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From Dance Prodigy To Choreography Queen: Charm La'Donna On Breaking Barriers & Working With Kendrick Lamar
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From Dance Prodigy To Choreography Queen: Charm La'Donna On Breaking Barriers & Working With Kendrick Lamar

In the early days of working alongside the famed choreographer Fatima Robinson, Charm La’Donna was given the ultimate test.

Robinson was multitasking and needed to focus her attention elsewhere, so she left an eighteen-year-old La’Donna alone to work with about 20 dancers. Despite the fact that she’d been dancing since she was a toddler and toured with Madonna at 17, this was still an anxiety-inducing experience for the youngest dancer in the room.


It was one of La’Donna’s first jobs working as an assistant choreographer under Robinson, who recently served as head choreographer for Beyoncé's "Renaissance World Tour" after a long career of working with artists ranging from Michael Jackson to Meghan Trainor. Still, La’Donna says the dancers immediately respected and affirmed her. “They were like, ‘Charm, you got it,’” she says. The teenage dancer led them through the routine she’d prepped with Robinson until the more seasoned choreographer returned. “Her trusting me put more trust in myself.”

Using the experience she gained working under Robinson for about eight years, Charm La’Donna has been able to make a name for herself as a choreographer in her own right. Today, she’s worked on performances for some of the biggest stages in the world.

Credit: Ro.Lexx

From The Weeknd’s Super Bowl performance to Dua Lipa’s forthcoming headlining set at Glastonbury Festival in the UK, she’s helped some of the biggest artists of the past decade turn their hit songs into memorable live performances. She’s also worked on some of the most memorable music videos of this time, winning Best Choreography for her work on Rosalía and J Balvin’s “Con Altura” music video in 2019. In 2022, she embarked with Kendrick Lamar on the "The Big Steppers Tour" as lead choreographer.

Listening to La’Donna describe her career as a choreographer, it’s hard not to feel like the universe carefully orchestrated her life to ensure her success. Working in the entertainment industry has certainly had its challenges. But there are also so many things that went right in order for her to succeed.

La’Donna was ten years old when she auditioned for her first music video and met her mentor, Robinson. She recalls nailing the routine in rehearsals, but freezing once the artist, Ma$e, walked into the room. “I just started crying. I had the steps, and then when everyone walked in…it was the first time I’m seeing artists in real life. I’d see these people on TV. Now they walk in, I’m ten years old, and I’m supposed to be dancing…blank,” she says. She went home and spent the night practicing, determined not to mess up again.

Credit: Ro.Lexx

During the summer between high school graduation and her first semester of college, La’Donna was hired to tour with Madonna. “I’d never left the United States, barely California,” she says of the experience. “It definitely opened my eyes and it made me even hungrier.” She got back to California the day before her classes started at UCLA.

Although she eventually obtained a bachelor’s degree in world arts and culture, La’Donna says she’d initially planned to drop out of college. She was already working as a dancer and was having difficulty juggling her professional responsibilities with her classes. But, in 2006, when La’Donna began attending UCLA, she was one of just 96 African-American expected students out of nearly 5,000 incoming freshmen. Her Black classmates urged her to stay the course.

It’s been a decade since Robinson’s protégé branched out on her own, working with Selena Gomez on the promotional performances for her 2013 album Stars Dance and then choreographing Meghan Trainor’s 2014 music video “All About That Bass.” (Robinson served as the video’s director.) Despite all of her training and hard work, La’Donna says stepping out on her own still came with a steep learning curve.

Under Robinson, she could focus on being creative without having to worry about the business aspects. That allowed her to cultivate her style as a choreographer. As she stepped into the role of lead choreographer, she had to come into her own as a leader and business owner. “Stepping out and then having to be the one to be the voice on the calls, the one that people are calling to get answers…I was nervous,” she says.

La’Donna credits artists such as Gomez with recognizing her hunger and encouraging her as she stepped out on her own. “I definitely have had some angels in my life and God has blessed me 100 percent to guide my path and my journey to be where I am,” she says.

"I definitely have had some angels in my life and God has blessed me 100 percent to guide my path and my journey to be where I am."

Credit: Ro.Lexx

One of the things that has been so fun to witness about La’Donna’s career is how her work with artists such as Dua Lipa and Kendrick Lamar has pushed them out of their comfort zones and opened them up to dance and move in a way that fans might not have expected. “I love working with people who don’t have a dance background. There’s a type of freedom to the body. There’s no expectation. When they move, you really get to see who they are with no training, right? I get to cultivate and help nourish what that is,” she says. “I love when people say ‘This person can’t do this or can’t do that’ and then we show them otherwise. For me, that’s the best.”

"I love working with people who don't have a dance background. There's a type of freedom to the body. There's no expectation."
@charmladonna

Rich Spirit | Choreographed By Yours Truly 🫶🏾 #charmladonna #choreography #richspirit #kendricklamar

“Sometimes when you work with people who are super trained with dancing, they have an idea of what it should be already because they have that knowledge,” she continues. “Instead of being like, this is my body [but] I don’t know how I want to move, let’s figure it out. That’s when you get the raw, and you get who people are.”

Charm La'Donna is on set for an undisclosed project when we speak in early May. She says there’s a lot of new creative endeavors she’s working on that she can’t reveal just yet, but her work with Dua Lipa and Meghan Trainor will continue in the coming months. She choreographed a performance for Chloe x Halle several years ago, but says she’d love to work with them again on a larger project if they release more music. She’d also love to work with Beyoncé, following once again in Robinson’s footsteps.

​As she continues to grow in her career, La’Donna says she feels compelled to mentor aspiring creators along the way, as an homage to the women who helped make her career possible. “I’ll stop what I’m doing for any of the kids I mentor,” she says. “I can’t imagine my life without a Fatima [Robinson] or without a Madonna believing in me at such a young age. Or without my mom, my grandma, and all of these people who believed and supported me. It’s not even an obligation. I just do. I know my calling. I know why I’m blessed.”

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Featured image by Ro.Lexx

 

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