How to do the this is america dance

Childish Gambino "This Is America" Choreography Explained

Childish Gambino's "This Is America" Choreography Explained

in MusicWords By Jonathan Sawyer

Childish Gambino's "This Is America" video still has the internet and the music industry in a stir. At the heart of the Hiro Murai-directed aesthetic are Gambino's dance moves, which are rich with symbolism, just like various other aspects of the politically-charged piece.

Courtesy of Pigeons and Planes, we in turn get to know the brains behind the dance choreography, Sherrie Silver, a Rwandan-born dancer, creative director, actress, and philanthropist. During their interview, Silver discusses the themes behind the moves, as well as the additional layers within the video. Following a look at the standout excerpts (below), be sure to follow on over to P&P for the entire conversation.

On adding a lighter aspect to a more political visual:

"There are a lot of dark themes in it, so they wanted us to be the light of the video. You know how kids are innocent and kind of unaware of what's going on? We were there to smile and bring joy to everyone watching it, because the background is bringing so much darkness and reality."

On the importance of dance:

"No matter how much is going on—even if it's the middle of a war or poverty or hunger—one thing Africans share is we dance our sorrows away. Not even professionally, it's just a part of our culture."

On starting a conversation:

"The whole point is to get a discussion going and to get people coming up with their own opinions. We tried to show what's actually happening in the world. Not just in America, but in the world. We also wanted to bring joy to it, in the middle of madness. That's what kids do and that's what dance does—especially African dance."

On linking with Childish Gambino:

"I believe it was because of one of the little nieces or cousins of someone on his management team. Apparently she was, like, obsessed with me and she used to watch my videos. She showed the videos to one of them, and when the project came up, they thought I would be perfect to choreograph and portray the happiness that they needed with the happy African school children. Me, working with kids, it was just perfect. I knew exactly how to go about it, because I grew up out in Rwanda. Then I moved to England, but I went back again. So I know how we are in school. I know that dance is everything to us. No matter how much is going on—even if it's the middle of a war or poverty or hunger—one thing Africans share is we dance our sorrows away. Not even professionally, it's just a part of our culture."

On the initial direction from Gambino's team:

"There are a lot of dark themes in it, so they wanted us to be the light of the video. You know how kids are innocent and kind of unaware of what's going on? We were there to smile and bring joy to everyone watching it, because the background is bringing so much darkness and reality. I've seen a lot of people online referring to us as 'the distraction,' which I find quite interesting. That's why I loved being a part of this particular project, because a lot of people comment, 'Completely ignore the dancers and Donald and watch what's in the background.' You know, there are two completely different worlds in one scene. Or, three different worlds actually. It's amazing."

On working with Childish Gambino as a choreographer:

"It was actually great. They're not easy moves. They might look simple in the video, but there's a lot of technicality to them. A lot of these moves come from the heart. One thing I noticed was he was so dedicated to making sure he got it right. He got videos of the dances, went home and watched them, then literally came back the next day with the dances down. I remember seeing him rehearsing the hardest move. It was amazing. He was very, very dedicated. I'm just so happy with the final product and his style of movement, because I know that no one has seen him dance in that particular way before. He has his own twist."

On challenges while shooting:

"I think they brought together the best for this video. The director Hiro Murai is one of the best. The whole team was great. Having a great team of people who know exactly what they're doing just makes life easier. The extras were doing their job very well, the horse was being obedient... [Laughs]. It was actually a very smooth shoot. You would think it would be very chaotic. But you know, there's a scene where everything stops and Donald starts smoking. Even with that, that was literally how quiet it was. There were over 100 people on set, but everyone just worked together to make sure the project came together beautifully. We only shot it over two days."

On putting symbolism in her choreography:

"Sometimes I definitely do. I think it's important to add elements that the audience can relate to, especially with history. I think it just makes you a better choreographer if you can reference or pay homage to historical figures. "

On the video's political themes being carried out through dance:

"I think the dance part of it really took the video to a different level. We're so used to seeing someone getting shot, someone making money, someone smoking—we're used to seeing all of that. But we wanted to show a light within all the political issues that are going on. And also the contrast of it being African kids in America at a time like this. We were almost misplaced and we were happy in the video. I think it's just beautiful. It's an amazing concept. I love it."

On her favorite part of the choreography:

"I really loved the bit where it says 'Hunnid bands, hunnid bands, hunnid bands,' and we were all going around him. It's a move from the Ivory Coast. It's a particular way of walking. How we deserted him, that was something I really wanted, just to add to the drama. When does your shadow ever desert you? It's almost like he noticed everyone was gone, then he goes back into his own world. "

Now, here are eight things you may have missed in Childish Gambino's "This Is America" visual.

