Maybe it was my fault for thinking I could just treat dance as some side hobby , something to do just for fun. After all I had bombed my audition at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia, so maybe a career in dance wasn’t on my horizon. When I got accepted to Virginia State University I was elated to be going to an HBCU. I had gotten over the disappointment of being rejected from my first choice of school, (and my second, Howard university) and if we’re being honest and had made peace with the fact that I was headed to Petersburg, VA to study sociology. I fucked off my first 2 years of high school and I was paying for it. While it wasn’t an arts institution like UArts, and it didn’t have a dance program like Howard, it did have a “dance team” and offer a dance class in the form of a P.E requirement. I thought that would be enough.
Damn was I wrong. The dance class was miserable. We didn’t even wear dance attire, instead donning the blue shorts and white t shirts that were required for gym class. The class itself was basic as hell, the professor seemed as if she didn’t want to be there and the girls in the class were clearly just looking for a way to avoid gym class. After having graduated from the School of the Arts in Rochester which boasted a robust dance program, respected faculty and enthusiastic students, this dance class was coming up short and it was depressing. As much as I was enjoying the HBCU experience and making new friends, I was frustrated by what the school had to offer in the way of dance.
But it wasn’t over for me. VSU did have a dance team that I could try out for that was sure to provide a higher level of training and commitment. After all, the Woo Woo’s performed at all the games, so they had to be on point. So it was settled, I would be a Woo Woo and not only would I get to dance but I would get to perform as well. Double win for me. I strutted up to that audition like Beyoncè in her Coachella performance. I still had the sting of rejection on me from the last time I had tried out for something and I would be damned if I got rejected again. Besides, this was more like cheer dancing, more simple choreographically but with an emphasis on energy and performance. Right up my alley.
When I tell you I danced circles around those girls, I am not exaggerating. I got the steps down quickly and was over the top extra. I knew there was no way I was getting cut. And I didn’t. I was invited to become a member of the Woo Woo’s…..but…. If I was to perform with the team I would need hair that swings.
Now maybe just 2 weeks prior, I had made the decision to go natural. At 18 years old it occurred to me that I had no idea what my hair looked or felt like in it’s natural state. I had been getting relaxers since I was about 7 years old. I was out of state, at an all black college and I figured what better time than the present to cut the perm off and see what my natural hair was like. It was a very impulsive decision that I was very clear about. I had walked down to the first floor of my dorm and told my homegirl “ Let’s cut this off”. She looked at me crazy but I was absolutely sure, there was no apprehension at all.
I had a little bit of perm still left on my ends but essentially I had a TWA (Teenie Weenie Afro).The person in charge of the woo woo audition told me that I would need to get braids, a weave or a wig, I couldn’t be on the team without swinging hair. Now ain’t that a bitch. I was the best dancer at that audition. I came to get the black college experience only to be told that despite my talent, my hair in it’s natural form was not allowable. In retrospect, I often wonder, why didn’t I just get braids?, I was no stranger to microbraids and wore them often. I also loved wigs but that would mean having to keep my hair in set it off cornrows all the time plus it’s HOT in Virginia, who wants to be dancing outside in a wig? Not me. Weave? Completely off the table. I felt like I had just made a pivotal decision in my life,I was shunning the eurocentric beauty standards and here they were making me conform. At an HBCU!! I suppose I could’ve gotten braids and still been afrocentric but because I knew the reason for the braids was just so they could make my hair “swingable”
I wanted no parts of it.
I decided not to join the team and continued on with my sad dance classes until the end of my freshman year. Ultimately, my unhappiness with not having dance in my life in a meaningful way caused me to transfer from Virginia State University to S.U.N.Y Brockport in my home state of New York where I would graduate 3 years later with a degree in dance. The woo woo hair debacle was the straw that broke the camels back.
In retrospect I’m proud of my 18 year old self for making that decision. It was humbling to come back closer to home after being so hyped to be getting out of my hometown and going away to college but as much as I loved the HBCU experience and cherished the connections I made there I chose to honor my personal values and choose fulfillment and it was one of the best decisions I ever made.