Like A Boy | Meet the creative minds behind the iconic dance – Carsen Rowe and Samantha McFadden | Inside Dance

Like A Boy | Meet the creative minds behind the iconic dance – Carsen Rowe and Samantha McFadden | Inside Dance

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By Ashlee Buhler

“Ladies, I think it’s time to switch roles.” The crowd erupts into cheers. 

The competition is the 2022 UDA College National Championships. The song is Ciara’s popular hit “Like A Boy.” The team is the LSU Tiger Girls and the story, which would be heard all around the world, is one of tenacity and resilience.

Rewind to 2021 when the team was told by the LSU athletic department that they couldn’t attend their national championship in Orlando; their one and only competition opportunity of the year. The reason was unclear and constantly changing: first it was COVID-19 protocols, then lack of funding, then because the university didn’t have enough athletic trainers to accompany the team on the trip. 

The harsh reality is that when it comes to funding and resources, NCAA-recognized sports come first and although the dance team adheres to the same NCAA guidelines as other sports (GPA requirements, drug testing, rehearsal times, etc) dance is not recognized as an NCAA sport. It’s a wobbly tightrope that college dance teams all over the nation walk; often being viewed by their athletic department as a source of entertainment for school-related events, rather than a sport with student athletes who work incredibly hard for the chance to showcase their talent.

Members of the dance team had meetings with the athletic department and proposed solutions that would allow them the opportunity to compete for a national title, but they were met with resistance and eventually the clock ran out of time. The Tiger Girls were not allowed to compete at their national championship, yet they were still expected to perform at other sporting events—all of which were sports traveling regularly for their own match ups, including their respective national championships. The situation shed light on the deeper, underlying issue of the disparities between male and female sports, which further fueled the Tiger Girls for their return.


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For 2022 the Tiger Girls channeled their disappointment and frustration into a routine dedicated to their right to be seen as equals to their male counterparts. And what better song to use for their comeback dance than “Like A Boy,” where Ciara muses about acting more like a man. With a fire burning inside them, the Tiger Girls owned the very stage they were denied the chance to compete on just a year prior and brought home the Division IA Hip Hop National title. It was the third title for the LSU dance team in program history and the first title in 12 years.

Overnight the dance became a hit, not only with rival teams at the UDA Championships, but with thousands of people around the world. In a matter of hours the #LikeABoyChallenge was trending on TikTok and the Tiger Girls winning dance was circulating all over social media. However, it was the story behind the dance that really resonated with people. The Tiger Girls became the vessel to raise awareness for college dance teams; how hard they work, and what they’re capable of. Like many dancers around the nation, the Tiger Girls felt their sport was misunderstood, unappreciated, and at times, unsupported, but with just one dance, in a matter of a few hours, they had all the support, understanding and appreciation in the world. 

So how did this all come to be? The masterminds behind the now iconic dance that has forever memorialized the hard fought battle of the LSU Tiger Girls is Carsen Rowe, CEO and founder of Tribe 99 Choreography, and Tiger Girl alum, Samantha McFadden. You’ve seen the dance, you likely know most of the moves by heart, now it’s time to meet the creative minds behind it all!


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Can you share a little bit of your dance background and how you two began working together? 

Carsen Rowe: I am currently the CEO and founder of Tribe 99 Choreography which started in 2016. My dance journey obviously started way before that. I actually started in the all-star world competing on Eastern Washington Elite. From there I took a couple different hops around the country. I went to Washington State University my freshman year, danced on their dance team, moved to LA for a year to dance commercially and ended up finishing out my degree at the University of Cincinnati. I actually have a Masters Degree in Criminal justice which I have not used a day in my life because I started my company right after I got my masters. Life works in mysterious ways! Today I run Tribe, we host recruiting events, summer workshops, the tour, obviously a lot of college choreography and that is actually how Sammy and I started working together on more of the creative side. We met each other at nationals… we actually competed against each other in college so we knew of each other. Somebody told me that she could do video editing so we reached out and brought her on. Then of course I convinced her to join our staff because I knew she was super talented. 

