The 2016 Super Bowl 50 Halftime show will go down in performance history as the day Beyoncé and Bruno Mars flipped Coldplay’s timeslot into their own respective concerts. Bruno Mars and Co. graced the stage to perform his then-hit “Uptown Funk” before a drumline parted to introduce Queen Bee as she belted out the famous one liner from “Formation”, the pro-black, self-affirmation anthem, sprinkling a lot of #BlackGirlMagic all over the Levi’s Stadium.
Clad in Black Panther-inspired ‘fits and afros tucked under berets, 30 talented black female dancers backed Mrs. “World Stop” and while Beyoncé needs no assistance in the slayage department, Bey’s backup dancers ultimately stole the show.
Among the 30 female dancers was Quinetta “Quinny” Wilmington, a professional dancer from North Philadelphia, PA who’s no rookie to the performance stage. Despite a Bachelor’s degree in nursing from Norfolk State University, Quinny felt her zeal for dance just couldn’t be limited to a hobby. Though Quinny didn’t have the resources to enroll in professional dance classes, she studied moves from TV commercials and music videos to help hone her craft and eventually landed in L.A.
After a few months in La La Land, Quinny began her professional career after booking a spot in Usher’s “Hey Daddy (Daddy’s Home)” video and has since shared the stage with artists from Tinashe and Iggy Azealia to Big Sean and of course Beyoncé.
So what’s it like twirling on your haters next to the world’s biggest pop star? her sweat. grabbed a few minutes with Quinny as we discussed her dance history, touring with Beyoncé and her empowering radio show.
her sweat.: What’s your earliest dance memory?
My first memory of me dancing that I can remember was at the age of seven, and I was just dancing to a TV commercial. My mom told me later on that I used to always dance and sing to TV commercials.
Did you take it up in school or was it a hobby you developed over time?
Dancing runs on my dad’s side of the family, so it was kind of a natural thing I discovered as I was growing up.Unfortunately, growing up, my mother didn’t have the means to put me into ballet classes, so I’ve never had any training. I kind of just learned the moves from watching. I’m a visual learner.
At what point did you decide to take dance serious and possibly pursue it as a career?
It wasn’t until I was in college. I was a part of a dance team out there with myself, my god-brother and a few other people we met. We were doing dance competitions and fashion shows, and we got a lot of great positive feedback. Once we realized we were good, we were trying to decide if we should move to Atlanta but then one of the girls in the dance group was also a singer and her group had opened for Chris Brown. He came to our rehearsal and saw us dancing and we need to go to Los Angeles instead. After I graduated, I decided I would fly out to L.A. and feel it out for a couple of weeks. I had to tell my mom I was traveling to L.A. to celebrate my god-brother’s birthday as opposed to me telling her I was moving out there because sometimes parents don’t understand the dream, and I didn’t really have all the answers. I moved out to California in 2009, so it’s been about seven years now.
What was your first ever professional gig?
My first major music video was Usher “Hey Daddy (Daddy’s Home),” and I booked that video within a year of me being in California. It was something I was really proud of. I was nervous at the same time because it was all so new to me — it was such a good time.
As a dancer, maintaining a healthy lifestyle and a good workout regimen is important, so what are some of your fitness secrets?
Well, I’ve been dancing all my life and on the East Coast, we dance really hard so it’s like a workout in itself. The most important thing for me is stretching to make sure my body is warm to be able to do levels and have dynamics when I dance. But once I really got into yoga, I realized that’s exactly what I’ve been doing before—stretching and elongating your muscles. I absolutely love how yoga gets me right and where I need to be. I do a little bit of cardio for my heart rate but other than that, I hate the gym. I go from time to time just to keep up my cardio because when we’re doing a two-and-a-half-hour show, you have to make sure you have your stamina up. I’ll hop on the treadmill and run for about 20-30 mins to an hour or do some Pilates to make sure my core is tight and my ass popping but it’s really yoga for me.
Talk to me a little about your Formation World Tour experience. How did it feel to be a part of that tour?
