Jamal Sims Interview: ‘RuPaul’s Drag Race’ choreographer
“I want them all to win!” exclaims choreographer Jamal Sims of the contestants on “RuPaul’s Drag Race.” In Season 12 of the VH1 series, Sims was called upon to choreograph intense dance numbers for “Madonna: The Unauthorized Rusical” and “Viva Drag Vegas.” Despite the fast paced, competitive nature of the reality series, Sims is adamant that he’s “not trying to set you up for failure” with his dance moves. Watch the exclusive video interview above.
“I start at the highest standard,” describes Sims of his process on the show, “and then I start to see what they could possibly do.” The queens vying for the title of America’s Next Drag Superstar vary greatly in skillset. While some contestants might have strong dance or theatre backgrounds, others might not have as much coordination. So after watching the girls dance through his choreography once, he begins to make adjustments based on their strengths as performers. It all happens in the moment during the rehearsal. “I call it: ‘Remix on the spot!’” says Sims with a laugh.
Just because he might tailor a move to someone’s body or nix a slide that will exacerbate a knee injury, doesn’t mean Sims is content with creating a simple routine. “I still want it to feel like a challenge,” explains the choreographer, “I don’t just want to do step-touch.”
For the Madonna sequence, the challenge involved incorporating the pop diva’s most iconic movements throughout the ages. For his first pass at the number, he opted not to watch any videos and relied on what stood out in his memory as a Madonna fan (it also surely helped that he choreographed for the singer’s “Sticky and Sweet” tour). Sims admits inspiration comes to him in a different way for every project. “It could start with a prop I want to use,” he suggests. “But nine times out of ten, if the music’s good, I can all of a sudden see it clearly.”
Sims also serves as choreographer and co-director of “RuPauls’ Drag Race Live!,” a new Vegas extravaganza featuring favorite queens from the TV show. The “Viva Drag Vegas” episode was filmed before the live spectacular began, so it provided Sims the opportunity to try out some dance ideas with the top five queens of Season 12. While the promise of rehearsing with and performing for Sims might have made the contestants nervous, Sims says that’s all part of the series. In fact, he finds nerves useful: “if you can take them and use them for good, instead of having a sabotage moment, you’ll usually pull through.”
The choreographer has a bit of trouble channeling his own advice when sitting on the judges panel next to RuPaul, however. He serves as a guest judge in “Viva Drag Vegas” while the girls kick and groove through his routine. “It’s awful,” jokes Sims. “I almost don’t want to be on that panel… because I’m rooting for them all!” The desire to see his proteges perform well is stressful, but Sims tries his best to send good energy from his seat, saying “I just try to give them emotional support from being behind the stage.”