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You found J-Sette on YouTube, right?
Jumatatu Poe: Beyoncé introduced me. [laughter] I had been thinking a lot about confined spaces, because some of the dance work that I was involved in mandated negotiations with non-proscenium spaces. At the same time, I started reading Arlie Hochschild’s book The Managed Heart, which is all about emotional management, and in the service industry particularly, as it has to do with flight attendants.
Then it so happened that—I guess this was 2008 or ‘09—Beyoncé’s “Single Ladies” video came out. Everybody was talking about it. Beyoncé is always in the news for plagiarism, so back then, people were talking about [her] employment of J-Sette choreography. I didn’t know what that was. I started looking around for J-Sette and because of her video, a lot of the J-Setters on YouTube had exploded in popularity. Donte had several videos online—dancing in the garage, the living room with the table pushed back, the kitchen sometimes, or in the bedroom, behind the bed. What I became attracted to—and the reason that I thought about linking that with the flight attendants—was the idea of all of this huge, combustive energy in these really small spaces. For me, it spoke to the emotional demands on a person working in the service industry, particularly flight attendants. And so I thought it might be cool to loop the two of those two things together.
In addition to the movement, I’ve been attracted to the history of J-Sette, and its integration with historically black colleges and universities. The guys practicing J-Sette are, to a certain extent, limited in terms of where they can dance. [They] wouldn’t be in the stands with the majorettes at sports games because it’s not typically accepted. One of the J-Sette squads in Alabama had a member that was killed in a hate crime.
[Donte,] how was it for you, teaching a class of J-Sette to modern dancers in preparation for tonight’s performance?
Donte Beacham: It was hard. I was nervous, because it was my first time teaching. I was thinking about them being professional dancers, when all I’ve ever done is hip-hop in the living room and J-Sette. But once I got comfortable with everybody, I was sweating and I was breaking down.
How did you and LaKendrick get into J-Sette? What sparked that interest?
LaKendrick Davis: Well, my best friend saw me as a cheerleader, doing hip-hop dancing. And he was like, “Oh, I want you to get on my hip-hop team.” That’s what he was calling it at the time. Then he starts teaching me the moves and I’m like, “We’re kind of like majorettes. This is really not what I signed up for.” But then I started getting into it so he kept training me. We just kept going, dancing for about four or five years. Then I ran into Donte and we decided to dance together, because I had a team at the time. He was from Florida.
DB: I started through my cousin. She was a majorette. And I was fascinated with it. I moved to Florida after graduation, and I had never been to a gay club, so I’d never really seen males do it. I went back to Mississippi to visit and I said, “Let’s go to the club.” Once we went, there were a bunch of guys there. They had on their uniforms and everybody was dancing. I went back to Florida, and I started practicing—didn’t know anything about it, the fundamentals, anything. But I picked up some people [and said], “Okay, this is what we’re going to do. They call it J-Setting. We’re going to do it. We’re going to master it. And we’re going to have our team.”
After that, I started traveling and seeing more people doing it. I moved back to Mississippi and joined another squad, and that’s when I met LaKendrick. I went to the club one night and I was dancing against, like, 40 people. And they called LaKendrick and said, “There’s this guy here from Florida. And he thinks he can dance. We need you to come down here and dance down.” So he came down and he started flipping all over the place. I was like, “Okay, I can’t do any of this.” [laughter] After that, we started dancing together, ever since then.