Choreographers JaQuel Knight and Sean Bankhead discuss working with stars like Beyonce, and the importance of copywriting their moves.
“Songwriters and publishers and musicians, all of them get pieces of the royalties and the outcomes of their work that they’ve created. And choreographers have not had that luxury,” Bankhead said.
BRITTANY JONES COOPER: Hey, everybody. My name is Brittany Jones-Cooper, and I’m so excited to welcome two all-star choreographers, JaQuel Knight and Sean Bankhead. Hey, guys. How you doing?
JAQUEL KNIGHT: What’s up?
SEAN BANKHEAD: What’s up?
BRITTANY JONES COOPER: Some people aren’t familiar with your names right now, but they are very familiar with your work. JaQuel, I’ll start with you. You choreographed for Beyonce and Meg Thee Stallion. Meaning, you made the moves for the “Formation” video or Beyonce’s Cochella performance, and even the Super Bowl halftime show with Shakira and J-Lo, right?
JAQUEL KNIGHT: Yes.
BRITTANY JONES COOPER: But I got to know, what was your first big gig?
JAQUEL KNIGHT: I would have to say “Single Ladies” by Beyonce.
BRITTANY JONES COOPER: And if I’m right, Sean, were you there when he got the call for that?
SEAN BANKHEAD: I was, yes. I was there. He was already freaking out because it was Beyonce. And we were in LA at the time, he went to New York. And he came back and he was like, I don’t know what I just created but I think it’s really dope. And then, lo and behold, it was “Single Ladies.”
JAQUEL KNIGHT: It’s still something I can not put into words, the feeling of being a part of something so huge. Talk about global social impact.
BRITTANY JONES COOPER: JaQuel, you’re currently on the cover of the new “Billboard” issue, which is huge. So what does this sort of recognition mean for you as a creator?
JAQUEL KNIGHT: It is huge. But like I say with everything else that I’m a part of, it’s bigger than me. As we get old and we start to see the next people coming up with the hottest dance steps, they’re able to reap all the benefits that we have set in place now. The recognition is starting to become a thing. So I’m super grateful for it all.
BRITTANY JONES COOPER: I know you worked with Meg Thee Stallion on her SNL performance, which highlighted that we need to protect Black women at this huge emotional, kind of, political stance. And so, what was it like working on something like that?
JAQUEL KNIGHT: It brings a light to your day. You know, to be able to say, you got this. You can stand up. You can stay strong. And I don’t think we get told enough that as choreographers, as Black people, as Black men, as Black women, I don’t think there is enough of that. I love to dance. I love to dance. Any record that comes to mind when you play it in your car, I want everyone like, make it drop, [INAUDIBLE]. Woo! I don’t make up steps, like, in a mirror. Like, I choreographed driving. So it’s really important that I catch the vibe and the energy of the record.
BRITTANY JONES COOPER: And, Sean, you can’t be using the same moves over and over again, right? So how do you keep it fresh?
SEAN BANKHEAD: I live in Atlanta. And you know, Atlanta is such a hub for culture and new ideas and the youth creating moments that the whole world is always looking to and inspired by. Music is a huge reason that we can always keep it fresh. And I don’t think a lot of people know that both me and JaQuel have musical backgrounds. You know, we’ve both played instruments, we can read and write music. So whatever the song is saying, as long as it feels good and as long as it feels fresh, we will always be able to come up with something new and fly.
BRITTANY JONES COOPER: In your “Billboard” issue, JaQuel, you talk about copyrighting some of your moves. And you’re actually the first choreographer that’s been able to copyright some of the moves you’ve created. So take me through why that was important for you.
JAQUEL KNIGHT: I’m in the process of copyrighting my entire repertoire. So the past 12 years of work. People are making money off of it. Something that we have created, the hours of the sweat, made the artists look good.
SEAN BANKHEAD: Songwriters and publishers and musicians, all of them get pieces of the royalties and outcomes of their work that they’ve created. And choreographers have not had that luxury. So, you know, it is a very, very huge step in protecting us and solidifying our place in history and adding value to our jobs so that we can’t be taken advantage of.
BRITTANY JONES COOPER: You keep saying it’s bigger than you, but you guys are both such big forces in the culture. And thank you both for joining me today. I’ll see you next time.
JAQUEL KNIGHT: Thank you.
SEAN BANKHEAD: Thank you.
JAQUEL KNIGHT: Thank you, Sean.
BRITTANY JONES COOPER: Bye.
SEAN BANKHEAD: Thank you, JaQuel. Call you later.
BRITTANY JONES COOPER: See you later.