The foundation of Fatima Robinson’s career was built on the dance floor, but her creativity has landed her work in spaces all across Hollywood—from conceptualizing dance numbers for the Backstreet Boys to touring with Mary J. Blige to leading content for music videos of the late R&B sweetheart Aaliyah.
The Arkansas native moved to California with her mother and two sisters when she was five years old. It was there she planted her roots in dance, eventually getting her big break choreographing the King of Pop’s short film and music video Remember the Time.
“I was 21 and I got a call from John Singleton,” says Robinson. “As you can imagine, working with Michael Jackson during that time was awesome.”
Since then, Robinson’s iconic choreography has transcended hip-hop and pop culture and remains a staple in dance studios. Her work has also spanned film and television production sets; she’s led choreography of hit films including Save the Last Dance, Dreamgirls and Coming to America 2. She’s even brought her creative vision to theater, directing dance sequences for Broadway musicals.
Robinson most recently oversaw the choreography of Pepsi’s Super Bowl LVI halftime show, which featured some of hip-hop’s heavy hitters and drew more than 100 million viewers.
Sweet July spoke to the award-winning choreographer about her successful 20-year-long career, the projects she has in the works and how her craft continues to carry authenticity in the evolving world of dance.
What has changed about the culture of dancing?
Fatima Robinson: Dance, like everything else, is always evolving. You just have to stay up on your craft, learn the new dances and embrace the new ways people are learning a dance, which is now through YouTube and TikTok. It’s always [about] just evolving with the dance and seeing how it grows with the music. The same way music evolves, so does dance.
Do you think hip-hop choreography has influenced other genres and forms of dance?
FR: Yeah, it’s the main form of dance that is taught all over the world. When I was growing up, you had to be in the clubs to learn it. Hip-hop, and hip-hop dance in particular, is huge. It’s more respected and putting on performances like the Super Bowl gives it more validity.
Speaking of the Super Bowl, what was your vision in directing the choreography for this year’s halftime show and honoring the culture of Los Angeles hip-hop?
FR: Dr. Dre gave me a call and said he was doing the Super Bowl. We started talking about the different artists performing. It was his idea to do a choreographed Crip Walk, so I was super excited to expound on that. I worked with Kendrick Lamar before doing the BET and Grammy Awards, and I’ve worked with Mary J. Blige since I was 19 years old. It was such a wonderful lineup to be a part of and people that I already knew and worked with. You just go into a room with everybody, collect their ideas, give them your ideas and just come out with magic.
You have talents that extend beyond the dance floor—you’ve served as a creative director and choreographer for some acclaimed films. How did you transfer your skills as a choreographer and music video director to movie sets?
FR: With movies, you’re telling stories with the dance. It was just another way to grow as a choreographer and learn how to work on a bigger scale. In music videos, you work with the artist and the director, but when you do a film, you work with every department on how to make the dance work the best. It’s just a natural evolution.
The Harder They Fall was the most recent film you worked on. What did you enjoy most about that experience? Any other film projects we should be on the lookout for?
FR: I really loved how that movie came out. A lot of times, there’s dance in movies that you don’t realize a choreographer is involved in. Working on a Black Western was something very different for me.
I’m [currently] working on The Color Purple, the musical movie that has a lot of dance numbers in it, so I’m excited about that.
The work you do means staying active in body and spirit. How have you been able to keep that same energy and fervor as when you first started out?
FR: Dance keeps me in shape. I just love what I do and still have the passion for it. I workout with amazing people and on incredible projects. Everything that I do is very different, so it keeps freshness in my life.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.