Jamal Josef has risked it all to pursue his dream of being a professional dancer and choreographer. After years of preparation, it all paid off when he was picked to help create moves for arguably the greatest entertainer alive: Beyoncé.
“Right before this Beyoncé job my car was repossessed,” he tells ESSENCE. “Last year, I did a major show and still lost my car, my apartment, and had to sell my dog.”
Though he’s been dancing since he was a little boy, the Voorhees College grad and Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. member thought about throwing in the towel time and time again, but there was one thing that kept him going.
“Honestly, if I wouldn’t have pledged [a fraternity], I probably would have given up,” Josef says. “That’s the only thing I can tell you.”
After working with acts like Kirk Franklin and Pharrell, and appearing on NBC’s World of Dance, Josef knows what it’s like to perform with some of musics biggest artists. Still, choreographing steps for Beyoncé is a dream come true. “I prayed about this last year,” Josef wrote on Instagram after the world saw the historic show. “And then God said I'll give you the platform, just serve me.”
Josef auditioned for Bey’s lead choreographer, Jaquel Knight, back in December and the call telling him he booked the gig “came at the perfect time.” Soon, Josef would be teaching ‘Yonce how to step like members the Divine 9.
“She’s such a hard worker,” Josef says of the star. “And for every number that you saw [during the show], there’s an option A, B, C, and D until it’s finalized.”
Josef teamed up with Joe Brown, a fellow dancer and member of Alpha Phi Alpha, to create the Black Greek-inspired moves seen throughout Beyoncé’s Coachella performance. And while Bey is a perfectionist who doesn’t settle for anything less than greatness, Josef said she was so impressed with their choreography she wanted to get started right away.
“They said she could be really picky, but she saw it and was like, ‘I love it. Can I start learning it now?’” he says.
Many would be intimidated to work with an artist of Beyoncé’s caliber, but Josef had no problem giving the star helpful tips on how to make sure she hit the steps while also staying injury free. “I was telling her all of these things and she was like, ‘Oh, this is really technical. I didn’t realize it was this much.’” Josef also let Bey know that while the BeyHive would be buzzing about her performance no matter what, she needed to impress the Black Greek community. “I told her I wanted to make sure she didn’t mess up Greek culture because they will rip you to shreds and come for blood. And she really appreciated it,” he says. “She was just a very hard worker and she was really good.”
According to Josef, Beyoncé wanted the performance to pay homage to HBCU and Black Greek traditions while looking as authentic as possible, so she pulled together a crew of professional dancers, musicians, and even a few actors to draw out the homecoming theme. This was confirmed by Bey’s mother, Tina Lawson, on Monday.
“I told Beyonce that I was afraid that the predominately white audience at Coachella would be confused by all of the Black culture and Black college culture because it was something that they might not get,” she explained on Instagram. “She said,’ I have worked very hard to get to the point where I have a true voice and At this point in my life and my career I have a responsibility to do what's best for the world and not what is most popular.’” Lawson added, “She also hopes that [the performance] will encourage young kids to enroll in our amazing Historically Black Colleges and Universities .”
While Beyoncé wanted to use her platform to highlight the beauty of Black American culture, Josef also wants to use his talents for a higher purpose: to minister to others.
“I felt like God was always calling me to minister to people,” he says. “So I’m working on starting my own small dance company to start ministering to churches, other countries, and really just live in the art.”
Josef is raising $5,000 on GoFundMe to fund his new project, Eden Dance Ministry, which he says will take the lessons he’s learned throughout his time in the business to “ enhance the kingdom of God with dance through live shows and visuals.” It’s been something that has weighed on his heart for a while, and after performing at the Stellar Awards with The Walls Group back in March, he realized it was time.
In addition to getting his dance company off the ground, Josef is focused on perfecting his craft. And while performing with Beyoncé was a dream come true, there’s one more artist he would love to work with: Janet Jackson.
“Everybody’s trying to get me to audition for the Janet thing,” Josef says of his friends. “But I just want to choreograph for it.”
He adds, “Hopefully she sees this.”