Bearettes dance team’s place in civil rights history gets the spotlight in new film

The film focuses on the Cal Bearettes, the first majorette-style dance team in the University of California system.

A new film from UC Berkeley’s Department of Theater, Dance, and Performance Studies stitches together diverse dancers performing in their own videoconferencing spaces into spectacular visual displays on screen. Credit: Latanya Tigner and Lashon Daley

Berkeley Dance Project 2021: Turntables, directed by Latanya Tigner and Lashon Daley and released this year by UC Berkeley’s Department of Theater, Dance, and Performance Studies, tells the story of the Cal Bearettes, the first majorette-style dance team in the University of California system. The entertaining and educational short film provides an artistic interpretation of the history of popular dance, civil rights and the trials of Black women and women of color to find space and respect on the Cal campus. 

Turntables highlights one of the many culturally rich ways that African American students are contributing to campus and to the world of dance, while also showcasing the importance of centering Black female voices,” said Lashon Daly, a Ph.D. candidate in performance studies at UC Berkeley.

The Bearettes were formed in 2015 by student and dancer LoRay Davis, but the majorette dance style, which is also known as dance lines or hip hop majoretting, began in the 1960s at historically Black colleges and universities. The dance style is a collage of different forms, combining the high-step marching moves of Black college bands with choreography from the West African, jazz, modern and hip-hop traditions. The Bearettes have faced struggles to gain respect and recognition at Cal. Since its founding six years ago, the group has been forced to practice in parking garages, ridiculed at games and denied athletic funding.

“This performance strongly voices the inequalities and mistreatment experienced by the Bearettes at an institution whose outward facing message on diversity doesn’t reflect the reality of the students,” says Latanya Tigner, a professional performer and lecturer at UC Berkeley and Mills College. “Hopefully, this piece will prompt those at Cal and beyond to examine their systems and genuinely realign them with anti-racist and equitable practices.”


Filmed in both black and white and vibrant color, the 41-minute film marries the current challenges of the Bearettes with the spirit and resilience of the 1960s civil rights movement. The film innovates with shooting and editing techniques that accommodate social distancing, stitching together diverse dancers performing in their own videoconferencing spaces into spectacular visual displays on screen. While annual performances of the Berkeley Dance Project usually take place at The Playhouse at Zellerbach Hall, Turntables is presented this year as an online film to be viewed at home. 

A still from the film. Credit: Latanya Tigner and Lashon Daley

With the ability to reach a virtually unlimited number of viewers, the performance has many goals, including entertainment, education and inspiration. The directors hope to provide audiences with many layers of takeaways. 

“I want viewers to be intrigued and excited about the majorette tradition,” says Daly. “I also want dance scholars to consider how to center dance styles that continue to be marginalized. And lastly, I want the Bearettes to receive the respect that is overdue to them.”

Tigner adds, “I also hope people do some self reflection and some personal work to shift behaviors that oppress, silence, and marginalize those attempting to claim space at an institution that proclaims it makes space for people of all backgrounds.” 

Run time: 41 minutes. Available on Vimeo until December 31, 2021. Free.

Also this week: 

ALBANY BULB TOUR Stretch your legs and get some fresh air at the Albany Bulb while learning the history behind the rubble and slag that dot the 1.5-mile walk. Multimedia audio walking tour. Free.

RAVEL & UNRAVEL Learn how weaver Vera Totos and fiber artist Celena Peet interpret the word ravel. If you come to Fourth Street Fine Art, you can participate in their interactive art work, where you can fray, cut, and take away pieces. On view until June 6.

MACY GRAY Join superstar vocalist Macy Gray for a three-show livestream performance with a full band on May 30 and June 6 and the California Jet Club on June 13. $50 for a three-show pass, $20 for a single ticket.