Saleemah E. Knight

Posted on: Wednesday, October 15, 2014

This week’s Real Life Glam features choreographer, dancer and university instructor extraordinaire, Saleemah E. Knight. Believe us when we say, this exceptional young woman was born to dance. From taking 14-19 dance classes a week when she was in training and attending one of the best dance programs in the nation to dancing in the Las Vegas production of The Lion King Broadway Musical, this San Diego native is taking the dance world by storm. She chats with us about where her drive comes from, the importance of recognizing diverse dancers, and her next steps as a professional. Check out our interview below!

Saleemah E Knight, dance, attitude jete, performer, art, dancer, USC, Kaufman School

And you thought you were graceful? 

GLAM Life Blog: Tell me a little bit about yourself and how you started dancing.

Saleemah E. Knight: I’ve been dancing for about 27 years now and I got started in dance actually because I had a bout with arthritis as a child. My mom was a dancer and she was looking at activities I could do that would help to regenerate the cartilage in my knees and things like that because I was so young. She was thinking, “Maybe we could do some preventative work,” so the first thing she thought of was dance because that was her home place. She enrolled me in ballet classes, I loved it and I kept dancing ever since then. By the time I was five, I choreographed my first solo and I kept training.

I got my first professional job when I was 12, which was with Donald Byrd who is a pretty well known artistic director now based in Seattle, Washington with the Spectrum Dance Theater, and I danced in the Harlem Nutcracker. It was an amazing experience; PBS documented it and I think in one of my classes back when I was doing my Master’s, we were watching different dance films and they showed it and I said, “Wait, I’m in this!” So that was a really cool moment.

GLB: How did you become a university professor of dance at the Kaufman School?

SEK: I did my Master’s at UC Irvine and I was taking ballet there where the instructors took notice of me. Fortunately yet unfortunately one of the professors there ended up leaving on a short sabbatical and they needed someone to teach jazz. And it’s a bit difficult because there aren’t a lot of instructors at the university level that teach jazz from a historical standpoint— relating back to its origins within the Africanist Aesthetic. Specifically when I entered the realm of dance academia, I made it important to myself to read and understand where things came from, the true origins of dance, culture, and anthropological studies.

So I ended up teaching all of the jazz there, levels 1-4, level one being beginning jazz for non-majors, and level 4 being advanced jazz for majors and lifetime practice dancers. It was intense, but it was so worth it. Mind you the classroom in the OC is not super diverse, but I was impressed with their maturity and their eagerness to learn about a culture that is not necessarily their own but in a way is there own because it’s American, as well. I finished teaching there in June and then I got a call from Jodie Gates who is the Vice Dean. I went through the whole interview process and here I am. It’s been a blessing. Our goal here is not to create dancers who just graduate and book jobs. Our goal is to create artists that can do collaborative work with directors and produce their own films, with have an entrepreneurial spirit. Here we’re doing something new, it’s called The New Movement. We’ll be looking at dancers from a codified technical background and other dancers who come from a complete background only immersed in social dance. We’re creating something new and of the moment, artists that can think a 360 degree way. One brick at a time!

GLB: Tell me about a challenging moment in your dance career and how you worked through that.

SEK: I had a moment of loss in my life; I lost my father at a really young age. And it’s so strange because at that point, I’d been dancing for a very long time and it was the first time I ever felt like I don’t know if I could do this because I felt like a big part of me was missing and dance involves so much passion. After he passed away, I danced the hardest I’d ever danced in my entire life and I went to an audition for a little show you may know called The Lion King. *Wink*

They said they were looking for one person, it was a room full of hundreds of dancers and I danced my heart out. They narrowed it down to four and they said, “Thanks, we’ll call you” and a week later I got a call from Disney saying they wanted me to be a part of The Lion King Broadway musical. So that was a very big milestone in my life.

Saleemah E Knight, dance, attitude jete, performer, art, dancer, USC, Kaufman School

GLB: We interviewed a filmmaker who created a short film called, Black Ballerina. How do you think the dance world acknowledges different kinds of bodies and people?

SEK: I have a love for dance academia and what’s available to certain demographics and what’s needed. Because my area of expertise is jazz, I felt like it was serving to the dance community to do some research in that area. When I finished The Lion King, I ended up going back to finish my Master’s and did a lot of study on the Black body and ballet. Misty Copeland has made some huge strides in the ballet community in terms of women of color just in general, not just Black women.

