Jemel McWilliams knows the power of trusting your gut and following your dreams no matter the circumstances.
Although the journey wasn’t an overnight success, Jemel McWilliams has made a lane for himself and created a life he loves with the art of dance, acting, and all things creative. McWilliams doesn’t define himself with just one word and lives his life outside of the box. PopEd Dialogues spoke with the creative and got to know more about him, his journey, and what advice he can give to other creatives.
McWilliams is a man of many titles and talents but has created a life that isn’t defined by labels. Breaking his career journey down in his own words, “I call myself a journeyman, I’m ever evolving, but at the moment, I’m dibbling and dabbling in creative direction and artistic direction.” He also tells us that he is still choreographing for some of music’s biggest names and is even acting and taking his place on the big screen.
Without giving away too much, he let us in on his resume and the talented people that he’s worked with. Knowing the importance of keeping a humble demeanor, yet being your biggest fan and shouting out your work, his list of clientele included: Alicia Keys, John Legend, Janelle Monae, Beyoncé, Jill Scott, and Estelle. Even with a long list of clientele and a great reputation in the arts, there were times when Jemel felt that he wasn’t living up to his potential.
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I LOVE y’all yo! THANK YOU for sharing your gift of dance with me and the world! Thank you for being beautiful, strong, intelligent and immensely talented Black Women!😍 Thank you for your years of being unmovable in the face of an industry that often times only gave space for 1-2 black girls per gig! Had you not endured and fought through the tears, rejection and heartache, we wouldn’t have been able to set the Grammy stage ablaze with all of this Black Girl Magic. Thank you for being an example of success and perseverance for my nieces and daughters (future…this isn’t an announcement 🤣)! Thank You for being YOU! #jemelmcwilliams #janellemonae #dancers #choreographer #blackgirlmagic #makemefeel #grammys #dirtycomputer
The road to greatness wasn’t always easy nor glamorous and he shares some transparent moments with us. Taking us back to the beginning, McWilliams tells us about the first time he realized that dancing and the arts were something he loved and had a passion for. ”I didn’t necessarily say this is what I love. I jumped out of the car at the stoplight, maybe I had too much candy. Michael Jackson came on and I jumped out of the car and started doing moves.” He continues the story by telling us he and his mom noticed someone following them and was approached by a talent scout: “from there I was offered a paid opportunity to join an academy and that’s where the dancing and singing began.”
These days, social media makes chasing our dreams and passions look like an easy overnight success, but it’s not always what it seems. So, how did he turn his passion into this lifelong career? Grab your notebook and take note of these gems:
Stay aligned with your purpose and overall journey of life
There were moments when Jemel took time to live a “regular” life and work a corporate 9-5 job. “I was living the life that I wanted to live at night by going to the open night mics in NYC but I also had to pay my bills and utilize my college degree and be a self-sufficient man.” eventually he realized that his soul wasn’t happy, [yes, that’s possible] and he had to fulfill his ultimate destiny and continue to pursue the arts.
Balance is Key
While pursuing the arts and his passion for entertainment, Jemel knew he still had to make ends meet while living in NYC. He picked up a part-time job and taught dance classes in the Bronx. five years of teaching and training children in the dance program eventually led to him being signed again with an agent. Knowing that he would ultimately have to make a decision, he was encouraged by his students to continue chasing his dreams of dancing professionally.
“So many times we think the path to success is linear but it’s not.”
Be Okay with Being a Student
Continuing to grind it out and perform in shows while making sure he kept his bills paid, Jemel knew the importance of being teachable and always in a position to learn from other professionals and peers. He was discovered by a peer and was invited to come out and train with her. “We became close friends and she came to watch me train my students and she also encouraged me to work with her artists as well.” With a genuine connection made and proving himself, Jemel worked his way from assistant choreographer to the main choreographer.
“Start by being a student first. With the help of social media, people with talent are easily discovered but sometimes lack the initial foundation. Anyone that comes under me, that will be a must for them.”
There’s always levels to success, as someone who worked consistently for 11 years before reaching his peak Jemel shares, ” it’s easy to just pop up but 10 years ago you really had to go through the ropes and be behind the scenes and camera.”
Nothing worth having comes easy and if anyone can learn anything from Jemel’s triumphant journey it’s to enjoy the process, respect the process, and believe in the process.
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