- Jake Chessum/Oxygen
- The Prancing Elites: Adrian, Tim, Jerel, Kareem, and Kentrell
If you wanted to make reality TV sound infinitely more constructive than it is, you could say a thing that it does is showcase diversity.
People are given their own programs because they’re unlike the majority of the population in one way or another. Maybe they have a shitload of kids like the Duggars, or they’re emotionally incapable of throwing things away like the people on Hoarders, or they have congenitally shortened limbs due to achondroplasia like the ones on TLC’s hundred or so shows about little people.
Whether it makes good television is a different matter altogether. The other day I had to turn off an episode of 19 Kids and Counting—WHICH I LOVE—because a chunk of it was literally about some of the kids taking their dog to get a bath. You can lead a big-ass conservative Christian family to television cameras, but you can’t make it to do anything interesting.
A distinction should exist between being different and doing something different or remarkable. The Prancing Elites have both things covered. Oxygen’s The Prancing Elites Project documents the eponymous gay male dance team as it attempts to break into the J-Setting scene, which is and always has been dominated by women. “Why does it have to be dominated by women?” team captain Kentrell wonders. “Why can’t we do it?” J-Setting is a form of dance that was made famous by Jackson State University’s dance team, the J-Settes, and is immortalized in popular culture by Beyonce’s “Single Ladies” video.
Besides competitions, where there’s generally no place for male teams, parades are the main venues for J-Setters to perform. Which presents another obstacle for the adorable team of misfits. The Prancing Elites are based in Mobile, Alabama, and any cultural strides that city’s made haven’t necessarily extended into the rest of Alabama, particularly the places where parades are major civic events.
In episode one, the guys/lady (team member Tim wears falsies and goes by “she”) are informed by their manager, Suzanne, that they’ve been denied entrance into a parade in Saraland, a suburb of Mobile. But they decide to crash it. If they can’t prance in the parade, they’ll slip on their sequined costumes and majorette boots and prance alongside it, a five-man march for equality.
Like so many people before them who are different but insist on being seen, the Elites are ogled, booed, and told to “find Jesus” by otherwise normal-looking (well, mostly) adults we can presume are typically capable of resisting the urge to have an emotional outburst. A peek at a forthcoming episode shows a man shouting at the cameras that the team is “going to hell” as he escorts his young daughter out of a performance. Because engendering hatred in a new generation is less harmful than five beautiful black men in leotards doing what they love.
In the second episode, they march on (figuratively this time) by successfully organizing a J-Setting competition in which male teams can compete. Here, the bigotry strikes closer to home—team member Adrian’s mom has never attended one of his performances and continues her streak. Adrian cries, and we cry too.
But the show has way more joy than tears. All five Elites have enormous personalities—and they’re great dancers. We’re encouraged to laugh at them, but it’s good-natured; it never feels like we’ve been invited to gawk, unlike so many other reality shows. The Prancing Elites Project does more than showcase diversity—it celebrates it.
The Prancing Elites, Wednesdays at 9 PM on Oxygen.