DEMAR and Maleek Washington. Photo Credit: Demarmusic.com/Eric Politzer
Recently, singer-songwriter DEMAR teamed up with one of New York City’s most sought after dancers and choreographers, Maleek Washington, to create the music video for her new song, Wild Ride, off her new EP album, Rebels.
DEMAR, a self taught musician from Miami, blew up on the pop scene after her cover of Kendrick Lamar’s Swimming Pool (Dranks) garnered over two million streams on Spotify. She’s since released her debut album, the aforementioned Rebels, which has received praise from both critics and fans.
For the video of Wild Ride, she teamed up with Washington, who’s star has been rising steadily over the last few years as dance fans have come to know both his work as a choreographer and dancer. Recently, Washington has performed with pop icons like SIA, Rhianna, and on the live broadcast of NBC’s Jesus Christ Superstar.
Dance Network had the opportunity to speak with both DEMAR and Washington to discuss the new video, the intense choreography, and the story behind it all. Check out the interview below.
Dance Network: Thank so much for chatting with us DEMAR and Maleek— we really love the song, the choreography, and the video!! Congratulations! So, DEMAR, tell us a little about the inspiration for the song and the album?
DEMAR: Thank you! The EP is called Rebels. I released it back in October, and it’s about the dissolution of a relationship, an unhealthy one, and all the ups and downs it took to get to that ending. Wild Ride is the first track of the EP because it really sets the tone; it's the introduction into the relationship. The whole concept was inspired by a relationship I experienced, where this person had such control over my emotions, it affected how I felt on a day to day basis. I think you can really hear that in the lyrics of Wild Ride. It gives you a glimpse into how turbulent the relationship was and how, every time I tried to walk away, I always got pulled back.
Maleek Washington. Photo Credit:
Dance Network: Well, it’s definitely a powerful song with some poetic and compelling lyrics. And, you certainly teamed up with a formidable dance talent in Mr. Maleek Washington for the video. Congratulations to you Maleek on some stellar choreography for the piece! Tell us, as a native New Yorker, what initially drew you to dance?
Maleek Washington: My Godmother, actually. Her name is Crystal Charles and she’s only nine years older than I am. They thought it would be good for her to learn real responsibility, so she started taking care of me at a young age— well, she attended Broadway Dance Center every
Sunday, and I went with her. I always loved music, but being there at BDC…I was exposed different sounds and music there that I normally wasn’t used to hearing— especially in ballet class and Sue Samuel’s Jazz class. So, I caught the bug when I was seven… and the rest is history.
Dance Network: We know you trained at some of the best dance institutions there are: BDC, Harlem School Of The Arts, La Guardia High School For The Performing Arts, The Boston Conservatory— so, how do you think your dance education has played into your success?
Maleek Washington: The diversity in my training has definitely given me a vocabulary that’s inspired so many, much bigger ideas. My body’s become a library of movement: everything from African, Hip-Hop, Tap, Jazz, Contemporary, to classical Ballet and modern. I’ve been able to study Balanchine method, Cecchetti, and Vaganova, Graham, Horton, Limon, and Cunningham. I definitely think my education has had a lot to do with my success— in both good and bad ways, too.
Maleek Washington. Photo Credit:
While at LaGuardia my Dean, Michelle Mathesius, gave me a confidence in my talents that no one could ever take from me, yet while at The Boston Conservatory, my Dean told me I was a “commodity”, and I wouldn’t have a future without their training. So, I left, filled with a new drive to prove her wrong, and, at my first audition out of the program, I got hired— which had a lot to do with the fact that [I’d been exposed to so many different types of dance] and could do so many different styles of movement in my improv.
DEMAR. Photo Credit: demarmusic.com
Dance Network: DEMAR, as a successful singer/songwriter, how about you— what’s been your personal experience with dance?
DEMAR: I grew up dancing! Really, since I could walk. Hip-Hop was always my favorite and I took classes all the way through high school. Now though, I really like to take a class once in a while for fun, and even though I'm not nearly as talented as someone like Maleek, I love to dance— even if that means just going to a bar or club and letting loose. I'm also obsessed with watching any dance shows on TV, and I spend hours watching choreo on YouTube. Parris Goebel is one of my favorite choreographers… (laughing) besides Maleek, of course.
Dance Network: Speaking of that choreography, for the music video itself, Maleek, can you tell us a little about your creative process? How did you create such specific movement using DEMAR’s lyrics and music?
