From left: Jerel Maddox, Adrian Clemons, Kentrell Collins, Timothy Smith, Kareem Davis | Photography by Luke Fontana. Photographed at The High Line Hotel, New York. Groomer: Angela Di Carlo.
They strut. They swivel. They bend and sway. But most important, the Prancing Elites have a blast. The energy of the Mobile, Ala.-based dance team — with all their bright, sequined costumes and high steps — is infectious. It makes you perk up and want to move your own hips.
But their captain, Kentrell Collins, who’s been dancing for more than a decade and calls himself the “daddy” of the group, says their booming popularity, spurred by a 2013 YouTube video, was a fluke. “Adrian [Clemons, a fellow member] uploaded it by accident, and when people saw it, they thought it was cool, different, and also just weird,” Collins says. A result of that happy accident is The Prancing Elites Project, a new reality show about the group airing on Oxygen that might just inspire a new generation of boys to practice death-drops and twerking in their living rooms (or beyond).
The other core members — Kareem Davis, Jerel Maddox, and Timothy Smith — hope it does just that, but they know from their experiences of dancing at Southern football games and at Mobile’s legendary Mardi Gras parade that it takes a thick skin to prance. “We had to worry about people saying negative things and throwing stuff,” says Smith, the glamazon of the group, who uses female pronouns. “But no one really hit us with their sneaky throws, and we had a lot of people cheering for us.”
Smith, like the others, says she always wanted to dance while growing up, but was told she couldn’t. “In middle school I was fixin’ to be a cheerleader,” she says. “All I did was a toe-touch and the coach was like, ‘I’ll see you tomorrow in practice.’ But my mama said no!” She unleashes a high-pitched, emphatic squeal, tossing her long hair over her shoulder. “So I just want to show all those people who doubted me — who talked really, really bad about me and hurt my feelings — that I’m doing what I want to do.”
Maddox, meanwhile, says it was in 2009 that he began J-Setting, a style of dance that’s been popular at historically black colleges for decades, and spawned a subculture in Southern gay black communities. But he was initially nervous to do it in public. “Dancing isn’t hard,” Maddox says. “The hardest thing is judgmental people, because they think it’s not ‘normal.’ But it’s my life. I’m going to live it the way I want to — respectfully and for me.”
And that’s why the Prancing Elites strive to get people to smile and laugh at their performances — they want to turn that negative energy they’re all too familiar with into something positive. “I hope everyone gets the message,” Maddox says. “It’s not just about dancing. We want boys to be inspired to live their truth. If you want to be a hairstylist or whatever, and your mother don’t like it because you’re a boy, do it!”