Princess Lang was pressured to send her innocent tweet. If she got 50 likes for this A simple, seven second video clip for her dancing, the junior major in musical theater at USC would become so popular.
The announcements that followed almost buzzed a hole in the shape of a phone into the cushion of her friend’s sofa.
The video of Lang dancing in the front row at the Coliseum with a newly formed majorette team during USC’s football game against Fresno State has garnered more than 3 million views and 104,000 likes. Her curly shoulder length hair bounced with every hand movement. His bright smile lit up his face.
“The Cardinal Divas of SC UP Next,” said the tweet.
The Chicago native, who has performed in professional plays since she was in high school, was not prepared for what followed.
Choreographer Dianna Williams, whose Dancing Dolls of Jackson, Miss., were featured on the Lifetime show “Bring It!”, offered to jump “on the next flight to California” to begin training with the team. ESPNW shared a clip on Instagram. The Divas appeared on “The Jennifer Hudson Show.”
But all the time Lang’s phone was buzzing in the wake of her viral fame, the most meaningful announcement came from someone she barely remembered. It was from a woman who said she went to primary school with Lang.
“I just want to say that you are so inspiring,” the message said. “I hope you know you’re inspiring so many other girls, not just me.”
All other messages faded away in that moment. Lang, who says she never hears, felt tears well up in her eyes. That’s why she started the Cardinal Divas.
“I want to be able to create a Black space for Black women anywhere,” Lang said. “I want to make sure there’s a space for Black women to be able to grow and see each other and lift each other up and encourage each other.”
Even before she arrived on campus at USC, Lang knew she wanted to join a dance team. USC had several options, but “None of them called my name,” she said.
USC’s famed Song Girls have long defied stereotypical Southern California femininity, with dancers wearing classic white sweaters and often with their hair curled in beautiful beachy waves. The Trojan Dance Team, the athletic department’s official team that performs at basketball games, walks the line between cheer and hip-hop.
Lang didn’t feel like she fit into either established group because of the way they danced or looked. She didn’t want to change herself, so she went back to her dance roots.
“I want to make sure there’s a space for Black women to be able to grow and see each other and lift each other up and encourage each other.”
— founder of Cardinal Divas, Princess Lange
Lang, who started dancing at age 3, practiced majorette-style dancing in middle school and high school. The style, which incorporates West African movements with hip-hop and jazz, originated with a soundtrack of live marching bands at Black Colleges and Universities in the 1960s.
In majorette, Lang not only saw women who looked like her dancing, she saw Black women who loved to dance. She enjoyed the soulfulness of their movements and the energy they brought to football games. That’s what she wanted to bring to USC.
“More people deserve to see this,” Lang said, “and more people need to learn about it.”
Lang pitched the idea to Mike Munson, associate director of programs at USC’s recreational sports office, last year, her first time on campus after the COVID-19 pandemic curtailed in-person learning during her freshman year. Although the pandemic slowed down her process, the unprecedented year did not strengthen her faith in her mission, especially after the calculation of social justice in the country.
“There was so much going on with the courses and courses and discussions of diversity and inclusion, but with these discussions, what was actually being done?” Lang said. “Where was the actual action? And I didn’t see it. And so I said this is the perfect place for me to really take the plunge.”
On Per Munson’s advice, Lang applied for a majorette team to become a registered student organization, an application process that took more than two months. She was approved in March 2022 and posted on Instagram over the summer that she was looking for dancers to audition.
Lang, who works with choreographer Jai Robinson, didn’t want to limit the group to those with majorette training, especially considering the lack of access to the style on the West Coast. But Lang wanted dancers who would be committed to the craft and learn its history.
Jada Walker, a senior dance major who has appeared at award shows and in music videos, became Lang’s co-captain.
Walker, a Houston native whose long blonde braids whip through the air during routines, was dancing with a marching band for the first time at the Martin Luther King Jr. parade. when she wowed the crowd as a 3-year-old holding her own afterwards. for more experienced girls. She knew the bar the new group had to clear.
“If we do this,” Walker said, “we have to make sure we get it right.”
