Interview: Tanisha Scott Talks Choreographing Drake's "Hotline Bling" Video

The legendary choreographer talks Drake's dancing and inspiration for the video that broke the internet.

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Complex Original

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If you haven't watched Drake's new "Hotline Bling" video yet, we'll spoil it and let you know that the real star is legendary choreographer and dancer Tanisha Scott. Maybe you remember her from Sean Paul's "Gimme the Light" video or her work with Beyoncé, Rihanna, and so many more of your favorite artists. But either way, she took center stage in the finale of the video, done by Director X, to bubble with Drake for her first appearance in a music video in years. Scott, who's worked with X on countless classics, ended up becoming Drake's movement coach for the incredible video.

Earlier this morning, we hopped on the phone with the Toronto dancer to find out all about how she got involved in "Hotline Bling," grinding with Drake, those damn memes, and what really inspired the dancing and visuals that broke the Internet. 

Let's talk about how you got involved with the video.
The back story is that my manager, Taj, is Director X's manager, too. He contacted me about the opportunity to work with Drake on the video, and I was like, "Uh, duh, yeah!" I've been working with X for years, we're all from Toronto, and he's been working with Drake on music videos. The idea that Drake and X had was to take it back and make a classic X video. The reference for this one was Sean Paul—the "Temperature" video, which I did. Drake and X were like, "If we're going to make something monumental, you have to be involved." I was brought in to do choreography with dancers and whatnot, but through it all, when we got to set, we decided to just focus the video on Drake having fun and letting loose. I have to applaud Drake for stepping out of his comfort zone to just have fun and be unique and not care. He went from "Back to Back"—he's a genius lyricist—to this, so at the end of the day, why not just shake things off and lose all inhibitions and just have fun with this video? It's him championing everything he's done. Nothing was rehearsed, nothing was choreographed, it was just him doing his thing.

Nothing was rehearsed, nothing was choreographed, it was just drake doing his thing."

Nothing was rehearsed?
Yeah, I was just a coach. That's what made this so fly. Nobody was going to expect him to dance, and we were like, "This entire video has to just be you." And all those memes and [mashups], he knew that was going to happen! We were looking at playbacks, and he was like, "This is totally going to be a meme." He's borderline brilliant. He knew what was going to happen.

Did you have to give him a pep talk in the beginning to get him to loosen up?
There wasn't doubt or fear. He knew what he wanted to do, but as we kept going, I pushed it out of him more and more. He was totally into it, but the more and more he did it, the more confident he got. I wouldn't say he was apprehensive or nervous. I was there as a movement coach—not choreographing him but coaching him through it. It all came from him. The energy on set was like a party.

Was it a quick shoot because it was so spontaneous?
It was actually a long shoot, not because of the performances but because of the lighting X was using. Working with that lighting was like working with water. The beauty of it, the texture, definitely took the longest. We had to wait a long time to make sure it was right. X and Drake are perfectionists, so if it wasn't right, they weren't going to do anything. As for the performances, lots of them were just one take.

Over the last few months, Drake got hot. So when he was thrusting his pelvis, a lot of people on Twitter just lost it. Were you shocked by his moves?
So, what ended up happening is I didn't know I was going to be in the video. When I saw him on set he was like, "So you know you're doing this video with me, right? You're going to have a moment with me." So the reference was Sean Paul's "Temperature" and "Gimme the Light," and he wanted to do a classic X video. When the "Gimme the Light" video dropped, it took over the industry in a similar way that "Hotline Bling" did. In "Gimme the Light," X and I were in the end of the video—I was in a white jumpsuit and X was going the log on. Drake wanted to pay homage. So, it's he and I playing the same role that X and I did in "Gimme the Light."

The next reference point Drake had wasJohn Travolta and Uma Thurman in Pulp Fiction. He loves that routine, that moment with them, and even though they're dancing crazy, that chemistry between them was so much fun. It was so mesmerizing. Right before we went on, everyone came around the set to watch us. I hadn't been in a music video in a long time. Drake was like, "If this is my first video where I'm dancing, I want my moment with you." We just freestyled. It was just a follow-the-leader moment. He jumped on top of me, he put his head on my butt. He said, "I have to bubble." That's not twerking, it's bubbling. Bubbling is more romantic, slow, and sexy.

So were you surprised by his bubbling skills?
Yes! And he was like, "I got it, I got it." But at the same time, he's from Toronto, and that's how we all dance. It was a party in there. We had a cypher where everyone was dancing—the girls, Drake's boys.

Is OB OBrien a good dancer?
The boys were all on the outside of the circle. I forgot who came in, so I don't want to say who was good or wasn't, but during all of our breaks while we were waiting for the lights, we were just dancing.

Were X and Drake happy with the reception of the video?
I spoke with Drake, and I didn't see the video when it was first released because I was flying, but he told me it was getting a great response. He knew, he was like, "Here we go."

Do you guys have future plans to work together?
We're definitely going to be working together once his new music comes out. You're going to see a lot more. We're taking everything to a new level. 

We'd love to see you in more music videos again.
Well, last year I worked on Tina Fey and Amy Poehler's movie, Sisters. I choreographed on that movie because they were doing a throwback to House Party and had a Kid 'n Play movement. But the cool thing is Jodie Foster reached out after hearing that I choreographed on that so she reached out about her movie Money Monster. I worked on that and ended up choreographing George Clooney! So that's the next thing I'm going to be dancing in—with George Clooney.

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