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This ‘90s Dance Group Blazed A Trail For USC’s First Black Majorette Team


Twenty-five years in the past, Lisha Bell and Maya Mitchell determined to create their very own secure area on the College of Southern California. They needed to showcase a expertise they cherished: dance.

Bell and Mitchell have been of their sophomore 12 months once they began the USC Fly Ladies, named after the dancers from “In Residing Shade” who have been “our sheroes of the ’90s,” Bell mentioned. They’d joined different dance groups — Mitchell was part of the USC Tune Ladies and Bell danced on the Trojan Dance Pressure — however they each desired an area to totally specific themselves as Black girls who dance.

Now, a brand new workforce at USC is following of their footsteps. USC’s first Black majorette workforce, the Cardinal Divas, has already made its mark on campus and continued to coach and captivate its audiences by means of dance. For the reason that Cardinal Divas’ viral debut in September, Bell and Mitchell couldn’t be prouder that their legacy is being carried on for the following era.

“It makes me really feel proud,” Bell mentioned. “As an alum, after I see them, it lets me know that Black girls are nonetheless being seen.”

Bell first discovered concerning the Cardinal Divas in 2021 when workforce founder Princess Isis Lang, her Delta Sigma Theta sorority sister, talked about it of their group chat. The Cardinal Divas’ beginnings reminded Bell and several other alumni of the Fly Ladies’ begin.

Bell and Mitchell named the team after the dancers from “In Living Color."
Bell and Mitchell named the workforce after the dancers from “In Residing Shade.”

Bell, who was born and raised in Southern California, at all times cherished to bop. She was part of her highschool’s cheerleading workforce and met Mitchell, her future school roommate, on a visit to Paris.

“We have been each track leaders at our respective excessive faculties and captains as nicely, so in fact, we needed to hold that custom into school,” Mitchell mentioned.

Once they began at USC in August 1997, Bell and Mitchell auditioned for its most well-known dance workforce, the USC Tune Ladies, which carried out with the college’s marching band.

“We have been each going to proceed our love for cheer and dance by making use of for the USC Tune Ladies,” Bell mentioned. “However after we bought there, actuality hit.”

Whereas each Mitchell and Bell utilized to be part of the workforce, solely Mitchell was chosen. “I used to be advised by the now-infamous Tune Ladies coach that I used to be too hip-y for the skirt,” Bell mentioned. “And from the angle that the viewers watched, there needed to be a sure look that the ladies wanted to have.”

On the time, the USC Tune Ladies have been coached by Lori Nelson, who, in response to a Los Angeles Times investigation, has a historical past of overtly discriminating in opposition to her athletes. Ten former Tune Ladies described a “poisonous tradition” within the dance workforce, the place Nelson “[rebuked] girls publicly for his or her consuming habits, private look and intercourse lives,” Ryan Kartje reported in April 2021.

The USC Fly Girls was a dance team where Black girls could express themselves freely.
The USC Fly Ladies was a dance workforce the place Black women may specific themselves freely.

“I believe Black dancers understand that if they’re auditioning for a predominantly white squad, they’re in all probability going to be the one one which makes it,” Mitchell mentioned. “Particularly at someplace like USC, if you take a look at the historical past of what their Tune Ladies seem like, many don’t seem like us.”

Bell nonetheless needed to be part of the dance neighborhood at USC, so she auditioned for the Trojan Dance Pressure, which is the official dance workforce of USC athletics and is thought for acting at males’s and girls’s basketball video games. However she didn’t make it the primary time she tried out.

“They already had a Black woman, so I didn’t make the squad till the Black woman graduated,” Bell mentioned.

Whereas USC is situated in a predominantly Black and Brown neighborhood, the dearth of range on campus was a shock to Bell. Solely 158 college students in Bell’s and Mitchell’s freshman class have been Black.

“We have been pissed off by the concept solely one in all us may make one in all these squads and that it was at all times going to be a contest each time a couple of lady of shade was auditioning,” Mitchell mentioned.

One of many primary causes that Bell and Mitchell needed to create the Fly Ladies was visibility. Bell needed Black college students and particularly Black girls to be seen and celebrated extra on campus. Apart from the Divine 9 fraternities and sororities, there weren’t many different Black shops on campus, Bell mentioned. In order that they strategized in Somerville, a predominantly Black ground in one of many college’s dorms.

Enter the USC Fly Ladies, a dance workforce the place Black women may specific themselves freely. Bell and Mitchell made it some extent to have girls of varied shapes, sizes and ethnicities as a part of their workforce. Mitchell mentioned many individuals have a stereotypical concept of what a dancer is meant to seem like: typically white and slender. The Fly Ladies needed to vary that narrative and showcase that anybody could possibly be a dancer.

“We have been pissed off by the concept solely one in all us may make one in all these squads and that it was at all times going to be a contest each time a couple of lady of shade was auditioning.”

– Maya Mitchell, a co-founder of the USC Fly Ladies

The workforce had its first efficiency throughout Black Historical past Month 1998 in entrance of the well-known Tommy Trojan landmark. “We carried out to ‘Rosa Parks’ by OutKast and it felt magical,” Bell mentioned. “We have been surrounded by the Black Greeks, and we have been simply in our circle of affection and assist. Everybody was cheering, and it felt so good to be seen and celebrated.”

Whereas they obtained love and assist from their fellow college students, the Fly Ladies confronted backlash from some USC directors.

“We did a dance to Ice Dice’s track ‘We Be Clubbin’’ and that was my jam so that you couldn’t inform me nothing,” Bell mentioned. When the performers walked off the basketball courtroom, they obtained impolite feedback from coaches and academics, telling them to not ever dance like that once more. “That’s a actuality of doing ethnic dances or being too Black in white areas,” Bell mentioned.

The Fly Ladies’ final official efficiency was in 2008, however the workforce reunited for a efficiency in 2015. “We did a Fly Lady reunion, and everybody saved asking what occurred to the workforce,” Bell mentioned. “On the time, there was a motion of aggressive dance groups that type of flourished after which type of disappeared.”

Competitions such because the World Hip-Hop Dance Championship, which was created in Los Angeles in 2002, helped to publicize hip-hop dance groups. Two years later, the USC Hip-Hop Showcase was created. Groups reminiscent of Vanguards Crew, Chaotic 3, iGroove and USC Fly Ladies placed on biannual performances for college students to showcase their abilities. Chaotic 3 continues to be energetic practically 20 years later.

“Motion is one thing that’s innate to us. This isn’t one thing that may be bottled up,” Bell mentioned. “These are our traditions and we need to share them.”

Mitchell mentioned she hopes the Cardinal Divas maintain doing what they love, no matter what others say, and creating an area that’s not solely uplifting Black girls on campus but additionally ensuring future Black USC college students know {that a} secure haven exists for them on campus.

“We simply wish to be seen as who we’re,” Bell mentioned. “For little younger women who’re coming into these daunting areas of minimal range, they’ll see them and know that they’ll thrive, flourish, be themselves and never need to assimilate to the dominant tradition.”





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