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King of Pop: Michael Jackson's Dancer Remembers

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At only 21 years old, Kriyss Grant was selected from a group of competitors to perform alongside Jackson during what would become his final concert, "This It It." The young dancer also went on to serve as assistant choreographer for Beyonce's "I Am" tour. He counts his blessings for all of his experiences at such a young age. On the first anniversary of Michael Jackson's unexpected death on June 25, 2009, ESSENCE.com chatted with Grant about his experiences with the King of Pop. ESSENCE.com: One year later, how do you feel? GRANT: I have mixed emotions. In a way I'm celebrating his life, but at the same time I'm remembering the time we, the dancers from "This Is It," had for rehearsal. Everywhere I go, I hear his music and everyone's talking about how it's been one year. The time moves so fast that sometimes it's all kind of overwhelming. I'm still dealing with it. I would love to be able to spend this day with other dancers from "This Is It" but it's hard to get all of us together in one place since we all have our own lives. ESSENCE.com: Will you do anything special to remember Michael Jackson today? GRANT: I'll probably take some time to listen to his music. I'll probably tear up. It's different dancing and performing to Michael's music than it is just watching "This Is It" or listening his music. I have my own memories that I remember from our time together as dancers with him that I keep, that will make me smile. I'm just taking it all day by day. Some people might have already gotten over it but for most dancers, it was more than that... we created a "This Is It" family and bonded. ESSENCE.com: Do you think people are hypocritical for being so mean to Michael Jackson while he was living, only to worship him after his passing? GRANT: I think the world is reacting now because you don't realize what you have until something is gone and that's when you really appreciate it. Everyone is so focused on the negative, but me and the other dancers appreciate him for his music, movements and intelligence in terms of being an artist. It's terrible that people want to embrace him now. Don't get me wrong, people should feel the way they do in acknowledging his genius, but that's what they should have done from the beginning. People forget that he is really human, he has a family. People can be so cruel and selfish at times. ESSENCE.com: On a lighter note, what was your favorite moment with Michael? GRANT: How all of us dancers lined up like little kids at the end of practice for "This Is It" to get an end of the day hug from Michael. We were just all waiting and laughing, and his hugs were so warming and had so much love. He wanted to make sure that we knew that he loved us and wanted us to feel comfortable. I just miss all that. So now I just take his love and use it everyday of my life. As a person, I try to stay positive and live my life right. ESSENCE.com: Last year, in our interview, you said there might be a live performance to celebrate Michael's legacy with all of the dancers from "This Is It." Still coming? GRANT: No, the show became the movie, "This Is It." As of right now, there's no show that I know of. There could be a show for his birthday, but we dancers don't know what's going on. Everyone's trying to do their own thing, because we've all been through a lot in this last year. ESSENCE.com: What have you learned from the King of Pop? GRANT: To always work hard and give 150%, that you only have one life to live and you must stay positive. Also, that it's very important to stay positive and always give back. I didn't really appreciate or have the time to take everything in when I was working on "This Is It."  And not just with Michael Jackson, but while I was working with Beyonce too. Now I'm learning how to really enjoy myself, and keep God first. ESSENCE.com: How would you describe his legacy? GRANT: Michael's music will never die because he has such energy. When his songs come on they make you want to dance instantly, and he has so many different styles and genres. He'll live on forever as a great example of what an artist should be. Another legacy is to give back to children. I'll hang with my younger siblings because I found myself ignoring them because I was so busy. But love and doing everything with love is all Michael talked about. Even if he was mad, he never overdid it, he never cursed. To be so lonely, it was clear to us dancers that he wanted to be loved and accepted and he wanted to fit in. ESSENCE.com: Last year you did charity work to continue Michael's legacy, are you still involved with those philanthropic events? GRANT: Yes, I do a couple of charity events, and I'm also working on myself as an entertainer and my music. I didn't want to be a back-up dancer, I just wanted to dance with Michael Jackson, and now that I've done that, I want to keep his legacy going. I feel his spirit when I perform and people can call it what they want. Some say that 'I'm trying to be Michael Jackson' but I'm not. His dancing is a language that I understood at a very young age, and that's why he picked me to part of his dancers because I know the language. ESSENCE.com: Would you also characterize the language as one of love? GRANT: You could say that. To me, it's more about the performance. When the music is on, do you let the music take over when you're performing or are you trying to control the music? When Michael is on stage, he's a completely different person. His energy is just out of this world. ESSENCE.com: During this interview you've referred to Michael Jackson in the present tense as if he were still alive, why? GRANT: Michael Jackson will never die to me. He might not be here right now, and maybe we can't see him, but I still see him on screen, I have all of his videos. I see him through my dreams, and in spirit I feel he's always there. I don't look at the negative stuff, I don't look at the news on the doctors. I don't see that. One day I'll accept that he's gone but as of right now, he's alive, his spirit is just moving through different people.
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