It’s not everyday you meet someone as passionate, loving, and dedicated to their craft as much as Jamaica Craft (no pun intended). The choreographer and creative director is a legend in the game, cementing her name within the entertainment industry for not only her dance routines, but overall energy and vibrations. She may come off as quiet and observant, but once you get to know her, it’s like catching up with your bestie.
Amidst it all, Jamaica stresses the importance of prayer and exuding positivity at all times. She states, “I’m a lover of people, especially imperfection. It’s my perfect place to be.”
Sparking her career back in the day dancing for iconic female group TLC in Atlanta, Jamaica prides herself in the history of dance, no matter what genre. Incorporating both old and new dance moves, her all-star resume includes working with everyone from Justin Bieber to Ciara to Usher.
Fast forward to 2020, she’s been busy as ever working on Starz’ hit show P Valley, reeling in strip club and pole dancing culture in a way that resonates with the mainstream audience. The biggest selling point lies in the fact that it shows the perspective of the dancer, something Jamaica’s been longing for. Simultaneously shooting HBO’s Lovecraft County, she’s ecstatic to be back to work using her brain to spark creativity.
Flaunt caught up with Jamaica via Instagram Live to discuss her journey from Kansas City to Atlanta, her purpose, training the girls for P Valley, working with Justin Bieber, her company Jam Session, upcoming projects, and more!
Being from Kansas City, Missouri, how does that play into your life and career?
It plays a big part. That everyday Midwest life is about good feelings, groove, eating. My parents are from the South. My mom’s from Mississippi, my dad’s from Texas. Mixed with that is this Midwest swag and twang, that’s where I get my quietness and mystiqueness from. Not screaming out I’m in the room, but it’s best that I show you. Show Me State. [laughs] I’m not a loud person. How I grew up in Kansas City: sitting back, listening to music, dancing, eating barbecue.
It’s who I am, I always want to be in this comfortable place. My work should make you feel good, I worry about if it looks good second. You’ll come back for seconds if it feels good. If something makes you feel good, you’re like “I want to feel that way again.” If something looks good, you’ll watch it. It’s about the feeling you come back or, you want to experience it again. I try to evoke that every time with my work.
You danced for TLC in Atlanta, what was Jamaica like then?
Same person. [laughs] TLC, dream job. You couldn’t have told me I wasn’t in TLC. Dancing for them, I was New Booty. Even thinking I could get a check from this shit, “oh this is a real job!” TLC was like “yeah.” I actually like the job I’m doing, okay great. They taught me it’s more than the dance, it’s performing, being present, and working hard. Those 3 women, I was so blessed enough to be a part of the Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes days. I did “No Scrubs” and gained so much knowledge. The FanMail Tour, I’m still utilizing gems that Chilli, Lisa, and T-Boz had dropped on me.
T-Boz did a post about precision dancing, one of those things she embedded in me. Being clean, but still not losing the groove. That job taught me I wanted to do more inside of the music industry, that I could do more after sitting and listening to them talk. Where they came from, it sounded like me. You can do whatever the fuck you want to do, just do it. You want to be a choreographer? Do it. What else you want to do? Do it. Okay, thank you. The power of seeing things to understand you can manifest them. It’s big for me to show even up-and-coming young women, no matter what ethnicity: you can do it. I don’t care where you come from, figure it out.
What does it mean to be able to live out your dreams daily?
I still don’t believe this shit’s real. Everyday I’m like “do I need to fill out that new temp to keep my record going in case?” [laughs] It’s still a dream to be able to do something I love to do. I can stay up for 24, 48 hours for this because I still love it. God has blessed me to have some amazing projects, be a part of amazing people’s lives. They’ve taught me more than I taught them. To receive a coin for it? I’m here for it. I’m always grateful and humble, not taking it for granted. I’m super appreciative for any dancer, any choreographer, any artist, any movie or TV series, any executive that allowed me to further my dream and bless me with their talent as well. For me to be able to exude it back out into the world, I always want to be a vessel. I’m an architect to it all. I want to stay understanding what my purpose is.
What is your purpose?
My purpose has nothing to do with dance. I have this gift of being able to see people for this greater thing they are, to push people inside of their greatness. God has opened up doors for me to walk into, but also not to close it behind me. It got me in there, so now I’ll turn around and go “alright they done let me in, come on!” It doesn’t stop with me. When I was in Kansas City doing a dance troupe — the Trendsetters, shout out to them — it was always about our community. Who else can dance? They need to be a part of it too. That’s still who I am to this day. If I see you across the water, how can I help you? How can I show you what I see? Out of nowhere, God will say “here you go.” It mostly has nothing to do with me. [laughs]
Pole dancing takes a lot of strength. What’s your secret or regime for training the girls on P-Valley?
