“We are moving forward”: A new era of Fomz begins

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Vassili Prokopenko

While changing Fomz’ traditions have been an uphill battle, the group is committed to rebranding themselves as an inclusive and spirited group of dancers.

By Simone Meyer, Walt Whitman High School

Sporting bright pink crop tops and Lululemon leggings, around 40 male seniors trot onto the football field and take their positions in three horizontal lines. They adjust their headbands, pull up their leggings and wait for Ke$ha’s “Timber” to blast from the stadium’s speakers. They each radiate mile-wide grins as they face hundreds of students and staff members packed into the bleachers. The music begins, and the Fake Poms’ bold — and somewhat provocative — performance begins.

Fake Poms, or “Fomz,” is a humorous dance and school spirit team at Whitman made up of males from the senior class. The group performs at pep rallies, storms classes during Homecoming week, cheers on the volleyball team during their annual breast cancer awareness game in October and delivers Valentine’s Day “grams” to students throughout February. 

The idea of Fomz has fueled much debate throughout Whitman’s community. In Whitman’s new LGBTQ+ studies class and women’s studies class — both of which are part of the school’s Leadership Academy for Social Justice initiative — enrolled students have discussed whether Fake Poms’ feminine uniforms and humorous dance-style during performances are insulting to femininity and the LGBTQ+ community. 

Over the past several years, community and faculty members have raised similar concerns with Whitman administrators regarding Fake Poms’ often revealing outfits that sometimes consist of “booty shorts.” Staff have also received complaints about their female-oriented dance moves — such as kicklines, hair flips and twerking — and the group’s disruption of classes on pep rally days. Since 2019, Fake Poms sponsor and social studies teacher Jacob East, Principal Robert Dodd and student-faculty representative teacher Kathleen Bartels have discussed the team’s perceived sexism and mockery of the LGBTQ+ community.

In response to the student and staff complaints, the team left behind the name “Guy Poms” this year and opened its tryouts to students of any gender identity. East also monitors nicknames, regulates outfits according to the school dress code and requires team members to attend practices consistently. These were all steps taken in an effort to keep Fomz from making a mockery of the LGBTQ+ community, East said. 

“It’s progressing from what it used to be,” East said. “It used to be like the Wild West, but what I’ve been doing as the Fomz sponsor is trying to clean it up and bring it into the modern times.”

While East successfully implemented changes such as updated choreography, only male students tried out for the team this year despite the opportunity for all genders to join. East believes that many girls likely weren’t interested in joining the team for fear of backlash, he said. 

Fake Pom Pascal Bell said he wasn’t surprised that the team didn’t end up changing its gender demographic. 

“A lot of people see it as only guys,” Bell said. “I’m not sure whether a girl would feel comfortable on a team with all guys.” 

Although the dance routines were largely satirical in the past, this year’s team was restricted to dance moves choreographed by Whitman’s Division 1 Poms team.

Fake Pom Tommy Buckley believes the improved quality of Fomz’ dance routine has made participating on the Fomz team a more daunting task than he had originally expected. But while the level of dedication has increased, the rigor is immensely beneficial to the quality of the performances, he said. 

“I thought it would be more laid back and less taken seriously,” Buckley said. “I thought the dance routine would be a lot of improv, but it was clear that the Poms were taking the time to make a good dance routine for Fomz.” 

Whitman Pom Tess Vogel, a senior, has worked closely with Fomz by helping choreograph the dance routine the team performed at this year’s Battle of the Classes. Vogel has viewed Fomz in a positive light even before joining the Poms team, she said. 

“When I experienced Fomz when I was just an outside observer, I thought it was kind of funny and added a big element of school spirit,” Vogel said. “If there was a day when Fomz was doing something, at that moment the class would feel more relaxed and I think that’s the main purpose of Fomz.”

East is planning to make more changes to Fomz, such as continuing to reform the standard outfit, he said. This uniform has changed over the years, and East carefully reviews the nicknames — typically humorous lines like “Agent Lizard” or “Baby Shakira” — on the back of members’ pink tops to ensure that they are not offensive. Still, the cropped shirts paired with either leggings or “booty shorts” could still understandably offend students, East said. 

Whitman’s debate surrounding Fomz and homophobia comes on the heels of controversial events at a Kentucky high school, including a “man pageant” during homecoming and student-performed lap dances on teachers. These incidents gave way to investigations surrounding the schools’ homecoming ceremonies.

Not all students view Fomz as a significant source of disrespect toward marginalized groups at Whitman. According to senior Isabel Ostheimer, who is LGBTQ+, there are far more serious cases of homophobia at play in the community.

“It’s really annoying that Fomz is what people choose to focus on rather than the fact that Chick-fil-A caters every single football game,” Ostheimer said. “Chick-fil-A is known to give the money that it gets to hurting gay people.”

Fake Poms has been under Whitman’s spotlight for years. Changing its traditions has been an uphill battle, East said. 

“We are moving on from Guy Poms,” East said. “We are moving to make things more equal, equitable, and a safe environment for everybody. We’re not going backwards, we’re not staying stagnant. We are moving forward.”

This story was originally published on The Black & White on January 19, 2022.