All-male, gender-bending, Deep South dance troupe prances right into our hearts

At Idealist, we love good ideas of all kinds, but especially those that turn commonly-accepted notions on their heads, get us to confront our beliefs, and (maybe) stir up a little trouble. To honor ideas brave and bold, and inspired by Sydney, Australia’s Festival of Dangerous Ideas, we welcome you to Idealist in Action’s Dangerous Ideas Week.
As Prancing Elites‘ captain Kentrell Collins says, “It’s OK for a woman to put on tights and play football, but when a man wants to put on a leotard and tights, it’s a problem.”

So what’s an all-male, gender-bending dance troupe from Mobile, Alabama to do?

WERK.

Photo-of-The-Prancing-Elites-Alabama-All-Male-Cheerleading-Team

Prancing to glory!
(photo via MemphisRap.com)

Prancing Elites have worked super hard in the almost 10 years since their founding: bringing their life-affirming art to new audiences; helping people rethink stereotypes about men, the South, and Spandex; and bringing back J-Setting just in time for Beyoncé to make the “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)” video.

Along the way, they’ve garnered a lot of Idealist-approved street cred. Highlights include:

  • Getting tweeted about by fan Shaquille O’Neal, who sent 200,000 people to a YouTube video of theirs in 48 hours.

Today, we celebrate Prancing Elites’ continuing dedication to their ideals, art, and individuality—whether the reception they face is happy or hostile. Go, guys!

Has your self-expression ever caused a stir? Tell us about it in the comments.

*****

Join Idealist on March 11 as we launch a new global movement for action and change!

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When the gate swings open: An Idealist’s reflection on love, hip-hop, and Brazil

 

As a child I played with National Geographic magazines. I cut the photos carefully from their binding and positioned them on my bedroom floor. I stood in the center of each photo and communed with the imagined essence of another world. For as long as I can remember, the power and mystery of place captivated my spirit and shook my bones with a voracious sense of wonder.

In 2005, when I was 22-years-old, I landed in Rio de Janeiro with a large university grant. I carried addresses and phone numbers for various nonprofits where I’d been contracted to teach hip-hop and English to Brazilian youth. In my mind, I had plans to study dance all around the country. As a taxi drove me at a furious pace through Rio’s tangled maze of steep hillside cobblestone, one clear thought rang out.

“I’m too sensitive for a city like this.“

I was right, but I’d soon learn I didn’t care. I cared about discovering how my sensitivity interacted with this new world. I wanted to see where the path of contradiction would lead me.

It first led me to a brown-eyed man who stalled my heart when his smile carved two dimples beside the corner of his mouth. The enchantment I felt on the nights I walked arm and arm beside him wasn’t simply the magic of being young and falling in love in a foreign country. It was the sensation of being in the presence of a gatekeeper. The one who stands on the threshold of where you’ve been and where you are going. The one who beckons you in such an alluring way you have no choice but to cross over, regardless of whether or not they follow behind you.

At 22-years-old, travel shattered my compass and my direction became suddenly, terrifyingly fluid. That transformative year, finding love and discovering my calling happened in tandem.

On one typically sweltering Rio afternoon, my Brazilian boyfriend invited me to meet him at a beach side park where his dance company rehearsed every day. The company consisted of a dedicated crew of teenagers with a shocking well of talent and a profound enthusiasm for hip-hop dance.

For the first month I sat mesmerized and watched them rehearse. They trained and created movement, yelled out to keep going when they were exhausted, and celebrated each other’s growth. For the second month I stood in the back row of their concrete stage, dancing alongside them. The third month my Brazilian boyfriend broke my heart. I debated ever returning to that park where I had spent the last 60 days humming with a familiar sense of wonder shaking in my bones.

“I’m too sensitive to handle this,” I thought.

Yet I found myself back at their concrete stage, terrified and uncertain. The community of dancers I’d been spending everyday with didn’t care where I’d been or who I’d dated. They only cared that when we danced we sought entry into the same unspeakable passion. Echoing every day around the park was the soundtrack of their excitement and it created a new compass within me. My brown-eyed ex ignored me, but one day it finally stopped mattering.

