A Great Day to Dance

In celebration of 50 years of hip-hop, BET brought together some of the dancers and choreographers who’ve made major moves through five decades, from the legends to leaders of the new school.

A great hip-hop show has always relied on movement. From the earliest b-boys and b-girls who spilled sweat on the first pavements in the South Bronx to the fly girls on “In Living Color” and ATL’s snap and “walk it out” steps, dance is what energizes the culture. Rappers create the bars. Dancers give the music power.

Even as dance styles have evolved from the era of breaking on concrete and cardboard to pop-locking, competitive street battles, and elaborate TikTok viral challenges, choreography has remained core. Dancers danced, and choreographers like Fatima Robinson increasingly moved to the forefront of hip-hop over the years, introducing new wild styles and techniques.

In celebration of hip-hop’s 50th, BET brought together today’s and tomorrow’s flyest, most influential dancers and choreographers to share their stories and explain why hip-hop can’t live and breathe without dance.

  • Laurieann Gibson

    Dance Background: The Toronto-born “boomkack” mastermind cut her teeth at Alvin Ailey dance studio before becoming the director of choreography for Motown Records and Bad Boy Entertainment. She went on to choreograph moves for a slew of music legends, including Michael Jackson, Beyoncé, Missy Elliott, Notorious B.I.G, Lil’ Kim, and Brandy, to name a few.

    Biggest Inspirations: “Many dancers inspired me along the way, but I’ll never forget seeing Judith Jamison do the stack-up. I was shaken by Debbie Allen. And Lola Falana. And of course, Diana Ross. That energy, that combination definitely affected me. Gregory Hines, the Nicholas Brothers, Baryshnikov.”

    Why I Fell in Love with Dance: “I was trained in the ballet world. So dance was something I knew from when I was a little girl. Then when I did the Roger Rabbit [laughs] and the Running Man, I found hip-hop. I could say what I wanted to say through hip-hop. She took my soul, she took my fight, and she told me how free I was. I connected with the freedom of dancing outside the box. As a choreographer, I wanted to speak my own language. I wanted to elevate how we put movement together, how it’s sung, how it’s spoken.”

    The Future of Hip-Hop Dance: “In the commercial and technical world, [hip-hop dancers] were looked at as, ‘What are they doing? They’re doing the Running Man for 15 counts of eight.’ We were like, ‘Yeah, get into it! ‘Til it tells us to change, we gon’ stay right in this pocket.’ Now, it’s a recognizable conversation. I’m excited to take hip-hop dance to a place where the value of it will be recognized, and we can survive off of it for the first time in a long time.”

  • Richard “Swoop” Whitebear

    James Anthony

    Dance Background: The Kansas City native came up as a backup dancer for M.C. Hammer in the eighties and spent his high school years touring with the Marching Cobras. He went on to choreograph music videos for artists like Aaliyah (“Try Again” and “Are You That Somebody?”), Brandy, Dr. Dre, and Snoop Dogg.

    Why I Fell in Love with Dance: “I fell in love with hip-hop as soon as I started dancing in school, competitions, and street battles.”

    Dance Style: “Mind hip-hop. It’s when you’re acting with the dance moves—[like] you create a lightbulb and put it in the socket. I tripped and fell and then it was, well, let me use that in my routine. Dust yourself off and try again.”

    Why Dance Matters in Hip-Hop: “Not all artists are dancers. Those who aren’t need us to make them feel comfortable being out front.”

    The Future of Hip-Hop Dance: “Social media has helped me see a lot of the new cats and queens. They’re paving the way for the dancers of tomorrow. I see Kida [the Great] battling against Les Twins. His crew has a certain style, and he’s taking it to another level.”

  • Nadine “Hi-Hat” Ruffin

    James Anthony

    Dance Background: The NYC dance vet has choreographed and hit the dancefloor for artists like Mary J. Blige, Rihanna, Jay-Z, Eve, Teddy Riley, and Wyclef, among others. She’s choreographed iconic Missy Elliott music videos, including “Beep Me 911” and “Sock It To Me.”


    Childhood Dance Memory: “When I saw breakdancing for the first time, I fell in love. My brother was in his crew, and they were popping. I was like, I need to learn how to do that. I used to go to school, come home, do homework, and practice my routines. My family was not supportive [at first] because we thought hip-hop was just a phase. I’m happy that the passion kept me going because many times I could have gave up.”


    Biggest Inspirations: “Michael’s the person I studied. His music, his dance was my everything. Michael Jackson’s videos did a lot not only for hip-hop but for Black culture. The Grammys wasn’t showing Black artists. Michael was my biggest inspiration, as well as the Nicholas Brothers.”


    Signature Move: “Probably the slide. You see Ginuwine and Missy do it. There’s a glide we do, and it seems to not go away. It’s timeless dance.”


