Skip navigation

Whitney Hudson Named Director of USM Dixie Darlings

Tue, 04/23/2024 - 08:37am | By: Mike Lopinto

Dixie Darlings Director

The University of Southern Mississippi (USM) School of Music is excited to welcome Whitney Hudson as Director of the Dixie Darlings, the Pride of Mississippi’s precision dance team. She succeeds Tracy Smith, who retired after 20 years with the historic organization.

“I am excited to come back to my alma mater,” Hudson said. “I hold the traditions of this team and Southern Miss very close to my heart and am honored to begin this journey.”

Hudson’s passion and persistence for dance began in her hometown of Waveland, Miss. With more than 10 years of experience in both the dance team and competitive dance industry, she will collaborate with The Pride of Mississippi to create entertaining halftime performances for USM football games with a goal of leading the Dixie Darlings to new levels of excellence.

Hudson is a 2018 graduate with a Bachelor of Science degree in Forensic Science. During her time at Southern Miss, she was a four-year member of the Dixie Darlings, serving in multiple leadership roles on the team. Following graduation, she moved to New Orleans, La., and danced for three years as a member of the New Orleans Saints’ cheerleading team, the “Saintsations.”

Since 2021, Hudson has worked for DanceSouth, an elite competitive dance studio in the greater Pine Belt area where she has taught classes and choreographed routines for all ages. She currently resides in Purvis, Miss., with her husband, Ryan Hudson, and daughter, Jenna Hudson. 

The World-Famous Dixie Darlings, was created in 1954 by University band director Dr. Raymond Mannoni (founder), who wanted to start a drill team of young women to perform with the Southern Miss band. Patterned after the Texas Community College Kilgore Rangerettes, the members were chosen from their performances in high school as dancers or cheerleaders, beginning with 18 regular dancers. By year's end that number had doubled.

During the 50's, 60's and 70's the DD's, as they are affectionately called, performed at many nationally televised events, including the Sugar Bowl, Blue-Gray Bowl, Senior Bowl, the All-Star Football Game in Chicago, and a Washington Redskins game in Washington, D.C. The media often referred to them as the "Internationally-Famous Dixie Darlings." In recent years the DD's have marched in the New Year's Day Parade in London, England, and performed at a Green Bay Packers game.

“We couldn’t be more excited to see Whitney join The Pride of Mississippi as our new Dixie Darlings director,” said Shannon Sims, the Dixie Darlings Alumnae Association President. “Her love and passion for dance and the Dixie Darlings will be an amazing asset to this program and the University. The Dixie Darlings Alumnae Association looks forward to collaborating with her to continue the tradition that is upheld to the highest standard.”

The Dixie Darlings Alumnae Association was founded in 1994 by Anne Sharp Larman and with the help of Dee Kelly Ervine, it has grown to more than 1,362 members. Every year at Southern Miss Homecoming, the alumnae perform with the current team and have become a popular feature of the annual celebration. As part of the Dixie Darlings' 50th Anniversary in 2004, 254 DD's marched and danced on the field at Homecoming halftime...the youngest 17, the oldest 71.

Added Hudson, “I am excited to have the opportunity to make my mark not only for this team, but the alumni and University as a whole. As always, Southern Miss, To The Top!”