Photography: Nailah Howze
Videography: Suresh Gordon

Mentorship comes in many forms, with teachers, coaches and teammates providing crucial support systems. Aleali May experienced this while on the drill team during middle school and high school, a time when she gained confidence and fell in love with streetwear and varsity style. That foundation helped Aleali later in life, as she began styling, modeling and speaking in public. Being part of a team translated to her future design collaborations with Jordan Brand, which have so far referenced personal stories, L.A. style, the intersection of basketball and skateboarding and high-fashion trends.

For her fourth Air Jordan collaboration, which includes apparel for the first time, Aleali May designed a collection that references the colors, textures, spirit and swag of the drill team. Throughout the design process, Aleali also focused on women’s empowerment and one reference, in particular — Califia, the Black queen who potentially influenced the naming of Aleali’s home state, California. She also thought about her drill coach, Shanora Holloway, who helped her and many others grow as people beyond the gym and field.

Shanora Holloway has taught drill and cheerleading at multiple schools and programs in Los Angeles. She’s the first to acknowledge the athleticism, drive and teamwork it takes to be on her teams. Below, Aleali interviewed Shanora about the collection, drill and L.A. pride.

Aleali May: How did you get into dance, drill, cheer and coaching?

Shanora Holloway: I started off in drill when I was five years old. I did it from [ages] five to nine. I switched over to cheer, and then I cheered all the way through high school. After high school, I started coaching for Pop Warner and Inglewood. That’s how I got into it. I’ve been coaching ever since.

Aleali: For people who don’t know about it, how would you describe what makes drill teams special?

Shanora: What makes drill team special, to me, is seeing the kids work together, learn the routines and realize the dedication it takes to be on the team.

Aleali: What do you remember about coaching me and my team?

Shanora: I remember coming to the school, and you guys already had a coach, so I had to take over. It was a little bit of a task, because we had different coaching styles, so I had to work with her style. But coaching you? You were very, very, very shy. You didn’t really want to do anything, at first. I had to bring it out of you.

Aleali: How have you seen your students grow and find confidence through drill team and cheerleading?

Shanora: My students definitely grow through cheerleading and drill. You are a great example. You started off shy. Nowadays, you have to get in front of people all the time, and I can see how drill team helped you find confidence through talking, mingling and moving with your peers. I think it helps a lot.

Aleali: Why do you think drill or dance gets left out of the overall sports conversation?

Shanora: I think because it’s not as well understood as football, basketball and other sports. It’s easier for people to push it to the side. Cheerleaders and dancers are very athletic, and they do a lot more stunts and things that other athletes don’t do or can’t do. I think people should really see it as athletic and show it love. It’s a sport in ways that hopefully people will see more and more.

Aleali: How would you describe the style and swag aspects of drill team, in both the clothes and techniques?

Shanora: As far as the swag and the clothes, I feel like it brings the routine out. It makes the girls more hyped with the routine. The technique and the swag go hand in hand. You have to feel it.

Aleali: So this is my first time doing apparel with Jordan Brand, and it’s my fourth Air Jordan shoe release. What do you like about the collection and its ties back to this time in my youth?

Shanora: My favorite piece from the apparel is the coach’s jacket. I’m a coach, so that’s one of my favorite pieces. The shoes mean a lot, as far as referencing the colors of the schools I’ve taught at. Putting these colors on the shoes means a lot to me.

Aleali: A big part of this collection, and all of my collaborations with Jordan Brand, ties back to my L.A. pride. What makes you proud to be from L.A. and growing our communities here?

Shanora: Pretty much the inner city, and us having to be strong within the city. A lot of people give L.A. a bad name, but at the end of the day, I’m proud of us. What we bring is authentic. It’s important for me to work with the youth as they’re developing, because they are the future of our community. And it’s getting better. I’m just proud to be from L.A.

Aleali: What are three words you’d use to describe the L.A. woman?

Shanora: The L.A. woman is strong, fearless and powerful.

The Jordan Brand x Aleali May “Califia” collection, including the Air Jordan 1 Zoom Comfort and apparel, are available starting April 22 on SNKRS, and from select retailers.