By Nicole S. Daniel
The Birmingham Times
As captain of the Alabama State University (ASU) Stingettes, Talea Willis is aware of what the Magic City Classic means to the school and alumni, and that’s one reason she has been excited about preparing for the season’s most anticipated football game.
“The fans can expect great music selections [from the band] and an entertaining, amazing field show with lots of wow factors both in the stands and on the field. … I’m excited about Magic City Classic. This is something I have dreamed of doing. I just want to dance,” said Willis, a junior majoring in finance.
Willis and her team have been rehearsing for their performance on Saturday, October 29, at Legion Field in Birmingham, where the football teams of ASU and longtime rival Alabama Agricultural and Mechanical University (AAMU) will battle for bragging rights in the state of Alabama.
Summer Reiss, another member of the Stingettes, said preparing for the Classic is similar to the way athletes get ready for big games.
“I feel like I need to just drill everything,” she said. “My biggest thing when I’m in my room is I watch film. I watch everything from the previous game, and then I’ll be like, ‘OK, well, let me go back to [the last] week, see what I did then, and see what I need to do for [the next] game,’” said Reiss, a junior majoring in rehabilitation services.
When Teriah Brookshire, a first-year dancer with the Stingettes who is attending her first Classic, was asked what fans can expect, the sophomore majoring in dance said, “The fans should just expect the unexpected.”
Few are more fired up about the game than Bridgette Williams, a former Stingette who serves as the group’s coordinator and practices Monday through Friday, from 5:30 p.m. to 10:30 p.m.
“I don’t know about those folks across the way, but bless them,” she said of AAMU. “They are about to get all the smoke, all the smoke that the smoke can handle. We have a couple of surprises up our sleeve. … We plan to deliver a high-powered, energetic routine, along with fashion, beauty, and elegance.”
The Stingettes were born in the fall of 1977, when ASU played Miles College at the Cramton Bowl in Montgomery, Alabama; seven of the young women who had been members of the Hornets Marching Band flag line became Stingettes. Over the past 45 years, the Stingettes have showcased an abundance of talent during halftime performances and in the stands.
Here’s a close look at three of this year’s Stingettes.
Although this is her first year being a part of the band, Brookshire, 18, is familiar with the Classic.
“I’ve been watching it on YouTube over the years because I lived so far [away]. I’d never been able to attend one before last year,” said Brookshire, who is from New Haven, Connecticut.
Brookshire, who has been dancing since the age of 7, performed with New Haven’s Elite Sounds of the Arts Academy and the Majorette and Dance Factory in Woodbridge, Connecticut. She attended James Hills House High School, where she became a majorette in her junior year. Prior to graduating, she knew she wanted to pursue dance as a career, so she searched for institutions with strong dance programs. That’s what led her to ASU “because they have a great dance program,” she said.
After graduating from high school in 2021, she arrived on the ASU campus. Though she didn’t immediately audition to be a Stingette, it was part of her plan. In 2022, she auditioned and brought her unique style.
“Because I’m from the North, I feel like we have a different style than the South. … I’m a technical dancer, and my style is jazz. Even though the Stingettes have a jazz flair to them, I feel like I bring a little more sensual style of jazz and a little [creativity] that I put in sometimes.”
Compared with other historically Black colleges and university (HBCU) dance teams, the Stingettes are different because of their presence, their style, and the way the band operates as one.
“The band plays a part in our discipline. I say that because when it’s game time, it’s game time. We work hard and long throughout the week to make sure we give 110 percent by game day or on any performance day,” said Brookshire. “When I speak about our ‘presence,’ I mean you have to have a specific type of presence to be a Stingette. You have to walk around like you are ‘that girl’ because on game day we are those girls against anybody we have to go up against.”
Summer Marnez Reiss
When Reiss auditioned to become a Stingette in 2020, she was cut from the team. That didn’t deter her, though: “I felt like it wasn’t the right timing.”
After attending most of the games last season, Reiss knew she wanted to try out again.
“When I walked into auditions, I told myself, ‘There’s no way possible that I won’t make this team.’ I actually felt way better during the last audition than I did in my freshman year,” she said. “[There] was a lot of talent in the room, but it was me versus me. In my head, it was just the instructor and me.”
Reiss, 20, said she appreciated this year’s audition more than her first one.
“We had older Stingettes to come teach us, and I was really grateful for them. … [I grew] up watching them on YouTube, so having them teach me was an amazing feeling,” she said. “It meant so much to me.”
