Amari Marshall on Full-Circle Choreographic Moments and What Inspires Her
Some of your favorite musicians have had the honor of sharing the stage with Amari Marshall, whether they were dancing by her side or executing her moves while she was behind the scenes. Amari is a dance artist who’s brought her unique flavor all over the world, dancing next to Beyoncé (and Jore, her little sis!) during Coachella, catching a vibe with Rihanna in Savage x Fenty shows, and choreographing for stars like Janet Jackson, Ciara, J. Balvin, Sean Paul and others.
She’s a Monsters of Hip-Hop alumna, co-founder of the Blackescape Experience, and also happens to be part of THE Council Women, an all-female empowerment dance collective. She’s created her own clothing brand, as well: AM•X Clothing. So, even beyond the dance industry, to say she’s talented feels a bit like an understatement.
She dances with an effortless energy that comes from the soul, whether she’s learning or choreographing, and once you’ve watched Amari move, you’ll never forget her. So, we chatted about her massive impact, learned about the moments and movers that have impacted her, and got a glimpse into her creative process and dance journey along the way.
What she’s inspired by
“The littlest things. I find joy in reading books and cooking, but I’m also inspired by my family and friends, and different Black women in the industry. Seeing them work so hard has really pushed me to figure out what more I can do while I’m here on this earth.
Africa also has a huge influence over my identity and that translates into my movement. Between traditional West African dance and krump movement, everything that I do is heavily shaped by Africa.”
An incomplete list of choreographers and dancers that inspire her
“All of the ladies of THE Council Women are a huge inspiration to me!”
“I’m inspired by GBB, a choreographer and dancer based in France; Shay Latukolan, from Amsterdam; and Westsyde Lifestyle, a group based in Nigeria. I also love Luther Brown, Calvit Hodge, Gil Duldulao and Danielle Polanco.
Laure Courtellemont, Rhapsody James, Tina Landon, Jamaica Craft, Tanisha Scott, Hi-Hat—all those beautiful women have always been a huge inspiration to me. I’m definitely missing some people, but those are just some that have really made an impact.”
On her journey going from dancer to choreographer
“Growing up, my parents started a hip-hop dance team called Systematic Dance Group, and it was their gift to us, as they saw that dance was starting to blossom throughout all of my siblings. So, I’ve been choreographing since I was about 13 or 14. The team made me and my siblings feel like we could really dance for a living, which was great because during that time, around 2008, America’s Best Dance Crew and the World of Dance competitions were huge, and always got us excited.
My experience choreographing early on planted the seed for me wanting to teach, which I didn’t really enjoy the responsibility of at first, but after gaining more experience with teaching, choreographing and assisting, I grew to love it!”
“I get butterflies watching my work being done exactly how I envisioned it.”Amari Marshall
Her favorite part about being a choreographer
“It’s so cool being able to see something in your head come to life, especially when choreographing for the stage. I think of it like a blurry dream during the beginning of the process. Then, after the hard work happens, all of a sudden it comes together, the movement evolves in different spaces, and the big picture becomes so clear. Most times, it’s more beautiful than what I had imagined. I get butterflies watching my work being done exactly how I envisioned it.”
On mentors and the perks of assisting
“I’m a very hands-on, visual learner. So, when I’m learning, I need to actually see someone do it firsthand. Having a mentor and assisting felt really necessary for me in my journey, so that I’d learn the ins and outs, how people work, and be able to grow from it. When you’ve worked with a choreographer as an assistant, you may run into situations later on in your career that you want to handle in the same way as them, or you might choose to do things differently. But either way, in that position, you’re constantly learning. There are so many things you can take away from those experiences.
Sometimes, out of fear, it becomes really easy to get comfortable in these positions, though, especially depending on the relationship that you have with your boss. But I always tell the dancers that assist me that this is just a stepping-stone. So, if they see themselves becoming a choreographer, one day, when the time is right and they feel ready, they should be able to step out and do this on their own.”
Her most memorable and full-circle moments in dance
“BeyChella with my sister! It was so awesome to not only be a part of the performance, but to have and share the moments that we had. Even offstage, being able to share special moments with all of the other dancers was so memorable. That moment is definitely going down in history.”
“All my experiences with Janet Jackson, from the audition and choreographing to performing and soaking it in, was really monumental, because my mentor, who passed away about two years ago, had a company in Jacksonville called A Rhythm Nation. He was a huge fan of Janet, and we always danced to Janet songs growing up. I called him the “Godfather of Jacksonville dance community” because he planted the seed of us seeing ourselves onstage. Now that he’s not here and has missed a lot of other moments that I know he would’ve loved to see here in the flesh, it’s so amazing that he was able to be here to see me finally work with her in the “Made for Now” music video.”
“I always told God that I just want to be a part of great things that will really shape history.”—Amari Marshall
“And, of course, working with Nike was also really groundbreaking! I always told God that I just want to be a part of great things that will really shape history, so being able to have these opportunities makes me feel very proud and honored.”
On her creative process
“First, if the song isn’t perfect, I can’t dance to it! It really has to touch the soul. Every song I choose to dance to—even the more aggressive ones—has to pull on my heartstrings. My process is pretty spontaneous and fun, though. I’ll usually listen to the song a million times, almost becoming the song, then I’ll choreograph in my mind, and try it out on myself. It’ll start out pretty terrible, but it gets better over time. Then I’ll invite some friends over and have them learn it.”
How she helps struggling students pull up
“I remind my students that the most powerful thing is your mind. I let them know that I understand the difficulty and frustration, but I push them not to give up, mentally or physically. The most you can do is just try your hardest. If you don’t get any of the choreography, set a goal to get at least one or two eight-counts or certain key movements. That way, you feel like you’re still progressing.
And if you need to, like most people, take a video so you can practice and learn from your mistakes. That’s one of the best ways I’ve been able to get through to a lot of people that struggle in my class. It’s just letting them know that it’s a safe space, it is difficult, and we’re all going to suffer, but we’re all going to have a great time and we’re going to make it to the end no matter what.
As long as you hit that last move, even if it’s not perfect, you’ve just got to finish!”
The impact she’s had on her students
“When I know that I’m impacting someone—as a person, in their heart and their soul—that means more to me than what we do in the choreography.”—Amari Marshall
“It warms my heart when people let me know that my movement made them feel alive again. When I know that I’m impacting someone—as a person, in their heart and their soul—that means more to me than what we do in the choreography. Everything that I do and say when teaching is not just for dance, but for life in general.”
Her biggest piece of advice for future choreographers
“Believe in your work! It might take a while for others to. So, it’s up to you to have the utmost confidence and deeply believe in everything that you do.
Transitioning from dancer to choreographer is a difficult but fulfilling road if you stay the course and you stay true to yourself. You shouldn’t change who you are because of how the world is moving or how the industry is moving. Stay true, be you, and when it’s your time, trust that it’s going to be amazing!”