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.”
(From left) Darriel Johnakin, Diego Pasillas, and Emma Sutherland (all photos by Erin Baiano)

Congratulations to Dance Spirit's 2019 Cover Model Search finalists: Darriel Johnakin, Diego Pasillas, and Emma Sutherland! One of them will win a spot on Dance Spirit's Fall 2019 cover. Learn more about the dancers on their profile pages, and then vote for your favorite below. You can vote once a day now through July 15.

We also want you to get social! We'll be factoring social media likes and shares into our final tallies. Be sure to show your favorite finalist some love on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, sharing their profile pages and using the hashtag #DanceSpiritCMS.

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Photo by Erin Baiano

Imagine attending American Ballet Theatre's prestigious NYC summer intensive, training among classical ballet legends. Imagine taking the stage at New York City Dance Alliance Nationals, competing against some of the country's best contemporary dancers. Now, imagine doing both—at the same time.

Welcome to Madison Brown's world. This summer, she's in her third year as a National Training Scholar with ABT, while also competing for NYCDA's Teen Outstanding Dancer title. (She's already won Outstanding Dancer in the Mini and Junior categories.) The logistics are complicated—ABT's five-week intensive overlaps with the weeklong NYCDA Nationals, which translates to a lot of cabs back and forth across Manhattan—but Maddie is committed to making the most of each opportunity. "I love contemporary and ballet equally," she says. "While I'm able to do both, I want to do as much as I can."

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Photo by Erin Baiano

Click here to vote for Emma.

There's a story Kate Walker, director of dance at Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts in Dallas, TX, loves to tell about Emma Sutherland, who just graduated from the program. "We were watching the students run a really long, challenging piece," Walker recalls. "Several kids couldn't quite make it through. But Emma did make it all the way to the end, which is when she walked up to us faculty and very politely asked, 'May I please go throw up?' "

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