If you haven’t skimmed at least one think-piece about Childish Gambino’s “This is America,” you haven’t been on Twitter in the past week. If you haven’t marveled at Sherrie Silver’s choreography, well, you clearly haven’t been paying attention.
In between performances, the 23-year-old, Rwanda-born dancer is curled up in a pink blanket at her apartment in England. She’s undoubtedly exhausted, but the fatigue doesn’t show. One might chalk up her enthusiasm to her recent win—the “This is America” video, to put it in Kim Kardashian, broke the internet—but Sherrie’s joyful attitude is enduring.
Here, she discusses dance, community, philanthropy and what’s next.
Coyne: Where are you right now?
Silver: I got to England yesterday. I’ve been really busy, just fighting the jet lag. I’ve gone from LA time to New York time to Turkey time to now London time, and on Tuesday, I’m going to Africa.
Coyne: For the sake of fact checking, you’re 24 years old, correct?
Silver: I’m 23, but the internet says I’m 24.
Coyne: And you were born in Rwanda, but now live in the U.K.? Or is the internet wrong about that, too?
Silver: I kind of live off the plane. I don’t like to claim any home, to be honest.
Coyne: How long have you been on the road?
Silver: For about three years, since 2015.
Coyne: You’ve been getting a lot of attention for choreographing the “This is America” music video, but you had a successful career before that, too. How did you get your start?
Silver: I was actually acting before [my choreography took off]. Then I went to university, so I kind of had to make a decision: “Am I going to go off and keep doing film and acting or am I going to complete university?” because it’s hard for a university to let you take that much time out. So, I said, let me just finish [school], ’cause I consider myself not too bad when it comes to the books.
Coyne: What was your degree in?
Silver: It was business marketing, so I used that to help me market myself. I said, “What else can I do? I can kind of dance, I guess, so let me take that seriously a little bit,” and I did it as a side thing.
Coyne: And you just posted your videos to Instagram?
Silver: Instagram, YouTube, and I performed for the president of my country [Rwanda] as well, so that definitely helped open some doors. They really liked me, so every year I would get to close the road in my country, and I got to have a big outdoor dance workshop [where I would] give out mosquito nets, blankets, food, and health insurance packages, and stuff for free. I used to just put videos out on YouTube and Instagram and just try to make creative content, so people can be interested in me, and it would get millions of views.
Coyne: How did you go about building such a large following?
Silver: That’s a good question, actually. I would post it on Instagram, and then I would get reposted on [popular Instagram] pages because I didn’t always want to ask my friends to repost. I know how annoying it can be, you know? I kind of just pushed them and sometimes send it to other pages, and they’ll pick it up. Then one time, [an account with 12.8M followers called] the Shade Room picked it up—one of my videos—that went viral, and literally, my following just raced up.
Coyne: When you were creating these videos were you thinking about how to go viral?
Silver: No. Every time I tried to make something and said this one is going to be viral, it wouldn’t be the viral one. Like, the one that went viral first, I used my phone. I didn’t even put any effort into it.
Coyne: Were you a big fan of Donald Glover/Childish Gambino before he reached out to you?
Silver: I was a fan of his work, but I didn’t know him as much, in terms of his acting and all this stuff. You know, he’s a big deal! I was more so focused on Afrobeats and dance music, so when he was introduced to me, I obviously went and looked him up and was like, “Oh, whoa!”
Coyne: Was he a fan of yours before you two started working together?
Silver: His manager’s niece found me. She used to watch my videos, so she showed it to him. His name is Fam [Udeorji]. He’s Donald’s manager. Then, Fam showed it to Donald, and then apparently, Donald was like, “Let’s book her.”
Coyne: The response to This is America has been huge, and so much of that has to do with your choreography. Did you expect that level of reaction when you went into the project?
Silver: I remember on set the kids were literally making jokes like, “This is gonna get a hundred million [views].” “No, this is gonna get fifty million.” “No, it’s going to get one hundred million.” They were all betting on it. “This is gonna be viral. This is gonna be viral.” And I was kind of listening to them like, “Aw, these kids are cute. These kids are real cute.” I obviously didn’t expect it to be this viral.
Coyne: I know Donald Glover hasn’t been reading any of the think pieces or online commentary. Have you?
