Photo: Human Jukebox Media
They are world renowned and for millions, the absolute embodiment of what a Black woman is. They are the Southern University ‘Dancing Dolls.’ You see beautiful faces, sensual dance moves and precise choreography but we see something very different — accomplished Black women entrepreneurs. The Dancing Dolls are not just women who dance with the Southern University’s ‘Human Jukebox’ but in fact, a sacred sisterhood and launching pad for CEOs and bosses of Black business.
Chicago has produced no shortage of phenomenal Black women and Traci Greene is one of them. By the age of six Traci had already started classical ballet training — she was gifted and everyone knew it. She was offered dance scholarships from Illinois State and the University of Iowa but her heart was always set on going to a HBCU. She flirted with Howard but her mother just felt better about Southern because they had family friends in Louisiana. Traci’s life was changed forever when Southern’s legendary Band Director, Isaac (Doc) Greggs, approached her and asked, “Can you dance?” Traci said yes, of course, to which he responded, “No, really dance — can you do a pirouette?” Greggs invited Traci to try out for the Dolls and the rest was history.
Traci won a spot on the squad and was eventually awarded a band scholarship. After her first year she was appointed Dance Captain for the Dolls. More than anything, the experience gave her the confidence to pursue a career in dance. After graduating she went on to dance in the workshop of The Color Purple and the international tour of West Side Story on Broadway. She landed leading roles in The Chocolate Nutcracker, alongside Debbie Allen and Misty Copeland. In 2010 Traci launched Houston Dance Lab, an award-winning dance studio. The skills Traci uses today as an entrepreneur were developed as a Dancing Doll, along with her ethic of giving back. In 2013 she founded the Lab Performing Arts Initiative, a 501c3 that serves young people who lack exposure to the dance world due to affordability or other constraints. The organization’s annual fundraiser, Houston’s Urban Nutcracker, is a must-see. **Purchase tickets here**
Atlanta is “Black Hollywood” and among the city’s constellation of stars is native Kiki Ely. Kiki’s path to becoming a Dancing Doll was somewhat clearer than others. Her parents were both alums of Southern and her older cousin had also been a Dancing Doll. Kiki was never just a pretty face — she graduated high school at the top of her class. She went to Southern as a chemistry major and was determined to make an impact in the classroom. Kiki hoped to eventually make an impact as a chemist, perhaps inventing her own line of perfume one day. Kiki’s focus on her goals was so crystal clear that she actually auditioned for the Dolls the summer before she started classes.
She knew she’d killed the audition. What wasn’t clear is whether there was enough room on the squad for many new faces. Not only did Kiki make the squad, she was actually a Dancing Doll for all four of her years on campus. After graduating with her chemistry degree she moved back to Atlanta and began working with her high school’s band. The band director told her about a new movie that was filming in the area, a movie which Kiki did some choreography for. That movie was ‘Drumline’ and it lit a fire in her — she moved to Los Angeles, began networking and eventually landed gigs with major artists like Christina Aguilera, Ciara and Missy Elliott, to name a few. Kiki even danced on the Oprah Winfrey Show. She now does choreography for a number of major movie and television productions. Kiki also helps young talent break into the industry and succeed through her Dance Convention, Atla Takeova.
Vacherie, LA is a small town along the Mississippi River, nestled among sweet sugar cane fields. It’s not only the backdrop for hit T.V shows like OWN’s Queen Sugar, but it is the place Bridget Evans will forever call home. Everyone in Vacherie knew Nichols State, LSU and Southern. If you were Black, however, you simply went to Southern. Southern ran deep in Bridget’s veins but in 1983, while attending her first Southern homecoming, Bridget was hypnotized by the Dancing Dolls. She had never seen anything like their style and especially their “strut” and from that day until she graduated high school, she was determined to be a Dancing Doll. Bridget even had her father buy a camcorder so that he could tape their routines during Southern halftime performances. When she was ready to apply to college, Bridget applied to one school only — Southern. Bridget got to campus and before classes even started she auditioned for the Dolls. Later she received a call in her dorm room to report to the band room. Once there she was informed that she’d made the squad and practice would start that same day.
The nine women on Bridget’s Doll squad would become her family and as fate would have it, she would need each of them. Bridget came to Southern intending to major in fashion merchandising. Her world — and major — changed at the end of her freshman year when her father had a stroke. Bridget then chose to study speech pathology, which positioned her to help her father navigate his health journey. But having lived on the major stage of an illustrious Black institution like Southern planted a seed in Bridget — Black excellence. At Southern she saw peers who were bound for greatness as entrepreneurs. As a Doll, she knew what precision and cooperation could birth. Today she is helping Black owned businesses succeed as co-owner of Black Capital Partners. Her firm develops solutions for Black owned companies to monetize their brands through marketing, strategic partnerships and creative campaign strategies. With the same energy she brought to the field, Bridget is working to maximize the potential of over 30 Black owned companies daily, including We Buy Black.
Shawn Zachery Black Foxes Director, Prairie View A&M University
There was no doubt Shawn Zachery was going to a HBCU as a little girl in Natchitoches, LA. There was also little doubt that Southern would be that HBCU. Her brother had played in Southern’s band and she caught band fever pretty early, too — she was a mean clarinet player. Southern also hosted several camps in her area, including an engineering camp she participated in. Her grades were solid, so much so that she qualified for a program that allowed select juniors and seniors to begin taking courses at Southern, while still in high school. Shawn’s brother and sister had gone to Southern so although she flirted with Howard momentarily, Southern was her choice. When she arrived on campus it was a natural fit. It felt like family and since her older siblings had already attended, everyone seemed to know her name. The Dancing Dolls, however, were the furthest thing from her mind. For two years Shawn was content to go to class, study hard and play in the concert band.
She was first chair clarinet, a fact that drove the men in the band crazy. Shawn was a computer science major and decided that her next activity would be cheerleading, if she could work up the nerve to try out for the squad. Southern’s Assistant Band Director at the time was a family friend. Although football season had already started, there was to be an additional tryout to expand the Doll squad. Shawn happened to be in the band room when that gentleman told her about the tryout but Shawn, having been a gymnast growing up, informed him, “I can flip, I can’t dance.” He calmly responded that it didn’t matter, then proceeded to grab her by her sweatshirt and throw her into the room where the tryouts were being held. She felt awkward and it didn’t help that people were staring at her because she was late. As the girls were being taught the routine the Dolls had done the first two games, someone stopped and questioned Shawn as to how she already knew the dances. Apparently, Shawn had a memory that was close to photographic. She was the only hopeful in the room that day who made the squad. She went on to study other dance forms and danced professionally for several years. She also worked as a certified fitness instructor for years, before going on to work with squads at Howard, South Carolina State and Norfolk State. For the past seven years she has been at Prairie View A&M University directing the Black Foxes.