What To Read Next

Childish Gambino “This Is America” Choreography

Sherrie Silver, the choreographer for Childish Gambino‘s “This Is America” video, releases a tutorial of the dance moves that were performed in the song’s visual. She shares step-by-step instructions after the music video reached 100 million YouTube views (now over 120 million views as of press time).

In a recent interview with Glamour, Silver, who’s from Rwanda, shares that Glover’s team contacted her after spotting one of her videos online. Glover’s team was especially interested in her work with children.

“I basically wanted to bring my authentic style from different parts of Africa—not just my country—because I felt that it was very important to represent a lot of the continent,” she said. “With the song being called ‘This is America,’ I wanted to make sure that there were some American references as well. That’s why you got dances in there like the Shoot and the Reverse and the Nene. And, obviously, Donald added his own style of movement.”

Childish Gambino’s “This Is America” is currently the No. 1 song in the country.

Watch the tutorial above.

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Text By
Emmanuel Maduakolam

Image Credit
Kevin Winter/Getty Images

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8 dances of Latin America | Around the World


Latin America is a region where musical and mobile people live. The inhabitants of a distant continent from an early age perfectly control the body and know how to dance what we have to learn long and hard. "Around the World" tells what dances are popular in Latin America and why.


Salsa is an incendiary dance of Cuban origin that originated at the junction of African and Spanish cultures. The musical style, in which more than 10 directions, adapted to South American realities and spread across the continent and beyond. According to Latin Americans, salsa cannot be learned, it must be felt.


Bachata is a sexy dance from the Dominican Republic, the land of passion and fleeting love. To lyrical melodies with romantic lyrics, couples move dangerously close to each other. As the Dominicans say, you need to concentrate on the partner's body, and everything will work out!


Merengue is a fast dance where the right choice of instruments is extremely important. Tambor and dried pumpkin guira set the pace. The dance originated at the end of the 19th century, so we are more loved by the older generation, although sometimes all the inhabitants of South America are not averse to moving in this style.


All Latin dances are about sex, but reggaeton is the most explicit. There are no rules in it, the main thing is to make seductive movements, invitingly squirm and merge with a partner in a passionate outburst. And it is better not to listen to the words, so as not to inadvertently blush.

Tango is associated with Argentina, although not all the inhabitants of the country dance it. Tango is a passion, but not as open as in reggaeton. Tango is dominated by feelings, not instincts, and the relationships, expressed in smooth movements, are poignant and deep.

Samba is a Brazilian dance and a symbol of carnival. Bright outfits, white-toothed smiles, hot bodies. The dance was born in the state of Bahia, where there is a strong African influence. Samba has many directions, and even in the favelas, residents enjoy the samba of the Brazilian slums.


Cumbia folk style originated on the Atlantic coast of Colombia. The dance is performed here to the accompaniment of flutes, maracas, tambourines, as well as accordion and guitar. Solo and double cumbia are danced in traditional folk costumes with puffy skirts and bright sombreros.

Forro is a Brazilian folklore style with an accordion and beautiful lyrics. At the beginning of the 20th century, forro told about the life and life of the Brazilians, but then the themes of love and suffering were added to the songs, without which Latin American life is unthinkable. This is a couples dance with merry movements, in which the distance between the partners varies depending on the region.

Photo: Getty Images,, Turismo Bahia /

Ekaterina Vizovskaya

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Richard Powers from the USA: how to dance for pleasure and why it is important to preserve the old Samara | Another city

This was the second time that Richard Powers, professor at Stanford University, dance historian and owner of the world's largest collection of books on dance, came to Samara. Richard has been teaching contemporary and historical social dance for over thirty years. And he is also a big fan of old Samara and believes that it needs to be saved by all means.

We talked with Richard about the phenomenon of social dance, about how they dance in Russia and America, and about Samara, where you want to bring your wife.

DG: What kind of phenomenon is social dance? Is it possible to dance and relax at the same time? For most people, dancing is hard work, blood and sweat.

Richard Powers: 150 years ago life was hard and hard, full of worries and responsibilities. Balls, dance evenings were an opportunity to relax, to have fun, to fall into the arms of someone special. If we talk about the current situation, there is a big movement in Russia now, about a hundred studios, in almost every city, which are engaged in the reconstruction of historical social dances. In Samara, by the way, there are about 11 of them. And do you know how it all began? I arranged master classes for their leaders in Moscow and noticed that they are all very young, they are 25-30 years old, no more. I thought, "Why is that?" The answer is simple: role-playing games. As a rule, people come to historical dances from the role-playing movement. First, they play characters of past centuries, sew costumes, and then come to dance at balls. They are attracted by the opportunity to escape from reality into a beautiful fairy tale, romance and adventure.

JG: To meet all these people, did you travel across Russia from one city to another?

RP: When I was in Russia in December 2014, I traveled from Kirov to Samara by train, and it was an endless party lasting 37 hours. I rode in a compartment - beds, good wine, cheerful neighbors, so I enjoyed the adventure. I love trains. In Kirov, I rode a "troika" - three horses in the snow quickly gallop through the forest ... I just fell in love.