Samantha McFadden: I’m originally from Denver. I was more of a studio kid. I started off doing strictly ballet for about 14 years and then, it’s funny, I actually went to an ABT Summer intensive in New York and I had this come to Jesus moment where I was like, ‘This is not what I’m supposed to be doing.’ After that I shifted to an all-styles, competitive studio that did more convention circuits and gave me more versatility. But I was very grateful to have grown up doing ballet because it taught me a lot. Similar to Carsen, which is so weird, we both went to different schools our freshman year! I went to the University of Kansas and then transferred to LSU for my last three years. I danced there and then once I graduated I moved to LA for four years where I pursued commercial dance. I’m now living in Atlanta and pursuing choreography, which Carsen pulled me into. [Originally] I wasn’t really interested at all. I was always that person that was like, ‘I don’t want to teach. I only want to dance myself.’ Carsen kept on being like, ‘come on, come on.’ So I ended up being like, ‘Fine, whatever.’ She kept pushing me and I’m honestly so glad she did because I now have this new found passion! I love teaching and choreographing so much, especially with Cars!

Tell me about the inspiration for using “Like A Boy” for this dance. Where did that idea come from?  

CR: The idea started the year before when they were told they couldn’t compete. LSU had to make this off campus crew which ended up being called Crew LA and they competed at Monsters of Hip Hop because they couldn’t compete at their national championship. When we were creating that piece and doing the music together, we had this light bulb moment of like, ‘What if we pop in a Ciara song?’ We started playing some music and “Like A Boy” ended up coming on and I feel like in our brains, the wheels were turning. At that moment we were both like, ‘This could be it!’ So we ended up throwing that in as the end section of their Crew LA piece. Sammy and I kicked out a 30 second chunk of choreography, which would normally take us hours, in probably like 8 minutes; It just flowed out of us. Then we started talking and thinking about how the next time we’re back at UDA Nationals that this is what we need to do! There was so much tentativeness and a lot of fear involved. ‘Should we do this? Should we not? Should we do this song? Can we pull off only using one song?’ Up until a month before I was calling Sammy saying, ‘Should we scrap this?’ The fear starts to creep in, but at the end of the day it was the song we always came back to. We taught a couple of combos to the team in the summer and while watching them we just knew it was the direction we wanted to go. 

This dance touched a lot of people because of the underlying message of empowerment for female athletes. Was that something you sat down with the team to discuss? 

CR: Because we had already done it for a part of Crew LA and we had already thrown a combo at them, we didn’t feel the need to sit down and explain why. They’re very much the kind of kids who will buy into anything. We just came in for choreography and were like, ‘By the way, this is definitely the direction we are going.’ We went into it with a very internal message. We knew it meant alot to us as creators and we knew it meant a lot to those kids, the message of the program, the alumni, and anybody who has been with them on their journey. We thought it was more of an internal “let’s share our story” type thing. To see it unfold as this massive message… we had no idea it was going to relate to so many people! The story and the stars literally aligned! 

SM: When we heard “Like A Boy” we were like, ‘This would be such an on point and very relative message for the kids to buy into after they were told they weren’t able to compete. This would be really full circle and they would eat it up 1000%.’ There was a really entertaining aspect of the routine but also it obviously hit home personally for all of them because of what had happened directly that year. Because it was so clear to us in the beginning that the message was about what that team had faced; being told you can’t do this or can’t do that or they don’t matter or don’t get the same opportunities as other athletes at LSU—that was so relative to them a year ago, but was still relative to them this year and it wasn’t anything that had to be discussed like, ‘By the way this is your motive.’ They immediately related to it right away and it was so authentic and raw and that is why it came across so clearly.

How long did it take to create this piece from start to finish? 

CR: It’s definitely a journey! I think we had four days with the team. Sammy prefers to do a residency somewhere to choreograph a routine [laughs] I’m good at like the five day mark. It was such a different process than we normally attack routines. Normally you have different songs which play for different vibes and play for different pockets, so your brain kind of thinks, ‘Ok I have 4 eight counts and then the next song.’ When you have one song, you’re trying to create the utmost entertainment value with one piece of music. So your process really has to adjust and that was something I really struggled with on the first couple of days. As the team started to work on it there were obviously parts of the piece that were just not it and we went back in mid December and re-choreographed. We re-choreographed the heartbeat moment in the middle and the entire stomping part where the hats got pulled out; the hats weren’t originally in there. So in December, come to look at it, we made some scary, but smart choices to make sure that routine was where it needed to be. So we had the four days, December, and then I came back in one more time for consulting, but Sammy and I watched videos every day, were sending notes, Zooming into practice—so we never really go away. We’re kind of a consistent factor to make sure that the style stays and the dynamics stay. I think people think we go in once and it’s done, but it takes a lot of investment to get a routine like that to where it is. 

