Photo courtesy of Kim Hale PR.
Choreographer and dancer Kara Mack had big dreams growing up in Columbia, South Carolina, and those passions have taken her to the Grammys stage with Kendrick Lamar and Coachella with Kanye West. She's now watching her love for dance of the African Diaspora come to life on Amazon Prime with Eddie Murphy's latest film, "Coming 2 America." Mack assisted legendary choreographer Fatima Robinson on the project, where she had a hand in everything from casting to rehearsals while ensuring authenticity for the movie's African dance scenes.
Mack continues to educate young dancers on the importance of dance history and movement for the camera with her work at Alabama State University's Dance on Screen Certification Program, and as an adjunct professor of World Dance at Hussian College in Los Angeles. She's also a leader in sharing the importance of dances from the African Diaspora on the studio and collegiate level — where she hopes many programs will see the importance of teaching the technique from an early age.
Watch the full video interview with Kara Mack:
How far back does your relationship with choreographer Fatima Robinson extend?
She laughs even to this day, because with Kendrick Lamar in 2016, she asked me, "Kara, how did we meet?" In 2009, I was doing NAACP Awards, BET Awards, Billboard Music Awards under her, but I was just a dancer. In between 2009 and 2016, I was doing a lot of work in terms of different African Diaspora techniques and traveling to the African continent and just studying. In the midst of it, someone dropped my name and she remembered me and Fatima brought me in to work alongside her choreography again in 2016.
Can you explain what an assistant choreographer does since it's a crucial role on a TV and film set?
A choreographer in the industry has to do the audition, you have to cast the people, you have to do everything concerning communicating with the costume department and what movement works well with the costume, you have to make all of those decisions while your assistants rehearse. So in terms of me being an assistant choreographer, you have to understand it's a film and you need a team of people to make sure that everything is top of the line, so when we arrive to set — we are prepared.
What was casting like for "Coming 2 America" where you needed a large group of dancers who were specifically trained in African styles of dance?
I have to give praise to Fatima because I love how authenticity is a part of her work. From that process, she said, "Open Call." And I said, "Are you serious?" She said, "Yeah. Let's have an open call." I knew because I work in Africa Diaspora here in America that if she made that decision, people would come out. So many people showed up that we had to audition by female and male in the largest studio in Atlanta.
She allowed me to do a mini-class with progressions across the floor, and whoever grabbed my attention — I picked them. She gave me the freedom to choose. We were also auditioning drummers at the same time, so we had 20-30 drummers playing live. We had to make hard decisions, but the beauty was being in a communal class setting.
"Coming 2 America" is such a great showcase for dances of the African Diaspora. Why aren't more young dancers incorporating these styles into their training?
We're trying to get there. A major film like "Coming 2 America" creates an awareness in terms of exposure and the education. Every style is beautiful, but we need to realize that a lot of the contemporary dance styles have roots in the African Diaspora. I'm trying to create the cement blocks, so people can have professional technique by the time they reach the higher education levels in their career. It's 2021 and I always stand by the motto that, "The more you learn, the more you earn," so it's important to expand our vocabulary and knowledge.
To learn more about Kara Mack's experience on "Coming 2 America," her work with African Diasporic dance and her future career goals, watch the full video interview.
For more behind-the-scenes stories about the dance community, check out our recent interview with prima ballerina Petra Conti and the solo show she's planning on producing in Los Angeles.