If Cities Could Dance


J-Setting: From Southern HBCUs to the Clubs of Atlanta

J-Sette dancers bring energy, precision, and stunts to the floor and the Dance Champz of Atlanta want to take this underground LGBTQ+ art form to the next level. J-Setting’s roots are from Jackson State University’s Prancing J-Settes who added African American and jazz dance styles in majorette dancing. Leland Thorpe and his team’s mission is for J-setting to be taken seriously in the dance world.

AIRED: September 08, 2020 | 0:05:12

KQED sonic ID

- Hello everybody, my name is Leland Thorpe

and welcome to Atlanta, the motherland of J-Setting.

J-Setting is a underground dance form

that gives LGBTQ people

a chance to stand out with confidence, poise, elegance.

Wherever there was a marching band,

there was gay men that wanted to do this,

and J-Setting creates a family.

♪ upbeat music

[Leland] Atlanta is the down south of dance.

It's the rawest of them all,

the unapologetic fierceness that is the South.

[Darrius] What's unique about J-Setting is

it's a combination of just every dance style

and it allows you to be as creative as you want to be.

The key elements would be marching, preciseness,

I would say togetherness,

being able to go in and out of femininity and masculinity.

[Leland] Dance Champz of Atlanta is not for the faint of heart.

My team is very hardcore.

And you have to make sure that

you know who you are as a person first.

The pandemic has affected the LGBTQ community

and the J-Setting community tremendously,

we're kind of left in limbo.

So when COVID came about we decided that

we were gonna immediately form a quarantine pod together.

We all love to dance and we all wanna survive this.

J-Setting derives from

historically black colleges and universities.

Jackson State University,

their dancers are labeled as the J-Settes.

And so that's where that name derives from.

We've taken the blueprint of it and we've made it our own.

But we had to do it underground

because of course it wasn't accepted.

We're still ostracized.

I'm considered gay before I'm Black.

We don't always feel part of our Black community.

With me coming from Detroit, Michigan,

since middle school I was pushed away from dance,

even in marching band.

I had been dancing behind my family's back.

But I was able to follow my dreams,

find my new self here in Atlanta.

♪ upbeat music

Atlanta is the mecca of J-Setting.

The super bowl of the underground dance

was at a club called Traxx.

People would come from all over the United States

to dance and battle and compete.

♪ upbeat music

[Darrius] I was at the club when I was around 17,

I just seen guys doing sharp movements --

stunts and things like that.

And I was like, wow,

I've never seen something like this.

♪ J to the S E double T E

♪ You can't J-Sette better than me ♪

The battles can be very intense.

♪ upbeat music

It can get playful

but because of the type of team we are,

it's very competitive.

We put in a lot of work.

[Leland] We are the only J-Sette organization that has been chosen

to perform each year in the Atlanta Gay Pride Parade.

It just brings so much gratification and aspiration.

I would like to push the envelope more,

so people can know that it is a true art form

just like any other, just like ballet, just like modern.

I'm reaching for our acknowledgement,

I'm reaching for respect,

I'm reaching for acceptance for us all.

(upbeat electronic music)


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