[Herald Interview] ‘Do everything to fulfill your passion’
Choreographer Jamal Sims shares story of his career, thoughts for dancers
Published : Aug 21, 2014 - 20:05
Updated : Aug 21, 2014 - 20:15
The name Jamal Sims was not familiar to people in Korea until he appeared on “Dancing 9,” a dance survival show on cable channel Mnet, as a judge for the final round.

But he is an established choreographer in the United States, where his recent projects include choreographing the “Step Up” film series and “Footloose,” and working with stars like Jennifer Lopez, Madonna, Usher and the Spice Girls.

As a dancer and choreographer for more than 20 years, he knows about maintaining a solid career in a very competitive industry. 
Choreographer Jamal Sims poses before an interview at a hotel in Seoul. (Filmhouse Sky)

“Do everything to fulfill your passion,” advised Sims in a recent interview with The Korea Herald during his visit from Aug. 10-13.

“I always tell this to everybody. When I say that, for me when I was dancing, I did shows at bar mitzvahs, birthday parties and wherever I can dance without thinking about the money,” said Sims.

He is well aware of the competitive nature of the dance industry, not only in the United States, but also in Korea, where K-pop trainees go through one arduous audition after another, and even a debut does not guarantee success.

“(The) more experiences you have now, more lessons learned,” he said. “It will all pay off in the end, so experience everything for the sake of the experience.

“I feel like great dancers and choreographers would do the same thing for free, and those are the ones who separate them from the others. I know it’s hard, but even when the money does not follow you, still pursue it,” Sims said.

In his first visit to Korea, he loves the country, especially the friendly and embracing people. But because of a busy schedule shuttling between “Dancing 9” rehearsals and promoting the fifth installment of the “Step Up” series, “Step Up All In,” he didn’t get to see much of the city.

“Korean dancers are very passionate and hardworking,” Sims commented. “I had the opportunity to watch some music videos of Taeyang and EXO to see what K-pop is like and they are very talented and it is a lot of fun.”

He advised the contestants of “Dancing 9” to relax and dance, saying the body must not be too tense. And most of all, “dance in the pocket of the music.”

Among the many artists he has worked with, his most significant memory lies with Michael Jackson, as his career began in 1992 when a 17-year-old Sims danced in the King of Pop’s “Remember the Time” music video.

Jackson has since become a source of inspiration.

“When I was choreographing for ‘Michael Jackson: The Immortal World Tour,’ he helped me to achieve perfection, even though he is no longer physically here with us. I would tell myself, ‘Michael wouldn’t do that,’ or ‘Michael would go extra miles to do this,’ which all helped me to pursue the level of perfection that he achieved,” Sims said.

Sims said his mother was also an inspiration.

“Ever since I can remember, I loved dancing and saw mom dancing around the house with music on. She is pretty good,” Sims chuckled. “Although, my dad is not bad either.”

Sims began choreographing about five years into his career. He said he always had a strong point of view and if he wanted to express that fully, he had to become a choreographer.

That said, Sims sees himself as a director in the future, maybe of dance films and feature films. Currently, he is working on directing a dance film, which will hopefully come out within a year or two.

“I love to create new things and creativity is what drives me to work harder,” he said.

When asked what the most important aspect of dancing is, it was not along the usual lines of soul, beat or maybe moves. Rather, for Sims, it was “taking care of your body.”

“When you get older, the body don’t work the same. My metabolism is different than when I was 21,” he said. He added that dancers are athletes, meaning they must be disciplined. “If we don’t take care of our facility, it will go away.”

He even kept up his usual 5:30 a.m. workout in Korea before heading to different events.

“Dancing is using your body, and you don’t want to have a big stomach,” he said. “No one wants to see that. A great body looks good and when it looks good, you feel good.”

His recent work “Step Up All In” is set in Las Vegas as different dance teams gather to compete in a battle that will guarantee a successful career and wealth for the contestants.

“This time, the dances are very powerful and appeal to the young generation. I wish they had the ‘Step Up’ series when I was growing up,” Sims said, smiling.

The film will premiere in theaters in Korea on Sept. 3.

By Ahn Sung-mi (sahn@heraldcorp.com)