Could One of Beyonce's Choreographers Bring The 'Reality' Back to Reality TV?
North Carolina-born, Atlanta-raised JaQuel Knight is what you'd call a choreographer and creative director to the stars. Having worked with everyone--from Christina Aguilera and Britney Spears to relative newcomers Vanessa Money and Liam Payne--his most notable bit of choreo came when then-engaged mega-star Beyonce tapped Knight to direct her new video for "Single Ladies". The dance immediately went viral, Bey got married to Jay and the rest is history. Well, almost.
Since creating the "put a ring on it" move back in 2008, Knight's personal career has exploded, including trips across the globe, teaching seminars and giving private dance lessons to music's elite and less fortunate Knight-fans alike. Billboard caught up with Knight to chat about his busy schedule, which songs he's super into right now (see DJ Khaled) and what he's got in the pipeline (hint: it could be a major reality TV show).
It's been a busy summer for you! What do you have going on?
My summers are packed with work. I force myself to take a week off in July, but that's my first break of the year and I'm sure I'll end up working. In terms of a typical week, I'll start prepping and choreographing a gig here in LA for a couple days, then I'll fly to London and be there for 4-5 days, then I'll go finish a job in New York, and then back to LA for a few days, and then back to New York. My suitcase is always packed and it's non-stop. It's 8 to 16 hour days, in the studio with the client or in a rehearsal or a meeting. I also consider wherever I am going out part of my work. It's always important to go out to the clubs and see what people are doing. So you start at 9am and you finish at 4am. You back at it again the next day.
For lots of people that would seem tiring, but glamorous. What's the toughest part?
I think the toughest part that people find glamorous is definitely the traveling. Every time I'm somewhere, people are like "oh you're in London living it up". They think I'm out seeing sights, and I'm like, "no I've been in rehearsal in a black hole for the past 10 hours and I got to go to another rehearsal that I'm 4 hours late to already. Then I got to meet n greet at a club tonight, it's nonstop." There's nothing glamorous about being against a black wall for 10 hours at a time and then needing to go out and network and meet people. It's a blessing, of course, but it's tough getting used a sleep schedule that's really non-existent. I think that's the toughest part for me.
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You have your own entertainment agency, Jaquel Knight Entertainment, where you are developing a reality show. Tell us about that.
It's my company specializing in choreography and creative direction, but we're also stepping into a lot of other things. We are are developing TV concepts and I'm currently writing my first movie musical. A few of the projects are really focusing on putting the "real" back into reality TV because I feel like it's lost its way. So I'm doing a concept dealing with dancers and what they go through, choreographers and the lifestyle. Everyone sees the lights, camera, and action and thinks it's so glamorous, but no one sees the tough part that goes into it.
Do you have a projected start date for the series?
We're developing characters right now. We have a major network that's super interested, so we're moving along with just developing the cast. I'm thinking the top of the year, hopefully, we'll have some really good news to announce and then by the end of the year we should be ready to move forward with the cast.
You also have a dance workshop coming up in London. What do you love about doing classes and workshops?
There's nothing like being able to teach; that's my way of giving back. That's my tithes and offering. So whenever I have the chance to give back and give back to the community of dance, small kids in small towns or kids who don't have the ability to take classes from major choreographers, I take that to heart and do it. And in London, it's my chance to give back to the London community who I have been spending a lot of time with. They've got some really talented people there who could just use some grooming. I'll spend 5 days giving them my words of knowledge, beating them down in the studio so they know what it takes to be the best, and then I can start to develop a crew out there that's the go-to for everyone who travels to London. There are dance crews in this industry that can handle the pressure of working professionally, and there are some crews that can't.
What artists or song do you love dancing to right now?
My favorite record right now is "Wild Thoughts" by DJ Khaled, Rihanna, and Bryson Tiller. For me, it's all about the vibe; it makes me feel hot, if that makes sense [laughs]. Makes me feel like I'm in Mexico or the Bahamas somewhere where it's super humid and we just under a gazebo, drinking tequila. It puts me in a happy place.
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Social media is so important to your brand and visibility, but what has been the best way for you to network and find clients?
For me, I don't feel like social media is my means of connecting and networking with people. I guess I came in the industry right before social media was, like, a thing. I know a lot of people through word of mouth and through the connects I have already. And they keep me up. I have friends over at Epic, I have friends at RCA. I have tons of management friends. So they keep me in the loop as far as networking and what's going on with jobs. I'm like an old man when it comes to social media [laughs].
What advice would you give to up and coming choreographers and creative directors?
I'll say the most important thing is you first have to know who you are as a person. People jump in and they take on this title, but their steps look like everyone else's. You're not really setting yourself apart and that's the lack of identity with yourself. I think it's important that people take time to figure out who they are; travel, live life, have your heart broken, make mistakes, go through the up and downs of life, and then that will all help you relate to people. That is important for choreographers.
Any artists you haven't worked with yet but would love to?
My top artist right now is Gucci Mane. I'm so inspired by when he came out of jail and got his girl. He came back so happy, so positive and wanting to do good. He has released 3 projects, and that really inspired me. I'm a Gucci fan, I'm from Atlanta so I'm a Gucci fan from way back. I would love to work with Gucci and help move his show forward. I would help put some great visuals and hot girls behind him just to keep the energy up because he already has a really good show. Also, I'm a big Rihanna fan as well. Rihanna and Shakira. Those are two females I'd love to work with.