    The Future of Hip-Hop Dance: “We didn’t know hip-hop was going to last. Now, we have people like Sean Bankhead and JaQuel being inspired by each other. It’s universal, in every genre of music. Everybody’s doing hip-hop. You see it in the NFL, in commercials and movies.”


  • Tish Oliver

    James Anthony

    Dance Background: Besides working with renowned choreographer Fatima Robison, Oliver served as a backup dancer for a pair of sibling icons: Janet Jackson and Michael Jackson, as well as artists like Bobby Brown.

    Dance Style: “I love house. I love drum and bass. I love African. I love Latin. I love music that grips my soul. My style of dance is beats. I pop to the beats. It's all feeling.”

    Iconic Dance Moment: “My favorite music video to dance in was Janet Jackson’s ‘Throb’ ’cause I’m a club kid. I loved dancing with Michael because he had the beats where you hit. He was a dancer, and he felt it. It was nice to dance for somebody who saw you as a person and respected you.”

    Why Dance Matters in Hip-Hop: “The artist is the artist. But we’re artists, too. We add to their world. We add to their show. It felt good being included in that. You know who makes music from their spirit and their soul. You know who dances from their gut and their soul.”

  • Jossie Harris

    James Anthony

    Dance Background: A pioneer in the dance world, Harris broke out as one of the original Fly Girls on “In Living Color;” she’s danced for icons like Heavy D, Bobby Brown, Janet Jackson, and Michael Jackson, to name a few and is also an acting coach.

    Dance Style: “Funky and flowing. I was more of a freestyler, what you would call a street dancer.”

    Why Dance Matters in Hip-Hop: “There is no hip-hop without the dancers. Back in the day, A&R artists or the managers would bring out the dancers because they needed the hype. The music, the dancing, and the artists—they go together. To not count them as one is really not showing the true picture of hip-hop.”

  • Kida The Great

    James Anthony

    Dance Background: Born in Sacramento, Kida danced as part of a crew as a kid. You can spot him dancing in Kendrick Lamar’s “Alright” music video at age 11, and he’s known for his epic dance battle with renowned duo Les Twins and winning “So You Think You Can Dance” in 2013.

    Why I Fell in Love with Dance: “When I was four, my brother and I would take my mom’s closet mirrors and put them in the living room and rehearse all day, every day. We made our own studio in the living room. That’s when my mom knew, and she put me in dance classes. It was that organic feeling of wanting to dance, no matter what.”

    Dance Style: “Have you ever seen a robot groove? That’s the best way I can explain it. I have a big family, and we all dance together nonstop. I picked up small techniques. I have an intricate movement side, and I have a side that’s strictly grooves.”

    My Biggest Inspirations: “My favorite movie to this day is Breakin’. That movie sparked it for me. I was a really big Turbo fan. When he was outside the liquor store cleaning up, and then the broom was floating, I thought it was magic, like, ‘Okay, he can’t be real because how is he doing this?’ Missy’s up there. Also, Chris Brown is paved the way, as far as choreo and putting on a show.”

  • Ashley M. Everett

    James Anthony

    Dance Background: The Cali dancer has shared stages with the greats: Tina Turner, Usher, Jennifer Lopez, Ciara, and Sean Paul. She’s best known as the lead backup dancer and dance captain for Beyoncé, having been featured in Bey’s Super Bowl Halftime show and Coachella 2018, among other performances.

    How I Fell in Love with Dance: “I came up in competitions and a ballet company doing Nutcrackers and Cinderella, so performance was always a part of my etiquette. Competition dancers really inspired me. I just wanted to be as good as them.”

    Dance Style: “I’m a commercial dancer. If you turn on the TV, you’re gonna see somebody like me dancing. I can do hip-hop. I can do heels. I will give you a smile. A little wink. We’re gonna play with the camera, but we’re gonna go off at the same time.”

    Why Dance Matters in Hip-Hop: “It’s important that dancers in hip-hop be acknowledged because we are creating the environment, the ambience, the aesthetic. We are part of the energy.”

    The Future of Hip-Hop Dance: “Everybody wants to do the backyard barbecue dances. Everybody wants to do TikTok [dances], and they’re all hip-hop based. We can create whatever we want. Using our social platforms is monumental and life-changing if you use it in the right way.”

  • Aliya Janell

    James Anthony

    Dance Background: The stiletto-rocking choreographer and creative director has danced for K. Michelle and choreographed Nicki Minaj’s “Chun-Li” music video, among others.

    Childhood Dance Memory: “I remember watching Soul Train and being infatuated with all the dancers. I didn’t know what it was. I just saw a big party. Different outfits. Different bodies. All moving in their own way. And I wanted to do that. The era I consider to be the golden age is the 2000s. When I look back at my come up as, not only a dancer, but a choreographer, [I think of] all the movies: “You Got Served,” “Honey,” “Step Up,” “Stomp the Yard,” “Save the Last Dance.” Dance really took on a new life.”