Throughout the choreographic process are you open to input from the team? 

CR: It’s definitely a collaborative process! We don’t necessarily get done and say, ‘How does this feel? Do you like this? Do you want to change it?’ It’s more on the proactive side. Sammy and I are really collaborative when we’re working, especially with the LSU team. Sometimes we choreograph a little section and Sammy and I are like, ‘We look great!’ and we’re giving each other high fives, but then we go in and choreograph that section on the team and it’s not reading. Or you can tell they’re not feeling it. So it’s more so a collaborative effort while we’re choreographing to make sure they love it, it looks great, and it brings out all the best qualities in them as dancers. 

SM: They are a very vocal team. It’s like 20 class clowns all together—that’s how I would describe that team! When Cars and I are teaching choreography they will be in the zone learning, but when we demo they lose their minds! We can tell from their response whether they like it or not. It was very clear to me with this team that they loved it and were in it!

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Tell me about the emotions of being back at UDA Nationals with the team and watching them perform the dance for the first time!

CR: I think the night before (Semis) we were up way later than we should have been talking about, ‘What if they love it? What if they hate it? What if they don’t understand? What if they hate the one song? What if they hate Ciara?’ Semis are a big telling moment because if the judging panel doesn’t really appreciate or like your choreography, there’s not really much you can do from that day to finals day… After they got done with Semis, to see the reaction from people who had never seen the routine before was absolutely wild! It felt like a finals-performance level of wild! People were standing up on their feet and things I had never seen! So we felt good about the routine being appreciated by the audience, which is a big part of what we do. Then the moment was called that we were first place out of Semis going into Finals. It was kind of that moment that we knew that the judges really appreciated the routines. We knew that if the kids did their job and we could clean up the things that were on the score sheet—that we actually had a shot at the thing!

SM: The moment I started sobbing was during the Semis when there was so much anticipation for the dance because we knew there was so much on the line. We knew whatever happened that day was going to set the precedent for how the weekend ends. There were some weird timing things and lots of adrenaline—they were shot like a rocket! We were like, ‘Ok love the intention. but y’all need to come down for finals.’ [Laughs] It was still an incredible performance and of course we nitpick, but to the audience, their minds were blown which was really a comforting moment for Carsen and I. Immediately after walking outside I started hearing “Like A Boy” playing and there was a crowd of cheer and dance teams who were watching LSU and ran out to greet them after their prelims performance. They had their own speaker playing “Like a Boy” and they were bowing down to the dancers. I’ve never in my life seen support like this since I’ve been here! Of course you hope other dancers support you, but for these random cheer teams to take time out of their schedule to run out to greet them—it was the wildest thing I’ve seen in my life and I started bawling again because I’ve never wanted something more for a team after what had happened. It felt like at that moment, before any placement was given, I knew they were finally getting the recognition they deserved after a really hard year. No placement could make me any more proud than seeing people support that team and be behind them and be proud of them. 


What was your message for the team heading into finals, especially with so much attention surrounding their performance? 

CR: Finals day was more about reminding the kids not to reinvent the wheel. The judges appreciated your routine, you’re in the position you’re in for a reason—you’ve got to step up and bring it home! You gotta do your jobs but never lose that feeling of authenticity and who you are as people because that is the reason people relate to it. They did reverse order which was new this year, so LSU ended up going last because they were in first. From the moment they were waiting in the on-deck area, before they even called the team out, people were flooding into the arena to come watch them and it literally felt like everybody was chanting LSU! Sammy and I were already bawling and they hadn’t even walked on the stage yet! It’s one of those moments that will go down in history. 

