This right here is a dream interview for me – for a number of reasons. If there is any dancer/choreographer that I’ve wanted to interview, it’s Bay Area native Swagg. Swagg formerly known as ‘Lil Swagg’ or ‘Lil Rich Swagg’, has been on my radar for years. Through platforms such as Instagram and YouTube, I’ve watched as his range of skills become more and more astonishing. He’s a dynamic dancer who uses exceptional footwork to create timeless dance routines that many sit and marvel at. He dances effortlessly to commercial music, plays with elements of contemporary dance and puts together a NASTY hip-hop routine. There is literally no limit to his daredevil-esque and spontaneity.
He’s the type of dancer you watch on YouTube and the next day you’ve signed up for a class at your local dance studio, simply because you want to get like him. Each time he graces the dance floor he manages to stand out amongst the crowd, exuding a great degree of professionalism, hard-work and dedication to his craft. I watch in awe as he moves so effortlessly across the dance floor, making every step, twist or turn entirely his own. Born into a family of musicians and singers, Swagg has inherited greatness in his genes.
He flourishes alongside popular choreographers such as Brian Friedman, Tricia Miranda, Willdabeast, Janelle Ginestra and even previously danced at the Billboards Music Awards. Swagg has built an integral place for himself in the dance community, becoming a household name in his own right. He is a living example of what it is like to wholeheartedly believe in your gift and take the plunge. Despite his busy schedule, he caught up with me for a chat…
For those who don’t know, tell the readers a bit about who you are!
Hey, I’m Swagg from Oakland, CA. I took my first dance class at four-years-old. My dance teacher Corey Action, saw I was great at picking up the choreography and encouraged my mom to keep me coming. “Sparkle” was my first dance crew at New Style Motherlode in Oakland. I was hired by the Golden State Warriors, Jr Jam Squad at age nine, which was my first professional dance job. I signed to Bloc Talent Agency, Los Angeles in the kids department and can be seen on X-Factor, the Kids Choice Awards and the Just Dance Disney video game. I continued travelling from Oakland to Los Angeles until I completed High School at Oakland School of the Arts, where I graduated from the School of Dance. I also had the opportunity to choreograph for Culture Shock Oakland and be mentored by Kim Sims-Battiste. This is where I got to showcase more of my choreography as well as perform.
Now residing in Los Angeles, I have made my signature mark in the dance industry. I’ve done this through my “Full Out” and “High Energy” presence, my own choreography, as well as being featured on many choreographers’ YouTube channels. I’m currently in my fourth year as an original ImmaBEAST member and have worked with many choreographers in the industry. Including the likes of Tricia Miranda, Willdabeast, Janelle Ginestra, Dejan Tubic, Chuck Maldanado, Dave Scott, Tessandra Chavez, Laurieann Gibson, Brian Friedman, Luther Brown, JaQuel Knight, Rhapsody James, Kevin Maher, Nick and RJ as well as Chonique and Lisette to name a few.
I’ve been cast in the Step Up 6 China movie as well as MTV’s Going Off series. I also feature in Selena Gomez‘s music video Kill Em With Kindness and have performed with N.E.R.D. at Complex Con, Nicki Minaj at the 2017 Billboard Awards and the iconic performance with Janet Jackson for the 2018 Billboard Icon Award performance.
What was it like working with someone as iconic as Janet Jackson? What have you taken away from the experience? Have you gotten used to working with such legendary musicians?
Working with Janet was nothing short of amazing. She was really a pleasure to work with. She made sure she met each and every dancer. She was invested in making sure we looked great for the performance. What I took from that experience is that it’s possible to dance with anyone you want, as long as you work hard and believe that you’re meant to be a part of something great. No matter how long it takes or how hard it is, anything is possible and it will all be worth it in the end.
How did the dance culture in your hometown influence your style whilst growing up?
Where I’m from we love to party! Oakland is known for having lit kickbacks, house parties, block parties, park parties and the list goes on. We are the city of the hyphy movement, i.e. why I’m so “fullout”. We are just the life of the party, which is what I’ve always been. With that being the lifestyle I come from, it translates in my dancing by being free and fearless. To be okay with enjoying what you do, having a good time and overall bringing who you are to the table.
This explains so much haha. It’s so interesting how our lifestyle affects who we are and how we project that through our creativity. In an interview on The BEAST Network in 2017, you spoke about moving to L.A. Despite, going to and from L.A. previously, what was it like finally making that transition?
Being someone who is from California, it wasn’t that dramatic of a change. However, I felt like I was exactly where I wanted to be to accomplish all the goals I set out for myself. Despite what society, some family or friends wanted for me. I knew for a long time where I was going, where I was headed and how I wanted to make a name for myself.
I love your determination and your drive. Many young people face the dilemma of having to relocate to be successful. Not all have the confidence to do so. It’s easy to get comfortable, fear change and hold yourself back. How did you find the courage to independently purse your dreams?
I had my mother who supported me throughout my whole career. Having her as my backbone, gave me the confidence that I could really accomplish what I (Swagg) wanted to do. Not what anyone else wanted me to do. She gave me the option to do something else, but I said no. This is what I wanted to do. So, she did everything she could to set me up to pursue a career in dance.