    Dance Style: “Sexy and hood. I like merging those two worlds. I like to dance hard in a heel.”

    Why Dance Matters in Hip-Hop: “We are the physical manifestation of hip-hop. We bring life to the artists’ words and their stories, and we tell our own stories through movement.”

    The Future of Hip-Hop Dance: “Social media has been the biggest tool for me because it allows viewers to go into people’s worlds. And it allows the creator to create their own world instead of going the traditional route of going to auditions or needing to be picked up by a choreographer. You make up your own rules on social media.”

  • Jemel McWilliams

    James Anthony

    Dance Background: The NYC choreographer and self-proclaimed Renaissance man has designed intricate moves for artists like Janelle Monáe, Alicia Keys, Kelly Rowland, John Legend, and Lizzo.

    Childhood Dance Memory: “According to my mom, we were [driving] one day, and at a stoplight. Michael Jackson came on the radio. I jumped out the car and [started moving], giving Mike all day. My mom was like, “What are you doing, boy? Get in the car!” From that moment forward, I enjoyed the idea of performing, entertaining, and I started dancing in the neighborhood.”

    Dance Style: “I talk with my hands. That’s just what it is when you grow up in New York, the birthplace of hip-hop. I was fortunate enough to be around those who really founded this.”

    Why I Fell in Love with Dance: “Dance, for me, has always been a natural, cultural way of expression. I had a crew who were my boys in the neighborhood. And we used to do a barter system. My boys would be like, ‘Jemel, you always want us to dance. We just want to play football. We want to climb trees.’ I’d be like, ‘Alright, I’ll play football with y’all if you come over here and dance when it’s time to dance.’”

  • Sean Bankhead

    James Anthony

    Background: The Philly dancer broke out as a dancer for Beyoncé. He’s crafted memorable choreo for Missy Elliott (her MTV Vanguard Award performance) and a slew of music videos, including Lil Nas X's “Industry Baby” (featuring Jack Harlow), Normani’s “Motivation,” Victoria Monet's "On My Mama", and Cardi B’s “Up.”

    Childhood Dance Memory: “I never took classes when I was a kid, so I didn’t grow up going to the studio or taking ballet or jazz. I learned how to dance from watching music videos, from Michael Jackson to Aaliyah to Usher to Janet. I used to sit at home and replicate all the videos.”

    Biggest Inspirations: “Michael Jackson was the first artist I remember seeing on television. I was captivated by his music videos, his style of dance, his energy, his performance capabilities. Michael is obviously the G.O.A.T, the legend, the icon. And Missy Elliott was at the forefront of pushing creative hip-hop dance forward. She would always try something out of the box. One time, she would have kids. The next time, they’d do line-dancing and make it hip-hop.”

    Dance Style: “Smooth and ratchet. The South taught me how to groove and [find] my pocket. I’m a bit of a chameleon.”

    Why Dance Matters in Hip-Hop: It’s important to give love back to the dance community and choreographers because without dance, there’s no energy. Dancers bring the music to life with our bodies. When you look back at every single artist who has really made an impact on culture who performs, they’ll give it up to their choreographer. They’ll give it to their dancers. We are the heart and energy on stage. We are just as important as the lighting, the songwriters, and producers.”

  • JaQuel Knight

    James Anthony

    Dance Background: At 18, the ATL-raised dancer collaborated with Beyoncé on choreography for “Single Ladies (Put a Ring On It).” He’s gone on to create moves for B’s “Formation” and Coachella 2018 performances, as well as Jennifer Lopez and Shakira’s Super Bowl Halftime show, and Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion’s “WAP” video.

    Childhood Dance Memory: “It was really my family that got me up and going. My dad was a percussionist. My mom was a dancer in high school. Music was always in the household, at every cookout, at every family reunion, and at every birthday. My grandma had that big, brown TV that sat on the floor, and it played “Soul Train” every weekend. She knew every cha-cha slide, every one-two step. I was the kid dancing at all the family functions.”

    Dance Style: “It’s like a good old country-fried chicken, with some mac and cheese on the side, some good seasoning, salt on that thing, and some gravy up over there. Everything Southern.”

    Biggest Inspirations: “Mary J. Blige did a performance of ‘Real Love’ on Soul Train, and that was the first time I was like, ‘Oh, okay. This is super fly.’ Once I moved to Atlanta, I would record award shows on VHS tape and learn all my favorite routines.”

    Why Dance Matters in Hip-Hop: “It’s part of the swag, the flavor. The music and the movement go hand in hand, and that’s exactly what makes our culture so magical, so beautiful, so everything. You hear a song, and you know the dance to that song and exactly where you were at that time.”

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