You definitely have to have some nutritional diet because you’re holding your own body weight. They’re strong, their upper body strength is strong. I had an amazing team of choreographers with me who did pole work, trained these ladies into always staying safe because that’s a big thing. These ladies were doing 10, 12 takes themselves, we wanted to make sure they stayed safe. Hell yeah they’re on nutritional diets, you see their bodies on that show. [laughs] They definitely took care of what they ate. Not just because of the choreography, but the wardrobe. Very snatched.
It wasn’t about losing weight, but being strong. If you can hold your body weight, that’s it. Who gives a sh-t what your size is, as long as you can hold your body weight. The biggest thing for them is to get to that space, hold with upper arm strength, thigh strength, being able to get your legs and ankles to curve around that pole and to hold yourself for core, lean back or be all over the place with no hands. You’ve seen the tricks like the surfboard, where a girl’s holding it with her thighs and someone’s standing on top of her. She has no hands, it’s crazy. The cast, our core dancers, our choreography team were amazing. Every one of these women are superheroes because that sh-t’s not easy. Never did anyone complain or go out of pocket, they’re trying to make sure the art was showing. The most beautiful thing I’ve experienced.
You’ve worked with everyone from Usher, Ciara, and Justin Bieber, what moment are you most proud of?
Dancing for TLC was my dream. Ciara’s “Promise” video, a standout moment was when I thought “oh, somebody knows who I am.” To see people going up against the wall, moving their hips and imitating the “Promise” video, oh snap. Before then, we’d done some really cool shit like “Goodies,” but “Promise” was like oh wow. Usher’s “Yeah!” video, Ne-Yo’s “Closer” video. Another moment for Ne-Yo but the world didn’t get to see it, our first time working together was a showcase for Def Jam. That was monumental to me, super big. Ne-Yo’s there, L.A. Reid and Jay-Z watched him perform. [gasps] Being there super young and not knowing what’s going on, those moments helped me understand I could do more. I could keep pushing, my ideas are working.
Justin, I had no idea. I just knew he was dope. I like Justin. “Baby,” the song is jamming. You’re doing Justin Bieber. By the time he shot the video, he was Bieber. Oh snap, this is a phenomenon. You can’t even walk out, this is crazy. A very pivotal moment in my life. I’m happy I was able to experience artists at that level. Ciara and Ne-Yo from the beginning, from the first song. Being able to grow with an artist is something I prayed for. I want to grow with the artist and keep growing with them.
Have you ever been in a situation where the artist couldn’t get those counts down?
No, because I don’t choreograph that way. I develop choreography for you. I create your dance, not the dance. It’s about finding what makes your sauce special. What’s your swag? I’ma put a little Lawry’s seasoning on it, but it’s really going to be your vibe. I learned that with Amerie. Amerie said “okay, I’m not Ms. Ciara.” I said “I don’t want you to be Ciara, I want you to be Amerie. I’m a fan of Amerie.” Working on “1 Thing,” it was the way she moved, the way she’d do her hair all the time. That’s how the infamous “1 Thing” video came on. I said “listen, do you. I’ma just put Lawry’s on it.” She said “okay!” From that day on, this is how I was always thinking about how people should dance anyway. Do your dance, my job here is to be an architect so you can sell it. If I make up this incredible routine and you can’t do it, you can’t sell it.
What’s the premise of your company Jam Session?
It’s a boutique where I come in and create a unique situation for you. Whether you’re an artist, a TV show, a scene, I create a risk-taking moment that allows you to tap into your creativity as much as possible. I give it back to you so you’re like “oh shit, I can do it.” Whether it’s coming from choreography, movement coaching, artist development, or shooting the shit with you and creating a plan of who you should work with, it’s a unique situation of how to develop you into your own swag.
What other projects do you have in the works?
I’m working on a movie right now that will definitely show a different side of my work. This is the first type of project I’ve ever done like this, so this is truly amazing. I’m prepping for the TV series Step Up: High Water. We were on Youtube, but now got picked up by Starz. Very tight-knit family, love Step Up. Can’t wait for you guys to see Step Up on Starz.
Goals yourself as an artist at this point of your career?
Never to stop working! I’ve been falling in love with the position of a producer, I want to get mentored even more. I have some really great producers teaching me so much, so many showrunners and show creators. Hopefully you guys see my name venture over on your next TV or film under executive producer. Would really love for that to happen. I really love fashion. I want to somehow, some way: Nike, come on. Nike x Jam Session, would love that
Anything else you want to let us know?
Thank you for having me. This is one of my favorite magazines, I’m like “hell yeah!” Fanning out. Your aesthetic is so amazing, I love it. Only cool people. [laughs] This is a pleasure, thank you chatting with me. I’m so super thankful the world’s been loving Lovecraft and P-Valley, those projects are warm fuzzy feelings. Working with artists, I’m reliving that same feeling in TV and film, which is what I wanted. What’s that next chapter? I’m reading it right now, so this is super dope.