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Prancing Elites follows a gender-nonconforming dance troupe based out of Mobile, Alabama

By Amanda Michelle Steiner
Updated April 22, 2015 07:20 PM
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Credit: Jake Chessum/Oxygen

The Prancing Elites just want to dance.

But the troupe of five gender-nonconforming dancers from conservative Mobile, Alabama, is often prevented from doing exactly that – or publicly shamed when they do.

The Prancing Elites Project, premiering Wednesday on Oxygen, follows Adrian Clemons, Kentrell Collins, Kareem Davis, Jerel Maddox and Tim Smith as they fight to gain acceptance from their hometown, and in some cases their own families, while trying to live out their dreams.

As Jerel tells it, he, Adrian and Tim are the “girls” of the group, where Kentrell and Kareem are the “boys.” Tim, who identifies as female, says that her name is short for “Timberly.” Kareem presents as the most masculine, and he is not always particularly thrilled by their sparkly leotards – but he does love to twerk.

While the Elites insist both in the show and on their social media that they never set out to be role models or to serve as inspiration for the fight against LGBT discrimination, it’s difficult not to feel inspired when watching The Prancing Elites. Turned away from performing in a local parade, the Elites decide to dance alongside it anyway, ignoring the verbal abuse being lobbed at them.

Their particular style of dance, J-Setting, is typically female-dominated and was popularized by the Prancing J-Settes – Jackson State University’s marching band dance team. For a more mainstream example, Beyoncé adopted the Prancing J-Settes’ moves in her video for “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It).”

The Elites shot to Internet fame when Shaquille O’Neal Tweeted one of their videos in 2013, writing that “THESE DUDES B JAMMIN.” Later that year, they made headlines when their performance in a Semmes, Alabama, holiday parade was not met well by its attendees.

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Though they do fall into the established roles typical to reality television – Adrian is the “blond” one, Jerel is the “blunt” one – their personalities aren’t manufactured. You’d be hard-pressed to find a more genuine cast, despite reality TV’s tendency to cash in on a certain sort of Southern naïveté and otherness that could sometimes seemingly paint the Elites as caricatures. Trust us – it’s all them.

After sitting down to lunch with the Elites in New York City, PEOPLE can confirm that dining with them is absolutely an experience, as you’ll see in the premiere, and they have no interest in food without soul. (“Oh, no, speak English!” says Tim in the premiere in response to a waiter asking whether she wants provolone or gorgonzola cheese on her burger.)

Overall, The Prancing Elites Project is a must-watch. It’s hard not to be impressed not only by the Elites’ moves but by their strength of will and their genuine desire to dance, too. “I need dancing,” says Adrien in the premiere. “It brings out my tears, it brings out my happy, it brings out my sad, it brings out my joy. Dancing is my oxygen.” (Synergy.)

The Prancing Elites Project premieres Wednesday (10 p.m. ET) on Oxygen.

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