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“Like a Boy”: The LSU Dance Team and Their Battle Against Sexism in College Athletics

Published on Nov. 29, 2022, at 3:28 p.m.
by Kelsey Nayman

“Dance isn’t a sport.”

Over the 12 years that I danced, 10 of those being competitive, I heard this sentence, or one of a similar sentiment, countless times.

Often, dance is misunderstood for its artistic impact and athletic credibility. People would compliment how good we looked on stage as a group, but the amount of time, effort and dedication put into each dance was not recognized.

Photo by ig_royal via Adobe Stock Images

According to the Oxford Dictionary, “a sport is an activity involving physical exertion and skill in which an individual or a team competes against another or others for entertainment.” Dance meets all of these criteria.

Hearing “dance isn’t a sport” is degrading to those who dedicate their lives to the art, but it doesn’t compare to the feeling of being told you can’t compete at the only competition of your 10-month-long season. For the Louisiana State University Tiger Girls, this worst nightmare turned into a reality after they requested to attend the 2021 UDA College Nationals.

LSU Tiger Girls choreographer and former member Sammy McFadden took to her Instagram in a video, explaining the success of the dance team and what this competition meant to these girls. McFadden also started the #LetThemCompete campaign, criticizing the athletic department for its treatment toward the team in hopes to bring awareness to the issue.

The university blamed the team’s inability to compete on a variety of reasons, including funding, COVID-19 and staff shortages in the training room. However, the Tiger Girls were still expected to perform at all school and LSU boys’ athletic events, including football and basketball. When other sports have their seasons end, these girls are pushing themselves year-round, arguably requiring them to exert more energy than some of their counterparts. The LSU Tiger Girls were not prioritized or recognized as an “athletic team,” although they were still required to follow all student-athlete guidelines. The team took it upon themselves to create a petition asking for support for the #LetThemCompete campaign. Even though this petition garnered over 27,000 signatures, the decision remained the same.

Photo via LSU Athletics

Ironically, this year (2022) was the 50th anniversary of Congress passing Title IX — a federal legislation requiring all educational institutions to provide equal opportunities for both male and female athletes. According to the NCAA, Title IX provides equality for all genders participating in sports; individuals cannot be denied the basic right to compete or be discriminated against under any educational program that is receiving federal financial assistance, a distinction that LSU sits under.

After a year off, the 2021-2022 Tiger Girls had something to prove. Choreographers Carsen Rowe and Sammy McFadden worked tirelessly strategizing a routine. The “Like A Boy” routine was inspired by the previous year’s heartbreak, but it also served as a message for female athletes who are often overlooked when compared to their male counterparts.

Shortly after their 2022 D1A Hip Hop National Championship win, the Tiger Girls went viral on TikTok. The #likeaboychallenge trend took the nation by storm. Young dancers began recreating the Tiger Girls routine, finding their own voices to dance for equality just like the LSU dance team did.

Photo by pressmaster via Adobe Stock Images

In an interview with The Reveille, Tiger Girls Assistant Coach Payton Ibos noted, “Our choreographers, Carsen Rowe and Sammy McFadden, were passionate about creating this routine for the positive message behind the empowerment of the female athletes in the dance industry, as well as for the recognition of dance as a collegiate sport with deserving student athletes.”

Dancer or not, the Tiger Girls’ fans and admirers quickly spread the team’s winning message across the nation in recognition of their talent as they became the 2022 D1A Hip Hop National Champions. However, they were even more notable for shining a light on inequalities female athletes face.

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