This Choreographer Gets Beyoncé in Formation
They say your life can change in a moment. For JaQuel Knight, it took precisely three minutes and 18 seconds. That's how long three leotard-and-high-heel-clad women spent on-screen, strutting in perfect unison and becoming an instant video sensation, one that would go on to garner more than 600 million views on YouTube.
The women, of course, were Ashley Everett and Ebony Williams—and Beyoncé. The video was "Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)," and the co-choreographer was 19-year-old Knight, along with Frank Gatson Jr. "I went into that hoping it could be the gig of a lifetime," Knight says. "I knew it was my one big chance—'Don't screw it up,' I kept telling myself. I guess I played my cards right." Now, nearly 10 years later, Knight is one of the most sought-after choreographers in L.A.
That wasn't the plan, though: Knight, who grew up in Atlanta, hoped to become a professional dancer. He learned to move by watching TLC and MC Hammer videos, and started taking classes at 14. By 18, Knight had begun auditioning in L.A., where Gatson, Beyoncé's longtime choreographer and creative director, spotted him. Although he didn't get the dance role, Gatson liked the way he moved and asked Knight to come up with some choreography. They worked together on a Michelle Williams gig, and a few months later Gatson called and said he had a job with Beyoncé that he wanted Knight for immediately. "If Bey likes you, you'll stay. If not, we'll figure something else out for you," said Gatson. Knight flew to New York City that night—and Bey liked him, so he stayed.
After "Single Ladies," Knight was a choreographer for Beyoncé's I Am…, The Mrs. Carter Show and Formation world tours, plus many of her music videos, including her 2016 Lemonade visual album. "She knows what she wants to do and how she wants to present herself," he says. "We do our very best to make sure that vision happens for her."
If Beyoncé and her dancers always look perfectly polished onstage, that's thanks in part to the star's desire to "always get it right," says Knight. "Our rehearsals are super-intense," he says. "We're very hard on the dancers because we have such a high bar to maintain. And when Beyoncé comes in the room, the dynamic doesn't change much. She doesn't come in like, 'Okay, The Queen is here!' She's just hoppin' in with the dancers."
So what's next for Knight? He's interested in developing movie screenplays and television shows. "I want to bring back those big musicals—Sweet Charity, Chicago, West Side Story," he says. "And my first script is on its way!" He also wants to give fans a behind-the-scenes look at Beyoncé's dancers—and what it's like working with the world's biggest superstar. But even when Beyoncé is on hiatus, Knight isn't. "Downtime is just time thinking of the master plan."
It's a cycle familiar to many: First, a striking image of a lithe, impossibly fit dancer executing a gravity-defying développé catches your eye on Instagram. You pause your scrolling to marvel, over and over again, at her textbook physique.
Inevitably, you take a moment to consider your own body, in comparison. Doubt and negative self-talk first creep, and then flood, in. "I'll never look like that," the voice inside your head whispers. You continue scrolling, but the image has done its dirty work—a gnawing sensation has taken hold, continually reminding you that your own body is inferior, less-than, unworthy.
It's no stretch to say that social media has a huge effect on body image. For dancers—most of whom already have a laser-focus on their appearance—the images they see on Instagram can seem to exacerbate ever-present issues. "Social media is just another trigger," says Nadine Kaslow, a psychologist who works with the dancers of Atlanta Ballet. "And dancers don't need another trigger." In the age of Photoshop and filters, how can dancers keep body dysmorphia at bay?
If "Fosse/Verdon" whet your appetite for the impeccable Gwen Verdon, then Merely Marvelous: The Dancing Genius of Gwen Verdon is the three-course meal you've been craving. The new documentary—available now on Amazon for rental or purchase—dives into the life of the Tony-winning performer and silver-screen star lauded for her charismatic dancing.
Though she's perhaps most well-known today as Bob Fosse's wife and muse, that's not even half of her story. For starters, she'd already won four Tonys before they wed, making her far more famous in the public eye than he was at that point in his career. That's just one of many surprising details we learned during last night's U.S. premiere of Merely Marvelous. Believe us: You're gonna love her even more once you get to know her. Here are eight lesser-known tidbits to get you started.
Every dancer knows that how you fuel your body affects how you feel in the studio. Of course, while breakfast is no more magical than any other meal (despite the enduring myth that it's the most important one of the day), showing up to class hangry is a recipe for unproductive studio time.
So what do your favorite dancers eat in the morning to set themselves up for a busy rehearsal or performance day?
When it comes to dance in the U.S., companies in the South often find themselves overlooked—sometimes even by the presenters in their own backyard. That's where South Arts comes in. This year, the regional nonprofit launched Momentum, an initiative that will provide professional development, mentorship, touring grants and residencies to five Southern dance companies.