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A Legacy in Motion: Ooh LaLa’s Journey of Dance and Dedication

Ooh LaLa, while not an official team under Howard athletics, works hard to ensure that their 41st season is the best yet.

The 2023 Ooh LaLa Dancers during their first performance of the season. (Photo courtesy of Ooh Lala’s Instagram)

Coming off its 40th anniversary in the 2022 season, Ooh LaLa is back and continuing to leave its mark as a dance team on and off the field. 

The advisors, captain, and team members are all working towards entertaining the masses while empowering themselves through dance. 

Ooh LaLa, while not an official team listed under Howard athletics, still has some heavy-hitting athletes that work hard the entire fall season. The dancers usually have tryouts in the spring and summer, then hit the ground running once students return to campus in August. The practice schedule is rigorous and the dancers learn new routines almost every week and a half. 

Captain Kaiya Harper is a third-year dancer excited to lead the team in their 41st year. “I was a sophomore during our 40th anniversary, and seeing everyone return was inspiring. Many former members usually come back for the five and 10-year anniversaries. Since they have so much love for the organization, it’s a little nerve-wracking because they want the current team to deliver,” Harper said.

Harper allowed that feeling as a sophomore to inspire her as a junior, finding her footing in leading this year’s team. Despite how old the performing style is, Ooh LaLa still aims to allow the team to evolve. “I try to go against tradition but also incorporate our signature style into our new performances and stands,” Harper said. 

Harper feels as captain, it’s her job in this new era to empower her girls by helping them find their inner voice and what makes dancing important to them and then be able to convey those feelings to the audience. 

“If I had to choose a theme for this year, it would be to tell your story. Dancing isn’t exclusive to certain people,” Harper said. “Anyone can dance when they hear music, but performing is about expressing yourself and sharing a story.”

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Despite it being her second year on campus, Kayla Rivers joined the team this year as one of the rookies and is excited to express her story through dance. “I’ve been dancing since I was seven, and coming from a middle and high school with majority white students made me want to continue my dance career at HBCU, and more specifically Howard,” Rivers said. 

Rivers was trained in competitive majorette and felt she would fit right in with Ooh LaLa, considering her background. “I went through a lot of racial challenges growing up, but I always persevered, so I’m able to portray through my dancing my life story of going against the odds and pushing forward,” Rivers said. 

Ooh LaLa is one of three dance teams that perform with the Howard University “Showtime” band but are known specifically for their majorette style. “I’ve heard several people say they don’t come to the games for the football team. They are excited to get a break in the game and the opportunity to watch us dance,” Harper said.

Captain Kaiya Harper performing in 2022. (Photo courtesy of Ooh Lala’s Instagram @hu_oohlala) 

Majorette impacts game day culture heavily at HBCUs because it is a different way for dancers to express themselves outside of the typical ballet, hip hop, or jazz. Many feel the majorette style is a vital dance style because it allows personality and individuality to shine through in the moves including Coach Artina Austin. 

“We bring a sense of power on game day and pizzaz when we perform. The band brings the sound, but we can bring the movement that catches the audience’s eye and acts as the visual,” Austin said.

Austin believes the team can portray the message through their movements that they are “big, bold, and beautiful black women who know how to show their confidence.” The team has carried tradition and legacy since 1982, including the themes of sisterhood and empowerment. 

Being a student-athlete is hard and field shows often bring the heat for the dancers. The ladies usually have one or two days to get together four to six new eight counts before Harper and her co-captain, Kya Dykes have the responsibility of putting all the ideas together. They then have another day to clean and assemble formations before spending Thursday and Friday nights running the routines with the band. “I will say it’s not always easy, and Fridays can be very long since it’s the night before game day,” Harper said.  

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“The hard part is coming to practice and giving all that you got, knowing you have a test in the morning. It’s also stressful leaving practice late at night knowing there’s still homework,” Dykes said. Between new routines and weekly travel with the team, the girls work hard to balance school and dance. 

Dykes shared that often, they are trying to put school and the team first simultaneously, but also fighting against burnout. A large part of the experience that makes it easier is the sisterhood that exists among the girls. “I grew up with all brothers, so being here on an all-girls team and having their support through the pressure is a large foundational thing that keeps me grounded,” Dykes shared. 

Even though the team has entered its 41st year, the traditions and history behind the team have proved that sisterhood, empowerment, and expression will always be at the forefront of the organization. Traditions have also established that homecoming weekend is usually full of surprises from the team. 

In the past, Ooh LaLa has surprised fans with new outfits and choreography, while flooding the crowd with alums. “I can’t say too much about the themes, but just know homecoming always brings new looks, so new uniforms will be popping out,” Austin said. 

Copy edited by Alana Matthew

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