It’s hard to find the words to explain everything that happened within the past few years. We had no clue when we were shooting the videos that it would have such an impact on the world, and once we sat back and saw the final product, we were blown away. What was so amazing about it to me was how it aligned with who I was as a woman—a woman of God—and it represented my morals and my characteristics as a black woman and it felt good to see your art represent you. I was so in awe of everything that happened. There’s usually one or two black girls for a project in the dance industry, so for Beyoncé to hire 30 beautiful, talented black girls spoke volumes. Once we found out we were wearing costumes that represented our ancestors that were Black Panthers, that just blew us away and it gave us more oomph to go out there and not only work hard for ourselves but work hard for [Beyoncé].
How were you all affected on tour by what was happening on socially for black people?
Sometimes it’s hard for artists to speak on political issues so for her to do that visually made us want to go even harder. Super Bowl was lit [laughs] and we didn’t know Lemonade was going to be Lemonade until it came out, so when the world saw it for the first time, we saw it for the first time as well. After that, she dropped another bomb and we did the Formation World Tour and that was what really sealed the deal because we were traveling around the world to spread the message that it’s okay to be you and be confident. While we were overseas and heard of the shootings of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling, it hurt because it felt like we lost a brother, so at the end of every show we do “Freedom” and before we went on, the choreographer came in and said that Bey was going to sing it a cappella with the names of all those killed by police brutality on the screens and then we’d go into the choreography. We were so thankful to her for honoring them because it weighed on all of us. It was a relief to be able to pay homage and respect to our brothers and sisters who we lost.
These little moments that we experienced on tour made people overseas become aware of what’s going on in the States. After that performance, we traveled to other cities and saw people with signs that read “We’re with you” and “Black Lives Matter” and it was so beautiful to see. That tour not only affected the people who saw it, but it also resonated with the people who were a part of it. I call the dancers my sisters for life because we experienced something nobody can take away from us, nobody will understand but us and it was such a beautiful experience. I’m forever grateful for that.
What was the biggest takeaway from the overall experience?
I think the biggest message I took away was to just stand strong and confident in who you are. You are you and nobody can be you. What you have to offer is going to help the world but you have to know that to exude that in order to show the world what you can bring.
Besides Beyoncé, you’ve also shared the stage with artists like Tinashe and Iggy Azalea. Do you have a favorite performance?
They’re all my favorite for different reasons. If I had to pick a favorite tour, it would be the Formation World Tour because of the message it stood for especially in these times.
You also host the radio show On The Come Up. How did you get into that?
So, one day we were at my house in my room and one of my best friends Michelle said that we really do need our own radio show. We started to come up with names and what [the show] would be about and we fell on the name “On The Come Up” and pretty much our goal is to highlight individuals who are doing well in their fields and we wanted to give them a platform to share their story. Anyone who’s a trailblazer and makes a positive impact in their community, we want to highlight you and your journey. We’re on our second season and we’ve had so many great guests. To hear all our guests’ stories and testimonies have been such a blessing. For the first season, we did everything pre-recorded and the second season, we decided to make it sort of like a radio show/podcast, so [we air] every Sunday at 3 p.m. PST and after we go live, we upload it to our YouTube page. We’re already planning how we can make the rest of season two then make season three.
What plans do you have for 2017?
More dancing, more touring, more hosting, more print work and modeling. I love giving back to the youth and the next generation, especially those in underprivileged neighborhoods like the one I grew up in, so I do teach dance but I host it as a workshop. I teach then afterwards we have a discussion where I speak a little bit about my story and then have the kids ask me any question they want to.
Given your experience, how would you advise aspiring dancers who want to pursue a professional dance career?
First, everyone’s journey is different so don’t compare what’s happening in your life to someone else’s life. I’m a living testimony of someone who started with absolutely nothing, I grew up in a poor area [in North Philly] with absolutely no training and I was able to achieve everything I wanted to achieve and I still am. What you put in is what you’ll get. If it’s really on your heart, you’ll give 100 percent.
Also, find mentors who are great examples of the direction you want to go and reach out to them and ask questions. I didn’t have any formal training until I moved to Cali in 2009 like I was a full adult just starting to train. For a moment, I thought, “Dang, am I too old to be out here training?” but God had to check me. Your journey is your journey, so never compare, research your field and mind a mentor. Never stop learning.