That’s amazing. Having supportive parents is honestly what every child needs. Everyone is different. It’s just about finding out what is needed for each child to achieve their fullest potential. What difficulties have you had to overcome as an artist, whilst being out in L.A.?
One of the main difficulties I had to face and still face today is being too short for some of the auditions or artists I wanted to dance for. There are always a “height requirements”. When I ask my agents why I wasn’t asked to go, that would be the main reason why they didn’t send me the auditions. I understand those difficulties and there are always going to be many no’s before a yes. I choose not to let that be a reason why these artists aren’t going to see the artist that I am and why they need someone like me around. A choreographer and an artist just need to believe in what I can add to their show. I know how much I could add to their show from one artist to another.
Thank you for your honesty. I imagine other dancers out there can relate to this too. I myself didn’t even know this was an issue. I hope that changes are made and that quality, passion and skill become more of a priority when selecting dancers. I guess this is similar to what some actors/actresses have to face in the acting industry, with auditions that specifically look for a certain ‘type’ of actor/actress. I hope that more people continue to speak out about the difficulties they face in their respective fields. Growing alongside the likes Willdabeast, Janelle, Kaelynn Harris and the whole ImmaBEAST crew must be an experience. How does it feel going from living with a creative family to now being surrounded by such greatness in the form of so many dancers and choreographers?
Coming from my family to my dance community makes me feel at home, because everyone knows everyone. I also feel at home, because everyone gets it. Everyone goes to the same things together. It’s cool to see people striving for the same goal and aspirations, all while experiencing life together. What I can take from being in ImmaBEAST is that being an individual is more important, knowing that you’re special first and foremost and should let that shine. Never let anyone’s words or opinions dim your light. YOU are the only you in this world. So, be the best you and conquer the world.
What ways do you think the education system can evolve? How can more schools promote creativity and encourage aspiring dancers to live out their dreams in the way you are?
Well, I think the education system should start by teaching students how to MANAGE money as far as saving, investing and starting businesses early. Everyone has the power to be an individual. You don’t always have to work for someone. Teaching us how to do our taxes is a huge one, even though you don’t have to deal with that until you’re older. However, you will confront how much you spend and can change those “bad” habits. I just feel as though, if you learn those essential things early you have a head start when it matters most.
So true! It’s great to have someone like you speak on things like this so freely. I do encourage more people to speak on these issues. A lot of young people are unaware of the future responsibilities we come to face during our adult stages. Let me just add that you are an incredible dancer; simply just from watching you it’s so evident that you really feel the music. How are you able to bring so much energy each time you perform? What’s your secret to being such a fearless dancer?
To be completely honest, I DONT KNOW! I’ve always been this way. I guess the answer is in the question – being fearless as well as passion and power. I’m an overachiever, because my dance teacher at school instilled healthy competition with friends in us. This helped us level each other up. I also trained with choreographers that continue to force me to be at my best ALL THE TIME! So, I don’t know anything less.
If you can, name three pieces of choreography that have been the most challenging for you to dance to!
Tessandra’s combo to “I can’t take it”. I’m not sure if that was the name, I learned it at The Pulse in “Dallas”. Anything Lyle Beniga has choreographed is challenging, especially the footwork.
Yes, Lyle Beniga – that guy is an insane dancer. So, did you know that you have a solid fan base out here in the U.K. Would you consider holding a dance class here in the future?
What? No way!
Yes, I would be sooo down to come and share with y’all. That’s a no brainer!
There you have it folks, straight from the source. Swagg is down for a dance class in the U.K. I know I‘ll be in the queue waiting outside well before it starts haha. So, what advice would you share with the people who watch you from afar and are inspired to start dancing, but don’t have enough confidence to do so?
Well, I would say start there. The fact that you want to start dancing is already the first step. Now, change your mindset and your confidence will start to grow. You don’t need someone to tell you that you are amazing; you need to tell yourself that you can do it. You are amazing and you will start to feel amazing when you dance. Of course there are things you could get better at such as “retaining choreo”, “textures” or “free styling”. Those are all things you could change if you want it to. Other than that, you can’t rush the process. You aren’t going to start dancing and immediately be amazing. You are going to have to put the work in. Completely submerge yourself in the fire and then find a way to put the fire out.
You’ve spoken about the Billboards being your first performance at an award show and persevering through your grandmothers passing. What advice would you give to young people in creative fields who are battling with mental health, depression, anxiety or even having to overcome a loss? What helped you to keep going through this difficult time?
If I don’t do anything for anyone, I at least dance in memory of my grandmother and the legacy she has left behind. Including the foundation we have started in her memory, which can be found at www.sharonrandolphfoundation.org. I do this for my mother and the sacrifices she made for me to be the dancer you see today. Those two women are what drives me and keep me going always.
Wow, that’s powerful. I commend you and your family for this foundation which you started in your grandmother’s name. Together, you are making a change simply by creating more awareness of the symptoms, issues and adverse effects of breast cancer. Finally, what’s next for you on this exciting journey? Can you give us any hints about events you have coming up?
Well, I’m teaching and showcasing myself as an artist to whoever is willing to watch and connect with me. Anything aside from that, I can’t wait for you to find out and be on the lookout for what I share.