n the ’80s, when hip-hop was a new cultural juggernaut, one common misconception about the spread of black culture was that it all occurred in one direction: from North to South.
New Yorkers, Philadelphians, and Chicagoans couldn’t conceive of Atlantans, Miamians, and New Orleanians as having their own urban black youth culture and so were largely blindsided by the rise of Southern hip-hop in the ’90s and by the southward shift of the cultural epicenter of hip-hop. Ha!
It turns out a parallel thing happened in black dance. While break dancing was captivating New York, and arguably the world, including the South, the South was also cultivating its own distinctly black dance forms. Case and point: J-Setting.
By now, we’ve all seen it performed, because we’ve all watched Beyonce’s video for her 2008 hit “Single Ladies,” which introduced the dance to a global audience. Her choreographers appropriated some of the hallmarks of the style — pop-locking arms, and deep gyrations — leading to some media coverage of the roots of the dance in Vibe magazine. And you guessed it, it’s spreading.
In September, the Philadelphia dance company Idiosyncrazy is incorporating it into their new dance work, Private Places. Watch the short video to hear how they plan to work it. Also, check out their Vimeo page, where they are charting their progress at developing the work.
J-Setting started in 1970 in Jackson, Mississippi at the HBCU Jackson State University, when a majorette there won permission for the all-female team, the Prancing Jaycettes, to dance without their batons, allowing a greater range of motion. The majorettes changed their name to the Prancing J-Settes in 1981, due to a naming conflict with a local organization.
In 1997, the first male performed with the J-Settes, electrifying the audience. The dance appealed to Jackson State’s gay male students who began performing it at night clubs, morphing it into a new form by combining it with other dance traditions like hip hop, ballet, jazz, crumping. It’s became a big part of gay cultural events in the south, such as the Atlanta Gay Pride Parade, where teams of men j-sette against each other.
J-Setting will likely never become the cultural juggernaut that break dancing was — it doesn’t coincide with the rise of a catapulting new technology the way that break dancing coincided with the rise of music videos. Nor is J-Setting likely to become as popular as House, a northern art form with roots in the gay community. But J-Setting is definitely an art form worthy of transmission and imitation and it’s nice to see the dance company in Philadelphia recognizing that and giving it dap.