Silver: No. My friends try to send me some, but I didn’t. I don’t like reviews.
Coyne: What was your favorite part of working on the video?
Silver: Of course, being able to be myself and bring myself and my culture to the world’s stage. There is nothing better than that. I’m like a hero in my country right now. Everyone is just so excited back home. We’re gonna celebrate with them next week by throwing a [party] for homeless and underprivileged and disabled kids. So, it’s like flying the flag.
On top of that, just being able to work around creative geniuses, to be honest, because they had Hiro [Murai], the director; he’s incredible. Then obviously, someone like Donald who is a triple threat or quadruple threat. There’s nothing that he really can’t do.
Coyne: Are you going to be joining the Childish Gambino tour?
Silver: You’re going to have to wait and see.
Coyne: I have tickets to his Madison Square Garden concert in September. You can’t tell me if I’ll be seeing you there?
Silver: You’re just going to have to wait and see. [Laughs.]
Coyne: On your website, it says, “I’m on a mission to educate the world about African culture. From entertainment, beauty, tourism, fashion and food.” Tell me about that mission.
Silver: For me, I stand for taking Africa to the world and taking the world to Africa. I feel like it’s such a unique and diverse culture. There’s so many countries in Africa, and everyone just needs to know about it, and everyone needs to know how we dance, everyone needs to know what we eat. I think we’re really interesting, and this is our time to shine… I want you, for example, to watch Donald’s video and see the kids and me dancing in it, and I want you to want to join in, and I want you to feel like these kids just landed from Africa.
Coyne: You’re also a big philanthropist. I’d love to hear about that work as well.
Silver: I would say that’s what completes my life…Wherever I go, I feel like it’s my duty to redevelop schools, to put kids in school. Even now, I’m going to have the “This is America” celebration party, where all the kids are going to get to have this free workshop. They’re going to get food, presents.
I [also] built a vocational training center for ladies who have a rough past, you know sex works and ex-drug addicts, turned their world around, and just giving people a chance.
Coyne: How many women have gone through the vocational training center?
Silver: So, there’s 49 women right now. It started with like, two sewing machines, and now they’ve got about…I don’t remember. Since we passed 23 sewing machines, I stopped counting…One of the women, she told me that one day she was standing on the road, trying to get paid, which is 3,000, normally, Burundi francs—three, four dollars—and one day she gave up, and she just sold herself for 1,000—one dollar and a half—just so she could eat that night. But what I love about the women is they are just so brave to share their backgrounds, and they are using it to inspire people, and I think life is about [that]. Even I came from poverty, and I’m never ashamed of it. I’m happy to tell people, “Hey, we didn’t have water in my house growing up! I used to go to the well!” It lets people know, “Oh my god, I can achieve, too.”
Coyne: That’s a powerful attitude, and I’m sure that also influences your dance as well.
Silver: With the video, everyone always talks about the background being so dark and stuff and the dancing is so happy. It’s because even coming from somewhere there is poverty, where there has been war, one thing that has always stayed relevant and is still relevant now is dance. It’s a source of joy for us, no matter what we’re going through.
Coyne: So what’s next for you? Is there a master plan?
Silver: My whole brand is about inspiring the world. I want to choreograph for the more influential artists of course and kind of bring a change to the game… For the charity, that’s the most important thing. I want to take more homeless kids off the street. That’s really important for me. Right now, from the ones I’ve got, I am also trying to purchase the land where they live so it can be a permanent situation until they’re eighteen, so there are not any worried. When the video hits 100 million, I’m planning to release the video for it.
Coyne: You mentioned you’re hoping to work with more artists. Anyone on your bucket list?
Silver: I hate being cliché. Have a guess. Be as cliché as you can possibly be.
Silver: I’d love to work for Beyonce. I’d love to work for Rihanna. Or any really creative genius. I’d love to work with Donald again.
Coyne: Well, I’m excited to see what’s next for you and for the tutorial to come out too.
Silver: I want everyone to learn the moves. I’ve seen a lot of attempts online. I’ve seen some interesting ones and some amazing ones.
Coyne: It’s a spectrum.
Silver: You can never have bad dancing.
To perfect the moves from “This is America,” be sure to check out Sherrie’s tutorial.
More Info: www.forbes.com