Saleemah E. Knight gives a remarkable performance on HBO Max in Khadifa Wong’s UPROOTED: The Journey of Jazz Dance

Saleemah E. Knight is “one to watch” on Khadifa Wong’s UPROOTED: The Journey of Jazz Dance on HBO Max.

Saleemah E. Knight’s performance as a dance expert on HBO Max’s award-winning documentary and dance film, UPROOTED: The Journey of Jazz Dance, is nothing short of outstanding. In fact, she has grabbed the attention of audiences both in and outside the field of dance as “one to watch” in the area of dance research and scholarship. The film offers insight on the history of jazz, a beloved dance form that continues to face critical issues related to the preservation of its history. The film is directed by Khadifa Wong, conceived by Zak Nemorin and produced by Lisa Donmall-Reeve. UPROOTED also features other legendary choreographers, dancers and scholars such as Debbie Allen, Chita Rivera, Andy Blankenbuehler, Josh Bergasse, Al Blackstone, Moncell Durden and Thomas DeFrantz amongst other notable artists.

Knight is an internationally recognized interdisciplinary artist, choreographer, TV-personality, lifestyle influencer and professional dancer. A student of Dayton Contemporary Dance Company and trained in the Gus Giordano jazz dance technique, Knight formally received her Bachelor of Fine Arts at The University of Arizona School of Dance and her Master of Fine Arts as a graduate fellow at the University of California, Irvine. Knight’s commercial credits include: her work as a guest performer on The Daytime Emmys, ABC’s Dancing with the Stars and The Billboard Music Awards, featured roles on/with Country Music Television’s “MADE” TV Series, The Lion King Broadway Musical, Beyoncé, Chris Brown, Tyrese and Jillian Michaels, as well as her choreography for Daddy Yankee, Chiquis Rivera, Wisin (of Wisin y Yandel) and more. She has also danced the concert works of renowned choreographers Bill T. Jones, Donald Byrd, Bebe Miller and Jawole Willa Jo Zollar. She teaches contemporary jazz master classes globally and is a special guest master teacher for Tremaine Dance Conventions.

As a respected scholar and Professor of Dance Studies, Saleemah is one of the original founding faculty at the highly acclaimed University of Southern California (USC) Glorya Kaufman School of Dance. She developed a portion of the curriculum that serves as the infrastructure for the school’s program. 

As a scholar and researcher, Knight makes her official documentary and streaming debut with the release of UPROOTED: The Journey of Jazz Dance on HBO Max. In addition, the documentary debuted globally at the Columbia Film Festival, Oxford Film Festival, Pan African Film Festival, San Francisco Dance Film Festival, Beirut Art Film Festival, Micheaux Film Festival and more. Saleemah’s voice and image sets the tone in the trailer and gives insight to the critical issues that jazz dance is currently facing.

The trailer begins with Knight stating, “Jazz [dance] is in a place of flux at the moment, there’s a little bit of confusion about whether or not it’s necessary, or whether it’s relevant.” Saleemah also goes on to inform us that the history of jazz dance has been routinely taught from the incorrect lineage, which is a burning issue in the dance community, especially amongst BIPOC educators in higher education. While interviewing Knight, she eloquently presents a summarized version of the film’s wider discussion.

“The history of jazz dance is commonly taught from the perspective of centering five White males as the creators of the form. This misinformation has done much damage to the crystallization of jazz history by giving credit to the wrong cultural groups and muddling the aesthetic values. Looking beyond Europeanized/appropriated versions of jazz dance to find its true origins is key to understanding its ancestral and aesthetic ties to Black and African movement traditions. Jazz is subversive in that it is universally loved, yet its history epitomizes the desire for the masses to adore Black culture, while simultaneously participating in anti-Blackness by denying its Black and Africanist identities,” asserts Knight.

Saleemah also tells us that, “The nuances of jazz dance include African and West Indian footwork, groove, and a polylingual body, which percolate as the back bone of the most celebrated social dances of today, including hip hop party dances and pop culture dance trends heavily absorbed on social media platforms. Hip Hop party dances in particular are a re-birthed version of the popular and vernacular jazz dances performed during the Harlem Renaissance era (1920’s and 30’s). It is also important to point out that in the 21st century, jazz dance still dominates as the movement language of choice for Broadway shows, television productions, movies, live tours and films, inevitably highlighting the longevity and palpability of Black invention.”

Saleemah E. Knight and the production team for UPROOTED: The Journey of Jazz Dance. (Pictured clockwise from top right: Tom Camm, Matt Simpkins, Saleemah E. Knight, Khadifa Wong, Lisa Donmall-Reeve and Zak Nemorin.)

For more of Saleemah E. Knight’s scholarly insight, watch her on HBO Max in UPROOTED: The Journey of Jazz Dance here. To discover more about Saleemah’s incredible journey as a dancer, choreographer, professor and master teacher, visit her website and follow her on Instagram @saleemaheknight.

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