Maleek Washington: The creative process was cool— Stephanie [DEMAR] is such a sweet heart. We first talked about ideas for the video and about the concept and the personal story the song meant to her. And because I could totally relate, I used personal memories to create movement. Choreography doesn’t mean much to me unless it can make you say to yourself, “I’ve been there”...“I’ve felt that”.
Then, my beautiful partner, Susie Carrol, (who I know from Pace University), and I created those stories through movement.
We wanted to depict love, control, seduction, and pain. Now, I believe heavily in collaboration, so all the artists on set were involved, even the camera operators; each gave me information that improved the choreography. If everyone is involved, the energy in the video is pure and full.
Maleek Washington and Susie Carrol in Wild Ride. Photo Credit: Wild Ride/Demar
Dance Network: Well, it seems you were quite successful… the choreography in the video is so story driven. Maleek, it seems your work is always so acting-based— tell us your thoughts on dance story telling, and where your strong advocacy for acting in dance derived?
Maleek Washington: I was a child actor when I started dancing at Broadway Dance Center, and I fell back into it when I joined PunchDrunk’s Sleep No More in 2015 as their first Afro-American male dancer. There, I got to fuse dance and acting, making it a living movie with no lines. The script became my body, through the scope of Shakespeare’s Macbeth.
Recently I’ve been dancing for award winning choreographer Camille A. Brown. She comes from the same background as I do, and is much more invested in the narrative than the steps. In my first rehearsal with Camille, we worked on one step for an hour— I was so focused on the step, but she wanted me to focus on my story. She helped me realize what I’ve been searching for for years— my story.
Maleek Washington. Photo Credit: maleekwashington.com
Dance Network: Right, we saw your incredible work (and Camille’s AMAZING choreography) on Easter weekend’s Jesus Christ Superstar Live. Now, along with your work with DEMAR, you’ve also had the chance to work with other successful pop artists. In your expeirence, how does dancing with singers like SIA and Rihanna cross paths with your classic based training?
Maleek Washington: For me, music in general goes with dance, in any form. Pop, Hip-Hop, gospel— they’re all based on the lyrics. The lyrics help us emote what we are trying to get out. Working with artists like SIA that have so much power in their voices, it rocks you to your core. You’ve just gotta move to feel, to heal, to express, and to just dance. I once heard Sonya Tayeh say, “The body is a tree, so the spine is the soul of the tree”. I would add to that “music is what waters that tree so it can find its growth in the world”.
Dance Network: For you DEMAR, what was your experience watching and working with Maleek on set— and, could you give us an insight into your creative process? How do you as an artist and musician approach working with a choreographer?
DEMAR: I am constantly in awe of dancers like Maleek and Susie [Carrol] and how they not only nail the choreo, but also convey so much emotion and tell a story even through the smallest of movements. It’s just so unbelievable to watch and I'm incredibly grateful to have worked with them.
Working with Maleek was so easy and comfortable from the start. I explained to him the concept, what the music was about, told him a few ideas we had for the mood of the piece and the story we wanted to tell through the choreography— then, I really just left it up to him to use his expertise and creativity, and I trusted that he would create something amazing. And he did! The final product is still mind-blowing to me. The day of the shoot I couldn't stop watching every take they did. I was mesmerized by every single take, and still continue to be every time I watch the video.
DEMAR. Photo Credit: demarmusic.com
Dance Network: Alright, one last question; Maleek, you’re also a dance educator— you teach at BDC, Peridance, Joffrey, Gibney, NYU, and others— speaking to the next generation of dancers, what do strive to impart on them? What do you want them to know?
Maleek Washington: I want to pass on to the next generation the lessons I learned early on—like what Twyla Tharp said, “Get an ‘A’ in failure” and, “if you aren’t failing, you aren’t taking enough risk”.
I say, don’t wait until things are perfect— that doesn’t exist. We all fell so many times before we started walking, so, why is it when we become “dancers” the idea of falling is a bad thing?
Set your own rules and remember, you can always edit. Always allow a room to evolve, and never let your own ego stop your success. My students hear me say these things all the time.
I’ll also often say to them, “I’m a work in progress, so, if I’m still working on me, what makes you think you’re so perfect?”
For more on Maleek Washington’s classes, videos, and choreography, check out his website, and for more of DEMAR’s music, including the rest of her Rebels EP, check her out and at her .