From Ne-Yo to Chris Brown, Chuck Maldonado has worked with some of music’s most popular artists. His work can be seen in Hollywood box office thrillers like Stomp the Yard, Shark Tale, You Got Served and TV shows such as ABC’s “Dancing with the Stars.” Whether artistic directing, choreographing, or dancing, Chuck Maldonado is recognized as one of the best in his craft. Chuck steps away from his schedule to speak with EMGWorld on his falls, struggles and rise to glory in the industry.
Background: Choreographer/ Dance Instructor
EMGWorld: When did you know you had officially ‘arrived’ as a choreographer?
CM: The first time I realized I had arrived as a choreographer was when I got a call from Will Packer to work on Stomp The Yard. He said he needed a choreographer that was diverse enough to understand black college life, black fraternities and sororities, hip-hop choreography and could also ‘step.’ I said “God I knew I needed something that was different and no one else could do here and this is it. I have to get this job.” That’s when I realized I’m a choreographer now.
EMGWorld: What would you say made you the right choreographer for Stomp The Yard?
CM: I graduated from North Carolina A&T University, so I understood black college life. I pledged Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc., so I understood black greek life. I was already a hip-hop dancer and of course I was the only person in Hollywood who could even step.
EMGWorld: How challenging was it to teach the art of ‘stepping’ to the dance community?
CM: I knew it would take the world by storm because it was something different. Some of the best dancers went down in flames. It was two completely different worlds for everybody. Nobody could step. Nobody even knew what it [stepping] was. I said this is my job.
“I always say that success happens when talent meets opportunity.” – Chuck Maldonado
EMGWorld: How did working on Stomp the Yard open up other doors in the industry?
CM: I met Chris Brown and Neyo for the first time. Just off the relationship of being in the movie with them I became good friends and began working with them as a choreographer.
EMGWorld: How different is the process of choreographing scenes for a film versus a live event?
CM: I just choreographed a tour for Nickelodeon and I'm constantly thinking about if someone can see the small movements from high up in the crowd. So I have to make the movements alot bigger. In a movie, we can cut. I can choreograph every moment and second because I know we can do it in sections. I'll let the director know we can do it in sections. We can take breaks, cut, paste and edit. When we're on stage you can't go back and erase it. If you give them [dancers] too much they could be likely to get tired and mess up more.
EMGWorld: Why is it so important for young choreographers to understand the difference?
CM: Young choreographers need to know that. When you're choreographing for a movie you have to read scripts and understand it. You're not just making up a bunch of steps. It has to make sense to what the movie is about. You have to know what type of shots they are going to use. Will it be 90 frame, 60 frame, full shot, etc.? What's the story line? When you do tours there are no story lines.
EMGWorld: What stands out to you most when you’re selecting potential talent for a project?
CM: My biggest thing is to see a dancer that can emulate and do the choreography exactly like me. I don't need you to dance the way you dance. I need you to do dance the way I dance. A choreographer's dream is to have dancers that can do the choreography exactly like them.
EMGWorld: What’s another thing you look for prior to selecting dancers at an audition?
CM: The second thing I look for is whether you fit the look and dress the part for the job. When we did Stomp The Yard alot of people were over 22 years old, but when they went into the audition they looked collegiate. Darren [Hensen] didn't dress up and look like he was going to do Soul Food with a wife. He came in clean shaven looking like a college student. The look is the second thing I notice.
EMGWorld: How would you say your selection process differs from most choreographers?
CM: Alot of people [choreographers] tend to focus on the look first. If you don't fit the look they don't even care how dope you are. When I'm looking for talent I'm not looking only for that one job. I have more than one job after that. There are other things that come up.
“Stay humble. This is a gift from God. Keep God first in your life.” – Chuck Maldonado
EMGWorld: Would you say that beauty and looks can outweigh talent?
CM: No. I always say that success happens when talent meets opportunity. You'll still have to have talent. You can be gorgeous and sexy, but it doesn't mean you're going to get the job. This is LA. We'll have an audition and they'll be 600 beautiful girls when we only need 10. Everyone's opinion of what is beautiful is different.
EMGWorld: For those who don’t believe it just how critical is it to have good headshots?
CM: I hate when people do not invest in pictures because they are by far the second most important thing next to being trained. This is an image driven industry. Everything is done through internet. You have LA Casting.com, IMDB.com, Actors Breakdown.com, etc. If you don't have amazing pictures then you won’t get the job, the audition or even the chance to get seen by those artistic directors.
EMGWorld: Can you describe the process you use when reviewing picture submissions?
CM: When I would do picture submissions, I call the agency to see what they have. I look at the pictures and click all the people I like and invite them to audition. If you have bad pictures and I don't know you then it's not happening. Not taking your pictures seriously can mess you up. Bad pictures say you don't even care about yourself.
EMGWorld: What’s the best piece of advice you have for those looking to follow in your footsteps?
CM: Stay grounded. Stay humble. This is a gift from God. Keep God first in your life. Understand there's something out there greater than you are. Knowing this made my life alot easier. I wouldn’t have been brought all the way to California from Atlanta if there wasn't something greater than me. And when you do make it remember to give back…
EMGWorld: How would you say you give back to up and coming performers hoping to follow your route to success?
CM: I'm always giving back whether it be knowledge or training. I'm probably one of the very few working choreographers, if not the only, that teach in the industry because we're so busy. I still dedicate my time once a week for at least one hour.
“Your body is your temple. You're going to need it and you need to be healthy.” – Chuck Maldonado, distributor and user of Alkaline water
Stay tuned for Part 2 of our interview series as Chuck Maldonado speaks on his introduction into the industry and close friendship with the late Lisa “Left Eye” Lopez…