Choreographer JaQuel Knight created that dance for Beyoncé when he was just 19 years old — and this summer, he did it again with the routine for the monster hit by Megan Thee Stallion and Cardi B, “WAP.”

Knight is defining the way some of today’s biggest stars move, and he’s getting recognition in a way that many choreographers never do — by copyrighting his work. He spoke about the potential of dance as a form of activism and the challenges and benefits of protecting it as intellectual property. 

“For me, it was all about tapping into my upbringing,” Knight says. “I’m from a small town in North Carolina where we frequent family reunions, family cookouts, on the weekends. There’s always music and dance. And also, I grew up in Atlanta — [so there are influences from] the streets of Atlanta, being in a marching band and having that mix of culture there.”

“The role of Black women is beyond important. They have a heavy hand on my life — my mother, I have a sister. What I do, whether it’s personal or business, it all relates back to the Black female. We’ve seen how the media portrays Black women — they just continue to question and continue to put them down. After all the work, all the pain, all the troubles they deal with, they steadily continue to rise up and show out.”