Courtesy: WSSU Athletics
Ciara broke the Twittersphere when she posted a video of her and her dancers on top of a Ford Bronco to preview her new song “JUMP.” She’s followed up with intensity, releasing a stunning new visual for the single, which drops on July 8, that features the Winston-Salem State University (WSSU) Powerhouse of Red and White Cheerleaders.
On an early spring morning, nine cheerleaders and their coaches, Ne’Sheila Washington and Tevin Allen arrived at the set in Los Angeles, California. It didn’t look that way at first. “When the sun came up, it looked like we were in New York City,” Washington said. With some Hollywood magic, the set transformed, and the team was whisked away to hair and make-up to prepare for the day. “They had a different crew member assigned to each cheerleader. Seeing crew members swoop in throughout the day to touch up make-up or provide little water bottles with straws was so cool. It made me feel like a proud mom watching all of this happen,” Washington said.
The trip to California for the “JUMP” video was all business, but the team says Ciara’s dancers made them feel like family. For WSSU Powerhouse Dance Captain Destiny Martin and Team Captain William Johnson, the trip was more than they could ever dream.
“My background is in dance, not cheer,” Martin said. “Seeing all the dancers that I’ve been watching on Instagram since middle school was incredible. Being in the studio with these dancers was amazing. It was also great to see that these professional dancers started exactly where we are and now have successful careers.”
“Being there was very inspiring. I’ve wanted to be a backup dancer since I was very young. I come from a small town, so the dance programs there were not great. Being so busy and focusing on my schoolwork at WSSU made me feel that I may never achieve my dream of being a professional backup dancer,” Johnson said. “This trip and the experience working with Ciara made me see that achieving my dream is really possible.”
Like most interactions in this day and age, this opportunity blossomed with the help of social media. One of Ciara’s dancers saw the WSSU Powerhouse online and knew they would be an excellent fit for the song. Washington said when the team arrived on the set, she could see that the dancers had done their homework.
“Ciara’s team was fantastic. The thing that impressed me most is that they had watched our videos on Instagram and TikTok and were very familiar with our moves. They even knew each of the cheerleaders’ names and the positions that they usually held during Powerhouse routines,” Washington said.
“This made for a magical collaboration,” Johnson said. “Ciara and her team didn’t treat us like cheerleaders; they treated us as a full part of the project.”
Martin says the team exchanged dance moves with Ciara’s dancers, creating a showstopping “JUMP” routine worthy of any viral TikTok Challenge.
“Ciara and Jamaica kept pulling me over to watch the dancing and the playbacks. They were giving me too much power in Hollywood, and I loved it!” Washington said.
This is not the first time social media has put the WSSU Powerhouse of Red and White in the national spotlight. Video of their natural curls, dynamic steps, and it-girl/it-guy confidence has landed the team on “The Real” and Martin with her own deal with Champion. In a world where many young people are focused on filters, influence, and lives where people live as caricatures of themselves, Washington says it’s incredible that the team is getting their due recognition for being authentic.
The best part is these young show-stoppers are learning tangible skills they can use once they graduate. Creating a strong presence on social media has given the team opportunities to learn about marketing, tech, and graphics. “They are bringing many skills to the table and learning so much,” Washington said.
While going to Los Angeles to showcase their talents was undoubtedly a whirlwind experience, the student-athletes remained focused on their primary goal, school. “We went to LA during finals week.” Cheerleader Tiffany Jacobs said, “I woke up at 5 a.m. to take a final exam. Waking up early, being on set all day, and still being able to do a great job with my coursework made me feel like anything is possible. We did one of our finals in an Uber on the way to the beach. We always have to make sure to plan and to have school be our number one priority.”
The WSSU cheer team says their “JUMP” experience motivated them to trust the process and fine-tune their skills, both in and out of the classroom.
“This whole experience taught me about being a better leader,” Johnson said. “I’m upping my game even more. This year I set impossible goals for myself and reached them. I just want to keep elevating and improving.”
Washington said, “I left coaching to raise my family and then returned to the field. I’ve learned that we all need to trust that we are capable and that we should embrace new opportunities,” Washington emphasized, “This is just the beginning of these relationships and opportunities.” The coach has big dreams for the team, “I want Powerhouse to appear on awards shows. Or maybe have their own reality show. This has shown me that there is no ceiling to what they can do.”
The high-energy track “JUMP” features hip-hop group Coast Contra and is sure to be the song of the summer. Still, the team says this experience will stay with them beyond the warm weather season.
“Seeing the whole thing come to life. It was amazing to be there really doing this, creating, and seeing our work materialize. We really bonded on this trip,” Martin said.
“This opportunity showed me that I could really be successful. It opened my eyes that a career in dance is something that I can truly pursue,” Johnson said. “It’s right there for us. We just need to keep going.”