With over ten years of experience in the entertainment industry, Jemel McWilliams has surely made his mark as one of the most creative choreographers in Hollywood. The artistic director has worked with many of our favorite stars including Kelly Rowland, Robin Thicke, Alicia Keys, Lizzo, and many more. In our exclusive interview with McWilliams we dove deep into what quarantine life has looked like for the creative director, what he’s learned in the span of his career, and much more!
When did your love for choreography first begin?
It’s so funny, sometimes when I go back to D.C. and I look at my mom’s scrapbooks. I’m her only baby boy so she has all of these scrapbooks of things I’ve done over the years. There is this program that I wrote before I knew how to write the word choreography, so I was super young. I wrote it with crayon, and it was spelled with K (laughs). I had the sensibility since I was probably seven or eight. I put on shows with the kids in the neighborhood and in order for me to play with them, I had to do my performances. I was super young, but I’ve been doing it ever since without even realizing what I was doing. I loved it.
As a creative/artistic director with over ten years of experience, what would you say this journey has taught you about yourself?
This journey has taught me so many things. I think the biggest thing is to trust myself and be true to myself. For example, with Lizzo’s performance at the BET Awards. People knew who she was, but something changed after that epic performance. I knew the pressure and how much was relying on making sure that we present it in this big national opportunity. You can allow that pressure to get to you or you can recognize that listen, I’ve been called to this moment, I am the person appointed to this moment, God set this up. I just have to trust myself, my gift and be my fullest self. I think once I learned to settle into that and that who I am is enough, I was able to move freer and with less stress. That’s one of the best things of the many things that I’ve learned in my journey. You have to be grounded in who you are.
Tell us how our global pandemic has affected you and how you have been able to get through this time?
Ah man (laughs). Where do you start, right? It’s been a tough time on the arts community. I’ve been fortunate because I’ve been to maintain work throughout it. I’ve also gotten closer to my community of artists and dancers because we’ve had to bond together to help one another out. If you think about it, live shows have been cancelled and productions were cancelled for a long time. So, every opportunity I got, I would try to slide dancers into every production that I was a part of, even if it was just a remote production. I would always try to help the community get more work because there is not a lot of work. The pandemic also gave me a second to sit down. I’m used to touring, always being on the go, working 365 days a year, 24 hours a day it feels like. I got a chance to sit with myself and discovered how important doing self-work is. It’s important to take time for yourself. Mental health means being your best self. Even as an artist, I think there were so many times where I spent so much time on the art and not as much time or have balanced time on myself. The pandemic forced me to be in the house, I couldn’t travel, it forced me to be with self. I think that was one of the most beautiful things that it has done for me. It’s given me time to do more self-reflection and realize how to set certain boundaries so that I have a good balance of doing things that I need to do to preserve my mental health. In addition, I’m connecting with my family even more than I ever have. It’s something I didn’t even realize how much I needed. Again, I’ve been on this grind for so many years and you’re always chasing the next goal. Sometimes, it’s easy to forget how important staying connected to family is. I have such a supportive family, they understand I’m out chasing my dreams but now, I don’t let more than two days go by without making sure I check in with my family. Life is short and unpredictable. In this pandemic, we all got a chance to realize how much we all need one another.
What are you currently working on and what can we expect to see from you in the future?
I’m working on a number of things. I can’t really talk about a lot of the things I’m working on but you can expect to see my production company, Jemel McWilliams Productions expand out. I’m looking forward to that. There are television concepts, a clothing line, and just more directing and music videos. A lot of expansion is coming from me being inspired during the pandemic. I had more time with self so that comes with more ideas. I look forward to expanding out. If everyone stays in touch with me on social media and my website, we’ll all be able to go on that journey together.
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