Choreographer Jeri Slaughter on Hitting it Big

Starting Out

  • First Gig: At 12 years old, Slaughter stopped playing sports so he could join Kid’s Jam, a youth dance company affiliated with Step One Dance Academy in Sacramento.

  • Summer in the City: The summer before graduating high school, he won a full scholarship to The Ailey School in NYC, where he spent three months taking class from 9 am to 7 pm daily.

  • Disciplines Studied: jazz, ballet, tap, Horton, Graham, hip hop, African

From Dancer to Dance Maker

  • New Direction: When Slaughter was working as a dancer in L.A., Tina Landon, whom he had worked with on many projects, asked him to assist her on a job. He started thinking about choreographing when she asked for advice and suggestions on moves. “Just for her to be asking me was a privilege,” he says. “It had me on my toes, and it felt good.”

  • Big Break: While assisting Landon with choreography for Christina Aguilera, Slaughter received the Dirrty single from the pop princess, who wanted to go in a new direction. She asked him to come up with some moves and liked what she saw. His choreography for Aguilera’s Dirrty video eventually earned him MTV Video Awards nominations for Best Choreography and Best Dance Video.

  • Backlash: Intense media scrutiny of Dirrty had many in the biz believing Slaughter only choreographed racy moves. He remained optimistic about the publicity, grateful that it made him more well-known, and defended his movement choices. “When you choreograph something, you choreograph to the treatment of the video, or what the director or artist wants,” he says. “That, at the time, was what Christina wanted, and I’m proud of her for doing what she loves and not looking back at it. She’s a true artist.”

  • Recent Projects: At presstime, Slaughter had just returned from Argentina, where he filmed six commercials for Kohl’s. When he arrived home, he was asked to teach workshops in Las Vegas for dancers in Celine Dion’s A New Day…, which regularly hires outside choreographers for new movement styles and techniques.

  • Advice to aspiring pros: “Learn as much as you can. As a choreographer, I would rather cast someone [who] can do all types of dance forms than someone who’s just focused on hip hop or jazz.”
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Photos by Erin Baiano

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