Sixteen-year-old Ashantiera Brown had little dance experience before joining the Infamous Royal Tigerettes majorette dance team about two years ago.
After she started practicing with her fellow teammates three to four times a week at the Pawley Theater at Lincoln University, her knowledge of various dance styles, unified and individual movements, and cool tricks like the challenging death drop became second nature.
“I remember performing for the first time with the group and it was in front of a big crowd, which I had never done before. … That feeling that I am actually doing this for the first time was an amazing moment,” Ashantiera said. “Now, I have realized I’m improving a lot, from splits to death drops. I didn’t really know how to do a lot when I first joined the team and now it comes easy because of the teaching and the support.”
Since Mecca Dixon and her now 17-year-old daughter, Yessnia Austin, co-founded the Infamous Royal Tigerettes in late 2015, the group has increased the Jefferson City community’s exposure to the growing trend of majorette dancing. They hosted and participated in The Street Dance Battle in May 2016, performed in countless community parades, presented annual showcases, competed at majorette dance contests, engaged audiences at numerous festivals and events, and exhibited their talents Feb. 23 at Lincoln University in “A Night in Harlem,” an artistic expression of music, dance, poetry and more recognizing the Harlem Renaissance era.
The team does not only showcase this unique, mesmerizing blend of ballet, jazz, hip-hop, lyrical and majorette dance to the community year-round. They also encourage all children from grades kindergarten through 12th with a passion for dance to be a part of their team free of charge.
“I want to create a sisterly bond throughout the community,” Yessnia said. “Even though they may not have money, it doesn’t matter. It is about developing your dance skills and having fun.”
Yessnia and Mecca share a love for dance.
While attending Lincoln University, Mecca, a Chicago native, was a member of the college’s marching band, the Marching Musical Storm. After moving back to Jefferson City and working as a customer relations specialist at her alma mater, Mecca has served as the flag line instructor for the band for many years.
From a young age Yessnia has danced, first learning ballet, tap, jazz and hip-hop at a dance company while living in Chicago. She continued to practice on her own after moving to Jefferson City in 2014, but she missed actively performing her lifelong passion.
That same year, the Lifetime television network introduced a new docu-series, “Bring It!” which followed one of the top majorette dance teams in the country, The Dancing Dolls of Jackson, Mississippi. Yessnia was in awe of their collegiate level of dancing that incorporated a variety of styles to choreographed routines. She had the same feelings of inspiration when watching the talented LU Blue Flames dance team perform locally, and she decided to create her own majorette group for area youth.
When Yessnia expressed her interest in forming such a team, Mecca and two members of the Marching Musical Storm, T’airra Wheeler and Jessie Davis, helped Yessnia start The Infamous Royal Tigerettes. Mecca serves as the team director, and T’airra is now head coach alongside assistant coach Tammeron Henderson, who had performed with the LU Blue Flames until she graduated in 2006.
With experienced dancers in place to help guide the team, Yessnia first talked to girls at school who had some dance experience and liked the activity.
“They were excited to do something like this group,” she said. “Then I started creating flyers to advertise tryouts for quite awhile so everyone had a chance to come.”
The Infamous Royal Tigerettes began with five girls, but once the team started to showcase their hard work and talents to the community, more girls participated and built the team up to about 20. Now, the dedicated group of about 11 to 12 girls continually boosts the momentum the Tigerettes have created for youth majorette dance in the area. Yessnia wants to see the group grow in size, age range and inclusion of anyone interested in dancing.
“I want to include everyone because everyone deserves a chance, especially the younger girls like the ones in elementary school. The more they get that muscle memory of dancing, the more they will want to do it,” she said. “I created this because I wanted to share something I created with the people I love, and dancing is something I love passionately. The more I get to teach it to other people, it is like ‘YES!’”
The Infamous Royal Tigerettes kick off each practice with stretches and exercises, led by their captain, Yessnia. She then will show the team new techniques, including moves from multiple genres of dance that are incorporated into majorette collegiate level dancing, as well as tricks used in routines such as the splits or the proper way to do a backbend.