On the other side of the threshold the view was different. The narrative had changed. It was no longer about falling in love with a man. It was about falling in love with the story of a group of people. I began coming to practice with a camcorder in my hand. The first time I pressed record my breath stalled and my heartbeat quickened. The earth pressed into my feet. I felt certain I was exactly where I needed to be.

Since that initial discovery I’ve been growing into the craft of filmmaking, following this community of dancers around Brazil and other parts of the world as their story widens. I’ve made a hundred amateur mistakes and another hundred skillful, intuitive choices. I’ve kept myself in the center of my sensitivity even when the pressure mounted because that sensitivity is ultimately what makes me an alert storyteller. I have cherished every moment with the community I’ve filmed. I’ve fallen in love over and over and over again.

My editor and I recently put the finishing touches on Believe The Beat, the feature length documentary that began eight years ago, when a sweet boy asked me my name after a dance class on a clear night in a loud city. There is sometimes a voice inside me that yearns to omit this piece of the story.

“I went to Brazil to make a film,” I hear myself think. “I researched and I planned my strategy. I was intentional and grounded and focused from the start.”

Then the rest of me rushes in. I am reminded of the little girl who stood on photos of foreign lands with the unknown looming. Who closed her eyes and said yes to a million possible truths.

This is what the world asks us to do. Follow the winding, complicated path toward voracious wonder. Say yes to the moments that enchant and challenge and surprise us. Walk across the threshold when the gate swings open and keep moving forward as it shuts.

DSCF0706Jocelyn Edelstein is a Portland filmmaker, writer, choreographer, and founder of the Urban Body Project, a multimedia collective that explores the relationship between dance, culture, and community. Her writing has been previously published in Best Women’s Travel Writing 2011, Volume 8, and will be upcoming in Volume 9. When she is not making films or writing stories she is performing and teaching dance at Polaris Contemporary Dance Center.

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Today's Random Picks: From Photography in Ghana to Hip Hop in Massachusetts

From Flickr user Chris Willis (Creative Commons)

Every day, hundreds of new listings are added to our site, and it’s always amazing to see the variety of organizations, opportunities, and events that Idealist users can connect with. Let’s see what you (and we!) might be missing! I’ve decided to pick a few random listings each week and spotlight them here.

Today’s area of focus: Art, Architecture, Music

Organization: Baryshnikov Arts Center
Location: New York, New York, United States
In their own words: “BAC serves as a creative laboratory, meeting place, and performance space for a vibrant community of artists from around the world.”

Job: Hip Hop Instructor
Organization: United Teen Equality Center
In their own words: “UTEC reaches out to these young people through intensive street outreach, builds upon their unique strengths within a youth development framework, and creates opportunities to best support them in becoming agents of social change and organizers in the community.“

Volunteer Opportunity: Thai Village Handicraft Art Project
Organization: Mundo Exchange Organization
In their own words: “We team with local communities to provide global volunteers and financial aide to impoverished and rural community projects. We believe that cross-cultural participation and an equal exchange of ideas can help bring global understanding to those involved.”

Internship: Photographer – Ghana, West Africa
Organization: Women in Progress
In their own words: “Women in Progress works to achieve economic independence of women and alleviate poverty at a grassroots level in Ghana through the sustainable growth of small women-owned businesses.”

Event: Logan Heights Neighborhood Clean-Up!
Organization: BAME Renaissance Inc. (San Diego, CA)
Date: September 25, 2010
In their own words: “ BAME is a catalyst to promote and provide an opportunity for all sectors of the community to work collaboratively toward the goal of strengthening individuals, families, and neighborhoods through social and economic development.”


Search hundreds of other listings filed under Art, Architecture, and Music, or post an opportunity of your own.

[This blog entry appeared on an older version of Idealist; any broken links are a result of having re-launched our site in Fall 2010.]

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