And I wrote a lot about that and how we got to that point, looking at the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade and how we viewed Blackness over time and how that translates into how we view Blackness on the stage. There’s a lot of unknown African-American Ballerinas that are left out of history and invisibilized, so I made a point to spotlight them. Because Misty has now been cast as Odette in Swan Lake, now my thesis work is a little bit dated just prior to when she got that. I’m proud of her for continuing to push because there’s so much discouragement, there’s so much lack of knowledge and there’s so much marginalization in terms of what we look like as a people. We’re diverse even as a group of people.

I know even as a technically trained African-American dancer, people want to box you in. They want to see you and say, “She’s probably hip-hop.” I understand that because that’s how the world has worked for so long, but you have to understand when it’s blood, sweat and tears, you’ve come home with sores on the bottoms of your feet and been in The Lion King and trained specifically in the areas of Ballet, Modern and Jazz Dance for the majority of your career, it’s a bit of a disservice. I do also do Hip-Hop by way of my work as a commercial dancer and choreographer but I have had equal, if not more experience and training in the concert dance world. I celebrate my versatility.

Saleemah E Knight, dance, attitude jete, performer, art, dancer, USC, Kaufman School

GLB: Tell me about SaleemahWear. Where’d the concept for it come from?

SEK: I’m not in the business of selling apparel, but I do have a small line. The inspiration came from just expressing yourself as a dancer. Everyone has that one cool shirt that makes them feel empowered or that one leotard that makes them feel like, “I can do a million sautés in this!” Because of all these wonderful things I felt like I was starting to get a following with youth who were inspired and they would always want something from me outside of a class. I could teach a class of 500 and give them my business card, but I wanted them to leave with something special.

So I designed a shirt based off of my special tag-line, which is “Live, breathe, emote…dance.” Then, I also created two additional offshoots of that shirt. When I teach master classes, I use the funds from Saleemahwear to give out scholarships to dancers because dance is so expensive: the tights, the pointe shoes, the jazz shoes, the leotards. I thought you know what would be great? If every time I teach, give out a scholarship and say, “You have a scholarship to Barry’s Capezio, go get some new jazz shoes.” At times I will also give out a shirt to a dancer in class who really catches my eye to show that I acknowledge their passion and appreciate their commitment to developing their artistry.

That may seem small, but in the grand scheme of things, it’s so helpful because in the span of a month you can buy so many things so I try to give [the dancers] a good lump sum, particularly dancers from low-income families. I’d really like to have some support for them in the dance world because it’s hard. It’s hard enough being a dancer but it’s also hard to maintain and keep up with everything that’s needed.

GLB: What’s next for Saleemah Knight?

SEK: Between now and December, I’m teaching about 12 master classes nationally. Some are related to USC and some unrelated to USC, so that’s immediate. I still actively work in the entertainment community as a choreographer; I’m in the process, and I can’t say too much, of a pretty big job right now that’s being negotiated. I also have an upcoming artist and we’re looking at her music videos and we’re creating her whole image.

I also have a piece I just premiered at Laguna Dance Festival called, “Nine minutes and counting” and I’m currently in the process of doing an adaptation for film with a director who’s pretty well-known and has a good eye for dance for the camera.

Several years from now, I think I would also like to start a performing concert dance company. One of my protégés said, “You need to have a company and it needs to be called Knight Dance!” So that can be a ten-year thing, something I can see happening ten years from now. But right now I’m just enjoying everything, taking all these bits and pieces of my life and seeing how I can help the next group of dancers get where they want to be.

Want more from Saleemah E. Knight? Check out on her website, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Instagramand follow her hashtag #livebreatheemotedance!


DownBeat Keys

Posted on: Monday, September 29, 2014

A few months ago, Jessica introduced us to a band that formed a few years ago at her college. We promptly fell in love with their single “Lonely” (which was even featured on an MTV Spring Break commercial) and that’s why introducing today’s Real Life Glam feature is so exciting. These guys are seriously talented and have definitely been making a name for themselves in the music industry, from opening for Bon Jovi in Times Square to playing at the 2014 MS&K Grammy Party in Los Angeles. We caught up with one of the members, Andrew Root, to get his and the rest of the band’s perspective on success, their future, and more. Without further ado, here are the DownBeat Keys:

downbeat keys, dbk, brooklyn, hamilton college, lonelyMeet the guys.

Ryan Calabrese, Andrew Root, Kadahj Bennett, Baldwin Tang and Jared Schneider

GLAM Life Blog: Tell us a little bit about yourselves and how DBK got started.

DownBeat Keys: DBK happened totally spontaneously, which is kind of the spirit of the band. We were all students at Hamilton College when Cal, Baldwin, and I decided to form a hip-hop group with live band instrumentals a la The Roots. We were working with this rapper from Hamilton at the time and heard there was a big show happening on campus, so we decided to audition for the headlining spot.