“At first I didn’t know how to do a backbend, but they taught me and now I know how to do it,” said 12-year-old Tatianna Harris, who has been with the team for about two years.
The Tigerettes then begin practicing their routines or learning new ones. Yessnia choreographs dances, as do coaches T’airra and Tammeron, and guest choreographers.
“Sometimes we have guest choreographers who will help with a specific technique, for example, teaching a ballet move for a specific portion of one of our routines,” Yessnia said.
Yessnia, T’airra and Tammeron incorporate elements of ballet, jazz, lyrical and hip-hop into their dance routines, creating a unique blend of majorette similar to the Blue Flames. The variety also goes with different performances they are preparing for, knowing competition dances will vary from ones used in parades or their upcoming annual showcase at 3 p.m. Sunday, May 20 at Lincoln University, Pawley Theater in Martin Luther King Hall, which will exhibit a variety of routines the team has done all year.
“I don’t do a specific type of dance through a routine because it wouldn’t be as interesting. Our main dances are majorette and hip-hop, but for showcases we also do classic and contemporary lyrical dancing. We are getting more into ballet and have used some African dancing, as well,” Yessnia said. “We teach them and critique them to continually improve. Our teaching style is not fast paced, but at the girls’ pace. Everybody has a different learning style. Some are visual and some of them are not. We just learn as much as we can.”
The practices keep the team on top of their numerous routines performed throughout the year, with annual events they attend like parades and holiday celebrations, as well as new events like a salute to Women’s History Month, Standing in the Footsteps of Giants, scheduled at 3:30 p.m. Sunday, March 18 at Lincoln University’s Pawley Theater.
The girls were assigned one or two important African-American women in history they had to research and craft a presentation about for the program, which will also include dancing.
“It will be in the style of living windows, featuring politicians, lawyers, super models, judges, astronauts, sports athletes and so many others. It is all about women,” Tammeron said. “We wanted them to represent women that would encourage the community attending the event to find out more about some of these amazing women or find out something new and different that they didn’t already know about, and that goes for the girls learning about these women, too.”
Imparting life lessons is a big part of the Infamous Royal Tigerettes. For T’airra, this group is more than just a fun way to share her dance training with youth in her community while studying business administration before graduation in December. She understands the importance of what it means to these young girls.
“When I was young, I was in a dance team like this that was free for anyone who wanted to participate. … I want the kids to be able to come and dance when they want to and not pay a fee,” she said. “Most moms and dads are by themselves and don’t have the funds to do it. This way their kids get the experience the way I experienced it.”
The team hosts fundraisers to purchase new uniforms, such as car washes and bake sales. The Tigerettes also host parties for middle-schoolers that include canned food drives or other charitable activities, and also earn enjoyable lock-ins and parties of their own.
“When I’m around these girls so much, their personalities are rubbing off, which is a good thing. I don’t have sisters, so it is nice to know that I have them,” said Da’Mia Day, a 16-year-old Tigerette who has been with the team since day one. “On this team, we make sure we take care of each other first and dance second.”
Yessnia said even though the team schedules many performances throughout the year, working with all the girls’ extracurricular and school schedules is important. For example, Yessnia is also in show choir, co-captain of a step team at her school and works for the school newspaper as a writer and photographer. Like many of the Tigerettes, she is working to also build her resume for college, looking to pursue performance arts in dancing, singing and acting, as well as music engineering.
“I like we have an organized dance team and program. They love us and care for us. They treat everyone like family and their own kids. We practice to get it right and want us to look good but have fun with it. They want us to enjoy it,” said Jerica Austin, a 14-year-old Tigerette. “There are times where life is hard, but they are here to help us get back up. This team is like another family, and if something happens we all try to do our best to fix it.”
That feeling is mutual for everyone involved with the Infamous Royal Tigerettes.
“They are so lovable and they do bring out the best in us, too,” Tammeron said. “They come here and they work hard. … This group is open to all kids who want to learn, dance and have a great time doing it.”
For more information about the Infamous Royal Tigerettes, upcoming performances or information on how to join, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit their Facebook page.