dance style popular in the gay African-American club scene. Borne [sic] from all-female, Southern drill-teams and often performed in domestically scaled spaces, J-Sette is characterized by sharp, explosive movements choreographed in tightly executed routines."
-end of quote-
Did the early choreographers of what is now known as "j-sette" invent that dance style or did they adapt that style from pre-existing dance forms such as "voguing" and "waacking" that were created by Black gay dancers? I don't know. J-setting movements remind me of both of those dance activities. However, both waacking and voguing are individual competitive activities and not group activities (with leader/group call & response motions). Also, the majorette costuming aren't found in voguing. But that doesn't mean that the early choreographers of j-setting weren't influenced by "waacking" and "voguing". Nor does it mean that those gays and non-gays who participate in and conduct j-sette competitions now aren't influenced by the waacking/voguing cultures. Notice, for instance, how similar the sound effects the hostess/director of the Atlanta j-sette competition featured in Example #2 are to the sound effects that the audience makes in response to well done voguing moves such as the death drop (as noted and as shown in videos on this pancocojams post on voguing

However, whether or not the types of dance moves that are now known as "j-setting" were influenced by dances that undeniably had their source in Black gay culture, there's no question that some Black gays (and I presume, some gays of other races/ethnicities) have embraced this dance form as have some dancers who are heterosexual.

These videos are presented in chronological order based on their publishing date on YouTube with the oldest video presented first.

Example #1: J-Settes SWAC Champ. '08 "Under Pressure"

Demaridge Uploaded on Dec 15, 2008

SWAC = "The Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC) is a collegiate athletic conference headquartered in Birmingham, Alabama, which is made up of historically black universities in the Southern United States."
Other dance lines that are auxiliaries of SWAC member university marching bands also perform in j-setting styles.


POSHi MAS, Published on Sep 11, 2012

Snytch Magazine ( contributing photographer & writer Marcus Jordan (#TWITTER @_POSHi_MAS | #IG @POSHi_PHOTOS) covers the Annually hosted Atlanta Black Gay Pride "J-Sette" Competition featuring groups:

Example #3: 2012 j-settes (southern game) 5th quarter2

Fiveonit2011, Published on Sep 24, 2012

Example #4: COCA COLA J-Setting Team - Texas Teasers

Jacob Kohinoor, Published on Sep 17, 2013

Project Turn Around

Example #5: Memphis Black Pride 2013 J-Sette Battle 4

Rockey H, Published on Jun 18, 2013

Example #6: The Prancing Elites of Mobile Published on Dec 24, 2014
Notice this video shows other men in the stands who are performing their own j-setting routines to the marching band's music.

Example #7: Bring It!: Stand Battle: Dancing Dolls vs. Prancing Tigerettes Medium Stand (S2, E12)

Lifetime, Published on Apr 17, 2015

Watch the medium portion of the stand battle between the Dancing Dolls and the Prancing Tigerettes in this scene from "Copycat."

The content of this post is presented for historical, cultural, entertainment, and aesthetic reasons.

All copyrights remain with their owners.

Thanks to all who are quoted in this post. Thanks to all who are featured in the videos and thanks to the publishers of those videos on YouTube.

Click for the related pancocojams post "Stand Battles & The Changing Meaning Of "Majorettes" In African American Culture".

Thanks for visiting pancocojams.

Visitor comments are welcome.

1 comment:

  1. This blog's focus is on Black creative & performing arts and Black gay culture greatly contributes to Black creative & performing arts. I'm also interested in issues of justice and therefore want to share this long quote from an article by Drew-Shane Daniels that I just read about Oxygen network's new television series The Prancing Elites Project:
    ..."To be a black gay man in America who loves to shimmy and rock sequin shorts in public is no simple matter. Even television, usually a haven for outsized personalities, is not necessarily friendly to expressions of black gayness, especially ones that lean toward the femme side of the spectrum. The Prancing Elites serve as a reminder that black gay men exist in various forms within our professional careers, family structures, and social circles—like other minority groups, we’re not a monolith...

    When suicide attempts are twice as frequent among queer youth of color than among queer white youth, it’s harmful and dangerous when we don’t allow people to live authentically. That’s a real issue. Before we try to discredit a show, we should think about how these images can serve as catalysts to help start dialogue among families, friends, and communities. The Prancing Elites Project can help normalize and affirm young effeminate black boys, showing them that they aren’t alone and encouraging them to find their own beat and buck down.

    Despite experiencing discrimination and hate from their community on and offline, this squad is adding a valuable thread to the tapestry of queer people of color on television. For The Prancing Elites, being black and gay isn’t a plot line on a reality show—it’s their life. Until we dismantle the stigma around gender roles for gay men, visibility will continue to be controversial. But in a society where black gay men are often trivialized, The Prancing Elites’ insistence on being seen reiterates the importance of boldly standing in your truth one sashay at a time."