At One Point, My Career Goal Was to Be a Backup Dancer for Usher

Illustration for article titled At One Point, My Career Goal Was to Be a Backup Dancer for Usher
Photo: Rich Polk (Getty Images for IMDb)

It was a clear, dark night, a clear, white moon. I was born by the river, in a little tent. About 15 years later, I remember seeing a video for “Can U Get Wit It” by the oldest-acting teenager of all time. Yes, that teenager would be Usher Raymond, under the tutelage of Sean “Puffy” Combs and with production by DeVante Swing, one of the most underappreciated music producers of all time. Usher was clearly too young to be so old, but ya know, that’s what happens when you get sent to live with debaucherous adults at a young age.


Like most folks back then (and probably now), I was an Usher fan from the beginning. “Call Me a Mack” from the Poetic Justice soundtrack was dope, but that first album had the songs that would really send him to the next level. “Think of You” in particular was my jam in 1994.

Since we’re pretty much the same age, following Usher’s career was basically a real-time depiction of what I could be doing with my life. His songs and videos, especially when My Way came out, reminded me just how uncool I was at the time. But what I was also doing, almost unconsciously, was mimicking dance moves in mirrors at home, department stores and pretty much anywhere they take Visa.


I couldn’t quite get the choreography for the “My Way” video all the way down, largely because it’s not as easy to procure a junkyard as you might think, but I was getting close. When that album dropped, I was a freshman in college and questioning what I was doing there and not on stages across America.

Granted, I had no plans on not graduating or anything, but again, Usher’s life looked so fun. At some point he started dating Chilli from TLC. I remember running into her at Lenox Square Mall in the food court with my boy Jerard who went to holler at her. Good times. Sometimes you just have to shoot your shot. Again, still in college, having fun, going to the clubs dancing my life out wondering if I made all the wrong decisions in life and shouldn’t have dedicated it to partying all the time with Eddie Murphy.

Everything changed and crystallized with the release of Usher’s 8701 album. “U Remind Me,” comes out, and I’ve graduated college and entered graduate school for public policy. Listen, I’m not saying it wasn’t a great idea; I’m just saying that I’d have MUCH preferred to be traveling the world. And “U Don’t Have to Call” fucked me all the way up.

Listen, Linda. Listen. It is not only my favorite (and for my money, the best) song Usher’s ever made, but that video? I wanted to be in that video SOOOOO badly. I learned all of the dance moves just in case I was ever out and the opportunity came to put them in motion.


I’m talking dancing in my robe moves. Even the shoulder dance he does while driving that I still do sometimes. By myself. I wanted a walk-in closet just so I could dance in it. I have one now. It’s not big enough to dance in. Once, while driving to the club, I tried to pick up some random cats on the corner who looked like they could dance to re-enact the video. Unfortunately I had a Ford Escort and not an Escalade, and also, I didn’t know them niggas.

The way Usher and the homies step off that elevator into the party and start busting the stupid-dope moves? I wanted that scene to be the REST OF MY LIFE. Like every day, yo. I wanted that to be how I woke up and what I did right before I went to sleep, only to know that I’d wake up and do it again.


Dancing on the floor? Done.

My only downfall was not having a crew of folks to do the moves with. Shit, I even bought a leather jacket like he had on in the video and ALMOST bought some adult Skechers wheelie shoes JUST so I could stunt on niggas in the club by moving ... without moving. It was at this point that—legit, and I’m not making this up (my friends can attest to this)—I decided that I really needed to find a way to become a backup dancer for Usher.


In my mind, there was almost NO way it wouldn’t have been an improvement, even if just temporary, on my life, which wasn’t bad at all. But Usher had all the women, all the fun, the best videos and was the man, and this is before he put out Confessions. At worst, I’d benefit from the trickle-down excess of being associated with Usher. My only problem was that I had no idea how to become a backup dancer, much less for one of the hottest acts in show business. ESPECIALLY because I wasn’t a dancer by training. To quote Derice Bannock in Cool Runnings, “I’m a runner, not a boxer.”

I’m not a boxer, either.

For a solid four years, even through the Confessions era, in my heart of hearts, I wanted to be one of Usher’s backup dancers. I wanted to show up in videos with Atlanta Braves jerseys on—even though I’m not a Braves fan—and be a moving accessory on stages getting my whole life. Obviously, this dream never materialized because I did literally nothing to make it happen except learn old dance routines. I never moved back to Atlanta to stalk him and beg for a job or take dance classes to shore up my skill set. Nope. I floundered.


I let my dream go by staying woke the whole time, but for some years, I learned the moves and prepared, mentally, for the life.

I had it bad, but I heard one of the homies caught something on the Usher tour and had to let it burn.


Yeah, these are my confessions—of a superstar that never made it. Truth hurts. Let it burn.

Panama Jackson is the Senior Editor of Very Smart Brothas. He's pretty fly for a light guy. You can find him at your mama's mama's house drinking all her brown liquors.

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When that album dropped, I was a freshman in college and questioning what I was doing there and not on stages across America.

Damn! You’re old as hell (me too). I was in 8th grade when My Way came came out. Not gonna lie, my cousins and I tried to get the You Don’t Have to Call choreography down. Even bought the rollerblade sneakers. We were more into dancehall and ragga dance, though. Our crew was called In Sync. No lie. Nigga was mad as HELL when N’Sync came out. My older cousin REALLY wanted to sue.