In an era where trends come and go, JaQuel Knight has managed to stay relevant and in tune with the culture. Most notably, we’ve witnessed the creative director choreograph at least four major projects with Megan Thee Stallion, in the last three months—Cardi B’s “WAP” music video, a moving Tidal performance, a new Alice in Wonderland-inspired music video for the song “Don’t Stop,” and a powerful Saturday Night Live performance.
Knight’s choreography is tantalizing and catchy, but we’d expect nothing less from the creative mind who led and assisted with some of Beyoncé’s greatest work (e.g. the “Single Ladies” music video and Homecoming experience). Still, in the midst of almost a year-long global halt due to COVID-19 and an equally long bout of civil unrest due to police brutality, nobody would blame Knight if he slowed down and took some time for himself. But he hasn’t. Instead, Knight has remained solid and, with Megan Thee Stallion as his muse, delivered exactly what the world needs at this moment—unapologetic Blackness.
Whether or not the U.S. is ready, Americans have decided to bring the brutality and systemic racism that affects Black people to the forefront. Tragically, even as protesters march against this violence, Black women remain among the most unprotected and disrespected people in America. Nothing solidified this belief more than the Breonna Taylor ruling, which failed to appropriately charge any of the officers who murdered her while she slept. With the weight of that ruling heavy on both Knight and Megan Thee Stallion’s hearts (and the community at large, really), the pair made SNL a stage to demand that society “protect Black women.” The message might even have hit closer to home for Megan Thee Stallion, who recently accused rapper Tory Lanez of assault.
As far as the dance and entertainment industry is concerned, what is the state of Black female dancers right now? And what are your hopes and dreams for the future of Black women in these creative spaces?
As far as dance, I’m happy people are waking up. For the past two years, I’ve made it an important and very clear focus and path for myself that the majority of my jobs are Black talent and mostly Black women. And those jobs have been very life-changing for the dancers that I hire. Because generally, in the past—as we know it for dancers, Black dancers especially—it’s only one or two spots on the gig. It’s always just one or two spots for the minorities on these big pop, or your big world tours, or your television shows, and your feature films.
I’m not just hiring them just because they’re Black. I’m not hiring them just because we need some Black talent. I’m hiring them because they’re the best in the room. Period. Regardless of race.
So I’ve made it a known factor to, again, change the narrative. We should all [have] been tired of only [being] able to pick one of the best when they’re all lit. All my friends are lit. All my girls I hire are lit, each and every one of them. You can put them in the audition room. They’re going to let everyone have it. I’m not hiring them just because they’re Black. I’m not hiring them just because we need some Black talent. I’m hiring them because they’re the best in the room. Period. Regardless of race. I don't need to speak on their behalf. Because their talent speaks for itself. I ask that we all play a part in putting on. Don’t just talk about it. Be about it.
Lastly, what are some initiatives that you're currently working on, and how can the community can get involved?
We currently are running—which is like the heart, my heart—all things through the JaQuel Knight Foundation. Especially during a time like now, during the pandemic, we have been shifting our focus to providing for dancers across the country, from New York to Atlanta to Miami and back to L.A. Just being able to easily provide them grants and funding. We’ve been doing meal drives all through L.A., and we’re looking to spread that out across the country. [For] ways to get involved, just visit JaQuelKnightFoundation.org. We’re going to also start our give back to communities in my hometown of Atlanta and North Carolina.
I’m also working on Passion Project, a grant, which is basically all [for] the next generation, anyone in the entertainment field, more importantly, the jobs that get looked over but are truly important to the entertainment space. I’m working on a project that will provide grants to fund their passion projects [up to $6,000]. We’re figuring out the details, but we’re looking to release that. We all have visions and dreams of creating, and creating for our culture. So I’m hoping that this project will allow people to create something special that’s been sitting on their hearts.
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