Reiss started dancing around the age of 3, but she didn’t start to take it seriously until she was in seventh grade at Dunbar Magnet School in Mobile, Alabama. She went on to attend Mobile’s John L. Leflore High School, where she became a dancer. For college, she chose to enroll at ASU, the school her mother, Francesca Reiss, attended.
“My mom went to [ASU, when I was in the sixth grade], and my dad went to Jackson State [University, in Jackson, Mississippi]. They would always have this little debate about where my siblings and I would go [for college],” said Reiss, who would often watch the Stingettes perform when her mother was an ASU student.
“I remember saying they weren’t dancing too soft, but [they danced] effortlessly,” she added.
On game days, Reiss says affirmations while preparing for performances. When the music starts, she said, “I see Lea, [Stingettes captain Talea Willis], nod her head, and I know it’s go time.”
Willis knew about the Classic long before becoming an ASU student. She educated herself about the school’s band and came to one conclusion: “I wanted to be a Stingette. I had to be a Stingette,” said the team’s captain.
“I saw videos of the large amount of people that would attend the parade, tailgate, and go to the game, and I said, ‘Wow, I want to be part of that.’ Even if I didn’t make the dance team, I still wanted to attend the Classic just for the experience and excitement. It just looked so unreal.
“I would always see the Stingettes on the internet, and I would mimic them, doing little dances on Instagram and getting a lot of views for it. I said to myself, ‘This is my style. I’m going to ASU, and I will be a Stingette, period.”
Willis was born in Columbus, Ohio, in a two-parent household with five brothers and one sister. She is the second youngest, and she and her siblings are all two years apart.
“Growing up, we were a dancing family. We used to go to different recreation centers [in Columbus] and just dance. We didn’t have a name. People just knew us as the little dancers,” she said.
Willis, 20, and her siblings would travel around Columbus winning dance competitions: “We would go in and win the cash prizes,” she recalled.
She attended Fort Hays High School, a performing arts school in Columbus. She took college-prep classes throughout high school, while studying dance, ballet, and theater. She also was a member of a community dance team called the Black Girls, for which she served as a captain since the formation of the team.
Prior to being accepted at ASU, Willis worked out with her trainer.
“I knew the Stingettes didn’t have one specific style,” she said. “They’re technical, so I had to train in that. I was basically at school training every day. After school, I would go to dance practice for the community team. I just would be dancing all day, which I enjoyed.”
When Willis applied to ASU in 2020, she missed all of the dance clinics.
“I [spoke] to Dr. [James] Oliver, [ASU’S band director], and asked, ‘May I please do tryouts?’ He said, ‘If you can learn [the dance routines] somehow.’ … I said to myself, ‘I want this,’” even though she thought it might be impossible to learn a week’s worth of routines in less than 24 hours.
As luck would have it, one day as she was going back to her dorm room, Willis asked some girls on an elevator, “Did any of you try out for the Stingettes?
“One of the girls said, ‘Oh, yeah, I know you [from your Instagram videos]. You can come to my room, and I’ll show you what we’ve been working on all week,’” remembered Willis.
She decided to record the student with her phone, so she could watch the footage all night.
“I stayed up studying the routines. I slept for an hour. Then I got up and went to tryouts,” said Willis, whose dreams of becoming a Stingette came true in the summer of 2020.
“I was so excited, I called my mom, and we were just screaming,” she said. “It was unbelievable because I didn’t get the same opportunity [to participate in the dance clinics] like everybody else. A conversation in the elevator is what helped me.”
Willis said it’s hard to describe her style of dancing: “I’m all around, well-rounded. I trained in different types of genres of dance, so I can’t really pick one.”
“The Stingettes have a style—we’re sensational,” she said.
After dancing with the Stingettes for one school year, Willis became captain.
“The price of glory is high and always believe in yourself,” she said. “Dreams really do come true, and you just have to believe in your dream with no doubt.”
The 81st annual Magic City Classic will be held Saturday, October 29, at Legion Field in Birmingham, AL. Kickoff is at 2:30 P.M.
More on the Classic
AAMU Dancin’ Divas: “Prepare to Get Your Socks Knocked Off” | The Birmingham Times
ASU Honey Beez: “Always Imitated, Never Duplicated” | The Birmingham Times
How AAMU-ASU Matchup in Sat.’s 81st Magic City Classic | The Birmingham Ti