DG: Does the mentality of people influence the dance, their mindset?

RP: In fact, what I see here is very similar to America. This is a re-creation of the spirit of the past, the romantic time - and it was the same in the States. I am the person who started this movement in the US 40 years ago. No one was recreating balls back then, and I was a dance historian and I thought, "Let's do a 19th century ball." With an orchestra, costumes, observance of all customs. And everyone liked it so much that the second one was repeated a month later. A month later, and again, and again, and now all this has been going on for several decades. Dance and music are universal, we may have some differences in politics and everyday life, but the art of dance is something more. Last year we had an event in Prague with 40 Americans, 20 Russians, a few more Danes and French. They did not understand each other at all, but the language of dance is clear to absolutely everyone. One difference is that the majority of Russian dancers are younger, in our country representatives of the older generation are more interested in recreating balls of past centuries. Although I can see that Americans dance as if they want to impress the audience, for them this is a paramount task. And the Russians dance for themselves and their partner, as if there is no one around.


Until my first visit to Moscow 4 years ago, Russian dancers only performed balls from the 19th century and earlier Baroque and Renaissance times. And when I arrived and offered them a dance program of the early 20th century, they told me: "We have never done this before, but let's try." I taught them, they liked it. These dances are more jazzy, less formal than in the 19th century, and Russians like that they were invented in your country before the revolution, this is your culture, and you feel it.

DG: You have choreographed dance routines for many Hollywood films. What are your impressions after this experience?

RP: I have worked with many actors. One thing that I really like about all of them is people who want to try everything. The athletes I have worked with are not like that at all - they think that their body is not suitable for this, that it is no longer able to learn something else. Actors are the exact opposite of them, they always want to become someone else. David Carradine, who I worked with on North and South - he was ready for anything, friendly and very attentive. But I was very upset when I found out that Patrick Swayze (he was an experienced ballet dancer and could do anything) in the same film plays a disabled person who cannot walk. The best dancer on the set is chained to the chair by the will of the director! In answer to the question, actors are very easy to work with, if they don't know how to do something, they'll be the first to fix it immediately.

DG: How come you have the largest collection of books that are dance manuals?

RP: I was the first to study dances in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Before that, everyone knew only baroque and renaissance. I was young and wondered: “Why does no one pay attention to the dances of the following eras?”, And they answered me: “It's too easy and fun, we are not interested in this.” But I was already interested, I was sitting in bookstores, leafing through books one after another, looking for information. And found a sea of ​​books in Massachusetts. They told me: “Oh, didn’t you know that they were here? Take it all." And I didn't have money. I bought one for $5 each and no one else was interested, so I bought most. Now these books cost thousands of dollars, but I got them for next to nothing. And then E-bay came along and things got easier. Now my collection is larger than that of the Library of Congress. They want me to give it to them after my death.

DG: This is not your first time in Samara. You even had an excursion with Andrey Artyomov, so you are quite savvy in history. What will you tell?

RP: One of the reasons I would like my wife to come here is because of your architecture. What I saw here is beautiful and sad at the same time. All these art nouveau (modern) houses, this is the intersection of Asian and European - they make your city very rich. As I understand it, the peak for construction was 1895 years, and the merchant city had enough funds to build such a beauty. Then the revolution came, and Samara liked being rich, so everyone here was against it, and the Czechoslovaks helped in the anti-Soviet uprising. And what fascinates me is that after the revolution in 1919-1921, everything here seemed to be frozen in time, untouched. For a whole hundred years it lives its own life, reminds of the old days, loses glass and pieces of cladding.

In the USA, no one tried to preserve the old architecture. Instead of houses in the art nouveau style, they simply erected new ones, already in the art deco style. The city of Ipswich in Massachusetts can be considered an exception - the old architecture was preserved there due to the fact that the city ceased to be a port, the flow of money dried up, and it simply did not have enough funds for restructuring.

I'm not telling Samara what to do, but if the authorities realized what a treasure they own, they could make it a center of attraction for tourists from all over the world, seriously. It is clear that money is hard to come by, but if these buildings could be saved before the collapse processes become irreversible, then by the time of the FIFA Cup, visitors would see a magical city that has wonderful art nouveau stone buildings and beautiful wooden buildings, which are infused with manual labour. All these symbols of hearts, suns - a deep tradition is visible in everything. And who saves it? Just one volunteer group ("Tom Sawyer Fest" - approx. DG ).

DG would like to thank Pavel Skopintsev, the co-organizer of the River of Time festival, who introduced us to Richard and helped a lot in overcoming language barriers. We also send warm regards to the BridgeID bar, which treated us to Easter cakes, warmed us with Manhattan cocktails and pleased Richard with the steampunk interior, which he loves very much.

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