SM: Finals was so enjoyable for us because we knew we had the world behind us. I didn’t have one ounce of fear, the kids didn’t have any fear, nobody had any fear going into finals which I think isn’t common. There’s that feeling of ‘you have to get the job done,’ but there was no doubt in anyone’s mind. It was a part of the process that they were going to put on the performance of their lives! They were having the time of their lives backstage. They were in the most positive mindset, feeling so confident and feeling so grateful to be there. After everything they had been through, the payoff was the experience of them getting to dance. Of course winning was incredible but the experience of getting to hear the entire arena say their name and the experience of them getting to dance to something that was so them was enough! Winning was the cherry on top. 

[/et_pb_text][et_pb_image src=”” title_text=”TG Trophy Coaches Straight on” admin_label=”Image” _builder_version=”4.14.8″ _module_preset=”default” global_colors_info=”{}”][/et_pb_image][et_pb_text admin_label=”Text” _builder_version=”4.14.8″ _module_preset=”default” global_colors_info=”{}”]The dance has reached new levels on social media! The #LikeABoyChallenge on Tik Tok has over 39.6 million views, Ciara shared the dance on Instagram… What is it like seeing that kind of response? 

CR: I think it’s the biggest reward you could ever get as a creator! Aside from watching kids who you value and respect so much getting the recognition, love and support they deserve, your only other goal as a choreographer is to create something that somebody can feel connected to. I’ve been choreographing in this specific industry for so long and I’ve never seen a dance team routine make this big of an impact, so to be a part of it is just absolutely crazy. It was the biggest paycheck we could have ever gotten to see the routine impact as many people as it did. Seeing people within 24 hours do the Tik Tok challenge, seeing people that we idolized do the challenge, it’s just been such a whirlwind and months after the fact people are still tagging us and posting it! You see at competitions now before awards the event producing company will play the song and all the kids are doing it. It’s the most surreal thing but if you talk about purpose, I feel like why Sammy and I are really great friends is because we’re both purpose driven and we really trying to impact people in a positive way, inspire young athletes, push the industry forward, and this routine just happened to be the catapult that we have been working very hard for! 

It’s translating to other sports as well! Have you seen some of the LSU gymnasts putting the moves in their floor routines? 

SM:Let me tell you, on a personal level, I ride or die for LSU gymnastics! But yes, you look at it with a wider scope and now we’re seeing other female athletes do it which is such a cool piece of the story. I remember laying next to Carson in Florida the morning after and my phone wasn’t functioning because of the amount of feedback—and that was just after day one. I remember thinking to myself, ‘I never want to forget this moment.’ The amount of times we’re creating and we go through the trenches and think that our ideas are awful, or that we’re never going to get the win, or never going to be appreciated… The way that it all came together was the culmination of everything we’ve ever wanted and that’s something I never want to forget. You don’t get a lot of celebration as a choreographer. It’s nice every once in a while having your own cup filled and being reassured that you are on the right path and you are doing the right thing. After the journey Carson and I had been on, constantly second guessing ourselves and wondering if this was going to be received well, the reaction was the ultimate pay off and will go down as one of the most important moments of my life. 

Sammy, as a Tiger Girl alumni who has been such a strong advocate for this team, the outcome must be even more special! 

SM: When everything happened with them not being able to compete I knew I had to do something. I had so many people surrounding me that were helpful; Carson, Carson’s mom, a lot of people in the NDCA, Doctors of Dance… so many people that I could bounce ideas off of, because I knew I couldn’t sit still. So that’s when I made the “Let Them Compete” video. I was sending emails to admin, I was on Zoom calls; I was doing everything I could to get us an inch forward and be able to compete. Obviously it didn’t work out how we wanted, but in hindsight, we probably never would have gotten to “Like A Boy” if that hadn’t of happened. So I really do think everything happens for a reason. We really had to take 20 steps back and go through some trenches to get to the place we’ve been able to get to—to be able to have a bigger platform and have those kids be able to show off their talent and what had happened in a new light, so I think the story is important, but it’s also the talent of those athletes and their resiliency that really brought it full circle. 

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Photos of Tiger Girls by Varsity; videos provided by Carsen Rowe & Sammy McFadden

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