You may not be familiar with the names JaQuel Knight and Sean Bankhead, but there’s a very good chance you know their work.
Both choreographers —best friends who sat down with Yahoo Life recently to discuss their influence on pop culture — have been working hard for more than a decade now, creating some of the most iconic dances for the biggest names in entertainment. Knight, in addition to working with Meg Thee Stallion (he choreographed the WAP video), regularly works with Beyonce, and choreographed “Formation,” “Single Ladies” and “Homecoming.” He also worked on several videos for the Lemonade and Black is King visual albums. Bankhead has choreographed for Missy Elliot, Normani and Kehlani.
As a testament to Knight’s influence, he has just become the first choreographer to grace the cover of Billboard magazine. “It's huge, but like I say with everything else that I'm a part of, it's bigger than me,” Knight tells Yahoo Life. “The recognition is starting to become a thing, you know, so I'm super grateful for it all.”
Knight was just 18 and living in Atlanta when he landed his first big job, choreographing Beyonce’s Single Ladies video — a feat that still leaves him speechless. “It's still something I cannot put into words, the feeling of being a part of something so huge — you know, talk about global world social impact,” says Knight.
Bankhead was there when Knight received the call from Beyonce, and remembers the mood when his friend finished the music video. “He went to New York and then 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,’” jokes Bankhead.
That video was a launchpad for Knight, and it also made him realize the importance of ownership. In a world where TikTok dances go viral and dancers make money booking corporate events with well-known moves they didn’t create, the hard work of choreographers is often forgotten. To ensure that proper credit is given, Knight has become the first commercial choreographer in pop music to copyright his work. The first dance move for which he got approval from the US Copyright Office was the “Single Ladies” hand flick.
“I'm in the process of copywriting my entire repertoire — so the past 12 years of work, starting with everything that has gone viral in the past five years,” says Knight.
Fellow choreographer Bankhead agrees that copyrighting dance moves is crucial to prevent choreographers from being taken advantage of. “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,” he says.
After all, not everyone can take eight counts of music and make it iconic. The artistry involved in choreography is hard to fake, and for Knight, inspiration comes when he’s able to catch the energy and vibe of a record — something that, for him, typically happens in his car.
“I don't make up steps like in a mirror, I choreograph driving,” explains Knight.
Both choreographers share a musical background and grew up playing music. Knight was even the drum major of his high school band — responsible for creating precise ensemble choreography. Bankhead believes this helps them to connect deeper to the music, inspiring fresh and innovative choreography.
“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,” Bankhead says.
Video Produced by Stacy Jackman
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