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.
Sad that your standby summer TV shows have ended? Don’t be, because there’s a new dance show on the block that’s blowing some of our old faves out of the water! “Abby’s Ultimate Dance Competition” is like “Dance Moms” on steroids with a dash of “So You Think You Can Dance” thrown in. Twelve dancers ages 6 to 13 compete to win a $100,000 cash prize and a scholarship to the Young Dancer Program at the Joffrey Ballet School in NYC. Not too shabby, right? Say what you will about Abby Lee Miller, but showing kids with real talent rocking their dance moves every week to a packed audience is definitely my kind of television. Last night’s premiere got the ball rolling with some serious dancing drama. Here are my top ten moments:
1. Mom Yvette and 12-year-old Hadley. Yvette proves to be the know-it-all dance mom to reckon with right off the bat—she’s clearly going to cause trouble. A dance teacher herself, she has no problem stepping in during rehearsals to ask questions or make corrections. Yikes. Thankfully, Hadley doesn’t seem to embarrass easily and they get along like peanut butter and jelly. The best part? Their inspirational sayings to live by: “Go the extra mile because it’s never crowded.” “You’re either in or you’re in the way.” “You’ve gotta risk it to get the biscuit!” (OK, I don’t really get that last one.)
2. The “technique” challenge. Anthony Burrel choreographs a routine for all the kids, and considering how many hip roles and sassy walks were involved, I'm a little confused about how it's supposed to show off their technique. But it's OK, because Abby's only judging based on what outfit they're wearing. Hadley’s headband is too big, and Elizabeth’s turquoise shirt is just perfect, so she wins! Yay Elizabeth! More on Elizabeth later…
3. Tua. Tua’s job is to make things dramatic when they aren’t really dramatic at all. She cries the first day while learning the “technique” challenge choreography, and then she cries again while learning tap. I get that you’re a little kid and all, but please stop, Tua! You’re making me sad!
4. Asia Monet Ray! This girl may be the new Mackenzie. OK, not the new Mackenzie, but a good replacement Mackenzie until “Dance Moms” comes back next season. This child has some serious sassy pants on. She rocks that hip-hop routine and completely steals the spotlight from the other two girls. Plus, she’s only 6. (6!) I'm in shock.
5. First official mom drama of the season. When Lexine misses her front walkover (and gets completely overshadowed by Asia), Mom Maria tells her that she’s definitely going home. The other moms flip out! Things get so crazy that some moms even yell at other people’s children. Definitely not a fan of the moms already.
6. The jazz routine. This trio is on a whole different level than the others. Yes, the dancers are older, but they also show off amazing tricks and turns without sacrificing technique. I see you, Hadley, Madison and Zack.
7. The tap routine. Seriously? This doesn’t even give these girls a chance. Tua, Tessa and Kyleigh Jai wear costumes with wigs so no one can tell them apart and do lackluster tap moves while making funny faces. Unfair.
8. Elizabeth, Elizabeth, Elizabeth. It’s way too early in the season to play the “my parents are getting a divorce” card. She barely gets criticized, and completely breaks down. The moms think she may be using her parents divorce as an evil plot to win. Scandal already? Love it!
9. The decision. Tessa’s going home for apparently not portraying her character well enough. (Isn't this week’s challenge technique?) She handles it like a champ though, and I still blame the silly tap routine. So sad.
10. The previews for next week! There will be more mom fighting, the kids will dress up like fairies, and someone has a very scary fall (Ouch!). It’s official, I’m hooked.
Did you watch this week’s premiere? Don’t let me do all the talking. Share your thoughts in the comments!