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The Crown Jewels fight for respect and recognition

The Crown Jewels Dance Team after a showcase outside of Student Center Plaza Aug. 23, 2018. Photo Submitted by Tateanna Rush

On Thursday, Aug. 30, Georgia State’s Crown Jewels Dance Team said security guards directed by the Georgia State Athletics Department told them that they could not dance in the student section at the first home football game of the season.

This came as a surprise to the team as prior to the game they believed there to be a mutual understanding between their team and the athletics department.

In a WSB-TV article about the incident, Mike Holmes, associate athletics director, said, “We needed to fill that space in. We asked about four or five times. We continued to get, ‘We’re going to do what we wanna do.’ That’s the point where we got our security company involved.”

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The girls on team said that they never said anything close to those comments, but that they repeatedly explained that they were cleared to dance in the section.

The Signal reached out to Mike Holmes for comment, but he declined to speak any further until the athletics department is able to meet with members of the dance team alongside their faculty advisor.

THE TEAM

The group, which is officially chartered with Georgia State, is comprised of 12 students, seven of which are dancers.

Danielle Holmes, the founder of the team, attended a high school with a majorette-style dance team. She wanted to continue to perform and decided to bring this style of dance to Georgia State.

“It’s pretty much the type of dance styles you’ll see at urban high schools, the type you’ll see at [historically black colleges and universities], dancing with the marching band. It’s very fluid, up-tempo and on beat,” she said.

According to a college report by Forbes, Georgia State has a 37.4 percent population of black or African-American students.

Danielle Holmes said she doesn’t see race and diversity as part of the problem at hand. Instead, Holmes takes issue with what she believes to be the university attempting to uphold an image that doesn’t align with the reality of its student body.

“They don’t want to accept the culture that comes with the people,” she said. “I don’t think they want to display that type of dance style on such a grand scale. I think they don’t want people to see that and think negatively about that because they don’t understand it. They are not culturally competent about that.”

Historically, majorette performances accompanied marching bands. But as time went on, the popularity of the traditional style of majorettes declined in favor of hip hop-influenced dance at historically black colleges and universities.

Danielle Holmes said that the Diamond Dancers from the Florida Agricultural & Mechanical University (FAMU) were her motivation for starting the Crown Jewels because they created a majorette dance team at a school that she said didn’t originally want a dance team. Holmes wanted that college experience that she could have gotten at FAMU.

“I do look at it as a career. One of the girls from the FAMU Diamonds went on to dance professionally, as do many majorette dancers. For us, it’s a passion,” she said.

A CHALLENGING JOURNEY

According to Danielle Holmes, forming the team was a long, tedious process due to her phone calls and emails going unreturned.

She said she went to Jeff Benson, the assistant director for leadership programs, to get the ball rolling on her organization charter but faced pushback from the university’s band.

“The band director said that he didn’t see the band going in that direction, and the athletics department said they didn’t want to be a part of it. From there, Jeff Benson said that if the band already does not want you all to be a part of it, then we don’t want to disrespect his wishes,” she said.

Despite this, she still went on to officially establish the team on Jan. 23, 2017, and the team danced in the stands the entirety of that spring basketball season. They even did a halftime performance, but there was still tension in their relationship with the athletic department.

“During our halftime performance, the band boo’d us, and we have that on video,” Holmes said.

The issues escalated when football season began later that year.

“Jeff Cheek came out and said that we wouldn’t be able to dance in the stands [during football season] and that they have their own dance team. He was a part of the athletic department during basketball season, and was aware that we were dancing during basketball season,” Danielle Holmes said.

The team, respecting his decision and taking advice from their advisor, went to the first home game of 2017 in full uniform, but they did not dance in hopes that they could resolve the issue and come to a mutual agreement with the department.

“I went through several emails and several phone calls that went unreturned. I had to go through mediation, and they were able to get a response from the athletic director, Brian Kelly, and that’s when we were told that we were able to dance as long as they weren’t at capacity and we weren’t doing disruptive things like throwing items.”

Danielle Holmes has a record of this email as proof of their agreement.

After this, they danced in the stands that football season but Holmes described a lingering unwelcome feeling.

When the new 2018 basketball season came around, they began to have more issues with people asking them for proof of permission to dance in the stands.

“I requested to get something in black and white, but I was told that the email would suffice. I would show them the email, and they would still come up to us and tell us, ‘Oh you all can’t do this, you can’t do that, you can’t sit here.’ It was very chaotic,” Holmes said.

“It’s seems like every season we have to start from scratch,” she said.

CONTINUED TENSION

Over the summer of 2018, Danielle Holmes reached out to the athletic department to inform them that her team planned on dancing at the first football game, and the department emailed back informing her of a new policy.

The policy was intended for organizations that wanted to be involved on the game floor or the field.

“To me, that did not apply to us because we dance in the stands. However, we did put in that request on July 27. I didn’t hear a response back until the day after the game, and they said they were denying our request and that we will not be able to dance in the stands,” she said.

Because the team had danced in the stands last football and basketball seasons, they assumed there would be no issues.

“One of the guys, I think he works for the school, he was telling us that if you guys don’t leave, they are going to call the police on you all,” Amanda Jenkins, one of the dancers, said. “We were just like, ‘We are just going to dance because they are not giving us a reason to why we can’t dance.’”

Further into the game, the girls said that two officers came up to them and told them that they either had to move to the away side or they would be escorted off the premises.

“By the beginning of the second quarter, we went to the away side and we were just dancing over there for the rest of the game,” Jenkins said. “It is so embarrassing. Deep down, we wanted to cry.”

AN UNCERTAIN FUTURE

“We want to be able to have a secure section in the stands, whether it’s capacity or not. We would like the same mutual respect that other organizations have because we are supporting the school, we are supporting the athletic department and we are supporting the football team,” Jenkins said.

As of now, the Crown Jewels Dance Team is not officially cleared to dance for the next game, but they have a meeting set up with their advisor and the athletics department to discuss what transpired and future arrangements.

“We did everything by the book, following policies, following procedures, going through mediation. We’ve done nothing wrong. We are going to let everyone see how you [the athletics department] have been treating us for the past two years,” Danielle Holmes said. “Now we are going to get the respect we deserve.”

As for the next football game, she’s certain of one thing.

“We will be there at the game,” she said.

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