‘The beauty of culture’
Each buzz-buzz notification on Lang’s phone felt like a growing tidal wave. It overwhelmed her with gratitude, but it also made her unexpectedly angry.
Among the thousands of messages about how her group pushed her choreography or encouraged girls, there were just as many detractors towards the appropriation team.
Commentators, many students and alumni of HBCUs, questioned whether something that arose and is so central to the culture of those schools at a predominantly white institution like USC, where only 5.8% of the student population was in fall 2021 Black. If these women wanted to participate in a majorette and get an HBCU experience, they should have gone to an HBCU, wrote strangers online.
Walker was prepared for the backlash. This was just another reason to ensure that every movement of the team remained true to the majorette tradition.
“I would love to go to an HBCU. Who doesn’t love being around people who look like them?” said Walker, who noted scholarship opportunities and majors not available at HBCUs. “But if I can create that space in a space where it’s unusual and still feels like home, I’m going to create that and I’m happy that’s what we’re doing.”
Other schools outside of the HBCUs have embraced marching dance. Kent State, California and San Diego State are among the schools with all-Black majorette teams.
“People were saying it can’t be done somewhere else, but he is someone who is recognizing the culture, respecting it with research and putting in the work and practice.”
— Cardinal Divas faculty advisor Shannon Johnson Grayson
San Diego State’s Diamonds, formed in 2012, once included the rapper Saweetie, whose response was one of the positive reactions that came through Lang’s phone.
“SOOOOO proud,” the rapper, who transferred to USC, responded on Twitter with heart-eye emojis, red and yellow hearts and victory signs that match USC’s famous salute.
While not the first majorette team outside of an HBCU, the Cardinal Divas are the first to receive this kind of spotlight, faculty advisor Shannon Johnson Grayson noted, which naturally opened the door to more criticism. The assistant professor at USC’s Kaufman School of Dance was surprised but eventually put an end to it. A Baton Rouge, La., native and majorette protégé of Southern University’s Dancing Dolls, Grayson appreciates how the Cardinal Divas have learned and appreciated the dance style while bringing them to a new space.
“People were saying it can’t be done somewhere else, but he is someone who is recognizing the culture, respecting it with research and really putting in the work and practice,” said Grayson, who attended Howard but did not participate in the majorette. team because she wanted to study different types of dance as part of her major. “I don’t see anything wrong with that as long as you respect the culture and when you do it, you do it the right way. … You see the beauty of the culture and you take it with you wherever you go.”
‘Strength, courage and grace’
It’s midnight and the Cardinal Divas are still at work. With no space to practice on campus, the group meets for practice in a shared dance studio in the off-campus Lang dorm building. The Divas don’t start until Lang finishes rehearsing for her big musical theater, which runs until 10 every night. Majorette practice rarely wraps up by midnight. Lang is “forever grateful” to his nine colleagues and choreographers for their dedication.
The dancers have demanding schedules, which include business, accounting, real estate and engineering as well as dance for their majors, all day long. Grayson is especially proud to watch how they balance their students with sudden viral fame, including national media interviews and a 5 a.m. TV appearance.
“Strength, courage and grace,” Grayson said of the team.
The team launched a GoFundMe for uniforms, room and board and travel. Lang and Grayson attend regular meetings hoping for an opportunity to perform an outdoor routine, so the Cardinal Divas can grow beyond the standing routines they perform in the stands.
Those routines are a classic call-and-response style where Lang and Walker, dancing in the front row, initiate a series of steps and dancers participate in all eight counts. On the field, they could take the routines even further and incorporate jumps and flips.
By getting on the field and playing with the band, Lang would encourage the Cardinal Divas’ dream of becoming an official school spirit team like the Song Girls.
He was just dancing with her team in the Coliseum stands, Lang said. She told herself before the Fresno State game that she could not cry under any circumstances. Instead, the emotions radiated from his bright smile.
“I did it,” Lang said to herself. “I did it. I did it.”
She didn’t know exactly how much she had made until she looked at her phone 24 hours later.