In 2009, Beyoncé got crowds every moving with her “Single Ladies” dance. The arm and leg movements remain iconic to this day, and any pop music fan can recognize the moves from the routine.
Beyoncé’s ‘Single Ladies’ choreographer has worked with many celebrities
Choreography has been an integral part of pop music for decades, dating back to Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” video and beyond. Choreographers in general receive a lot of appreciation for their work, but little recognition as creators and artists themselves.
JaQuel Knight, the architect of Beyoncé‘s “Single Ladies” dance, spoke out about this in a new cover story with Billboard. He noticed that while producers such as Mike WiLL Made-It continued to make “millions” off Beyoncé’s 2016 hit “Formation” (which Knight choreographed), he wasn’t receiving the same respect and compensation that he felt he deserved.
“’How is this happening and [choreographers] are not getting anything?’” Knight remembered asking himself at one point. “’How can I take my craft more seriously and protect myself?’”
Knight has also choreographed for the likes of Tinashe, Pharrell Williams (for N.E.R.D.’s 2017 song “Lemon”), and Zara Larsson. His most recent work to go viral is the raunchy routine for “WAP” by Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion.
Choreographers don’t have the same legal protections others do
Knight lamented that on top of not being compensated financially in a fair way, choreographers simply don’t have the same legal protections that artists, producers, and songwriters have. He’s advocated for choreographers to be more protective of their work and ensure that no one can profit off their intellectual property.
“The artist is used to the idea that after you create something for them, it’s theirs — that they should be able to perform it around the world for millions of people forever,” Knight said regretfully. “We’re left to the life of Instagram posts and Twitter to prove we did the work, which is sad. And credit [on social media] does not come with ownership. We’re getting used and abused.”
JaQuel Knight copyrighted the ‘Single Ladies’ dance
This past summer, Knight did something that no other choreographer before him has done: secure a copyright for a dance that he created. Of course, it was “Single Ladies.”
Knight is also currently in the final stages of registering six other pieces for copyright, including his choreography for “WAP.” Eventually, he plans to register his entire catalog.
“‘Single Ladies’ for me is like a walkthrough of my childhood,” Knight said of his beloved routine that started it all. “Moments where I remind myself of my grandmothers, of talent shows with my cousins, marching band, everything I’ve done wrapped into one.”
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