Just Dance

Choreographer Richy Jackson has worked on Lady Gaga’s most iconic videos—“Bad Romance” and “Telephone,” to name just two. He officially made his debut as lead choreographer for the Haus of Gaga with her “Marry the Night” video in 2011. In the past year, he’s come out from behind the scenes to be a judge on “Abby’s Ultimate Dance Competition” alongside the infamous Abby Lee Miller, whom Jackson describes as a “non-stop critique shop.” Now that the show has wound down, Jackson is heading back to his day job: visual director for Lady Gaga’s Born This Way Ball tour, which, after touring overseas, comes to the U.S. this month. Jackson spoke to DS about being the man behind Lady Gaga’s moves.

Dance Spirit: When did you start dancing? 

Richy Jackson: I grew up watching music videos, and when I was 16, my friends and I would sneak out to the clubs in San Francisco to go dancing. I went to Tuskegee University because I wanted to be a lawyer. While there, I saw a friend dancing in an Aaliyah video, and I basically left for L.A. that week. I called my mom to tell her, and she almost had a heart attack. At the time, I had no formal training. But I landed a job dancing for Will Smith.

DS: Did you know you ultimately wanted to be a choreographer?

RJ: Absolutely. My mother coached a cheerleading squad, and I started choreographing for them when I was 13. They even went to Nationals with some of my routines. But when I got to L.A., I wanted to take the time to learn the craft. The first person I assisted was Michael Rooney, and he changed my life. He showed me that “simple but effective” is the way to choreograph. It took time to get to the point where I could call myself a choreographer.

DS: When did you meet Lady Gaga? 

RJ: Six years ago. I watched her perform three songs in the studio, and I said, “Wow, you are going to be a problem in this industry.” At that time, pop music looked like Britney Spears—Barbie-doll perfect. But when I saw Gaga, I knew she was anything but. She was a live singer, she played instruments, she was vulnerable and expressive and she’d take chances no one else would.

DS: You’ve also worked with Katy Perry, Keri Hilson and Nicki Minaj. How is working with Lady Gaga different?

RJ: When Gaga’s learning a dance step, she works until she gets it exactly right. If it’s an eight-hour day, she’s there for the full eight hours to make sure she has it. She cares about what her dancers look like, what the aesthetic is and what artistic approach we’re taking for each song. She brought entertainment back to the music business.

Angela Sterling, courtesy PNB

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Photo by Joe Toreno

The coolest place she's ever performed:

I'd have to say the Super Bowl. The field was so cool, and Katy Perry was right there. And there were so many eyes—definitely the most eyes I've ever performed for!


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Signature look:

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Dear Katie,

For a long time, I was the strongest dancer at my studio. But this year there's a new girl in my class who's very talented, and my teacher's attention has definitely shifted to her. I'm trying not to feel jealous or discouraged, but it seems like my whole dance world has changed. Help!

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