We showed up at the audition and the rapper wasn’t there, so we all started freaking out. Then Baldwin spotted Kadahj who was also auditioning and knew that Kadahj sang and rapped, so we asked him to get on the mic and freestyle. I had never even met the kid, but he was onstage with us. So Cal, Baldwin and I dropped this funky hip-hop beat with no idea what was going to happen, and Kadahj opened his mouth and effortlessly the DBK sound was just immediately there, and it sounded good. Good enough that we’re still into it six years later.

GLB: What does DownBeat Keys mean?

DBK: Wouldn’t it be great if the name meant something really deep and profound? Nope! Kadahj and Baldwin are the coolest members of the band, so we said, ”Come up with something cool.” They had a quick conversation, decided DownBeat Keys had a nice ring to it and that was that. Plus, it shortens to DBK which sounds awesome in rap verses.

GLB: How would you describe your music to people who haven’t heard you before?

DBK: The lame way is to say we’re like a cross between The Roots and Maroon 5. The cool way is to say we sound more awesome than a bald eagle dunking a basketball while simultaneously playing “Run To The Hills” by Iron Maiden on electric guitar. With its beak. Think about it.

GLB: How do your new songs on [] differ from some of your older material on Summer on Saturn?

DBK: Summer On Saturn was our third project and kind of the culmination of the original DBK Hip-Hop/Rock sound. We felt like we really crystallized that rough around the edges, high-energy, ruckus vibe on that record, and it was time to move in a new direction.

When we were thinking about where to go next, we realized that one of our most popular songs ever was “I Don’t Remember” off our first project Invisible Ink, and it had this tight, up-tempo dancefloor feel that we all really enjoyed. We started writing some songs in that vein with a little neo-soul thrown in, and really liked where it was going. Turns out audiences did as well, and as soon as we released [] with three dancefloor tracks, we started getting a lot more attention.

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GLB: Do you guys have any rituals that you do before you perform?

DBK: Nothing formal, but there are definitely things that seem to happen pretty consistently. Eating for one. We usually have a big meal together before the gig, although we had to institute a strict “No Burrito” policy for obvious reasons.

GLB: How do you handle mistakes during a performance?

DBK: We don’t make mistakes. Ever.

GLB: How would you define the word “success?”

DBK: Making great music. As a band trying to be world famous, get signed, tour the world, all that good stuff, it’s hard. You spend so much time focusing on the business side of things, it’s easy to forget that the whole point is to be able to make music all day, every day. That’s the true goal; it’s really that simple.

We’ll be in the studio for like 20 hours straight, exhausted, sick of each other, and then we’ll add this one layer that brings the whole song together and everything changes to euphoria, dancing, singing, high fiving. That’s success. That’s always what we’re after. Getting famous and getting signed and all that stuff is just a vehicle to have that feeling more often than we do right now.

downbeat keys, dbk, brooklyn, hamilton college, lonely

The cover of [] was a “collaboration” between DBK and an artist, Jerkface, from Street Art Live.
The band smashed the keyboard with a rock for ten minutes and Jerk painted for two hours. 

GLB: What’s next for DBK?

DBK: We spent the entire winter writing and in the studio, and we just finished up three songs that are absolutely on a whole different level than anything we’ve ever done before. Better yet, we’re in the process of shooting a new music video that is going to be mind-blowing. We’re talking green screens, slow motion cameras, the works. We’re going to drop the video and song early this fall, then follow up with other new tracks shortly thereafter. Get ready DBK nation, after a year without any new music, you’re in for a treat.

DownBeat Keys is all over the interweb.
Check them out on Facebook, Twitter, or SoundCloud!


Let’s talk hair: Dominique Toney

Posted on: Tuesday, August 12, 2014

A few weeks ago we featured singer-songwriter Dominique Toney in our Real Life Glam series. And today, her debut album A Love Like Ours drops! One thing we were dying to know about Dominique was her secret to that gorgeous head of hair. Luckily, we asked her about it:

dominique toney

“My hair is natural. I do it once a week. Rarely use shampoo, I mostly co-wash. I always deep condition! That is a must. Then I do a 2-strand twist, a flat twist out, or a rod set. I use a gel called Black and Sassy (found at Sally’s Beauty Supply) and my conditioners range from Aubrey’s Organics to Shea Moisture! I’m also a big fan of Castor Oil. I massage my scalp with it every night and seal my ends with it. Magical stuff!”

Simple enough?

And we leave you with Dominique’s video for “We Are” from A Love Like Ours:

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