Jamaica Craft can tell a story with her body. Before there was TikTok, she had the ability to make you commit intricate choreography to memory with moves that brought the song to life. An unsung hero for 2000s R&B classics, Craft is behind some of the most iconic dance moves of the early-aughts, from the toe-touching twerk in Usher’s “Yeah” to the sultry sway found in Ciara’s “Promise.” With over 20 years of experience under her belt, no two of her routines look the same. Instead, she pieces routines together like a jigsaw, blending artists’ natural movements with influences from the mixed bag of dance techniques she admired as a child. “I like to put different styles together and make them work,” she says. “Black TV trained me to be that way.”
Growing up, when Craft wasn’t studying Janet Jackson, MC Hammer, and TLC, the Kansas City native was glued to the Black sitcoms of the late 80s and early 90s. Shows like Martin and A Different World and The Cosby Show seamlessly integrated Black music and television together, helping the aspiring dancer to establish her worldview. In the “Jitterbug Break” episode of the latter series, Craft remembers seeing Denise Huxtable throw an impromptu party where she performed alongside Alvin Ailey dancer Judith Jamison: something that still feels fresh in Craft’s mind. For her, Black TV was the place where all of her worlds—dance, music, and visuals—could collide. “These shows were where I first saw stepping, lyrical, and Alvin Ailey,” she says. “They pushed me to discover different genres of dance.”
Craft quickly learned that the key to navigating Kansas City’s party scene was to become a member of self-taught dance groups filled with other hopeful neighborhood kids, so she started her own, ‘Trendsetters’. A handful of the older local dancers Craft looked up to went on to work for MC Hammer. When the “2 Legit” rapper came to Kansas City for a show when she was in high school, Craft performed his routine so well for him in the hallway that he invited her to dance at his show in Oakland.