Sean Bankhead’s dancing career started in the back seat of his mother’s car when he was 2 years old. “I was bopping on beat, and she’s like, ‘Where did this boy get this rhythm from?’ ” recalls the Philadelphia-born Bankhead, now 30.
When he turned 17, his family moved to Atlanta in hopes of fast-tracking his dance career; his first week there, he auditioned for Ciara’s “Goodies” video. Though he didn’t get the part, his best friend, choreographer JaQuel Knight, led him to an even bigger opportunity: dancing with Beyoncé to “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)” on The Tyra Banks Show.
Since, Bankhead has danced with Miley Cyrus and choreographed for Britney Spears and Drake. This year alone, he has landed gigs with Normani, Missy Elliott (for her MTV Video Vanguard performance) and Summer Walker, and by the end of 2020, plans to open his own rehearsal facility in Atlanta. No matter how many gigs he’s juggling at once, though, it has never feels like work to him. “I’ve never had a job,” he says. “I’ve only danced.”
In 2014, Bankhead choreographed Fifth Harmony’s “BO$$” video. Following the act’s hiatus in 2018, he stuck with member Normani, choreographing her clips for “Waves,” “Dancing With a Stranger” (her Sam Smith duet) and most recently, her top 40 hit “Motivation.” He says of the choreo-heavy throwback: “We wanted her to look strong, but still give her room to grow as an artist so that we don’t give all of our tricks out of the bag so soon.” Bankhead believes Normani’s MTV Video Music Awards performance of the track was her standout moment this year, despite a wardrobe malfunction. “When that skirt didn’t come off, I was shitting bricks with her. But she always surprises me.”
A year after working with Fifth Harmony for the first time, Bankhead submitted choreography intended for Rihanna to HiHat Productions, a consultancy service for creative direction, artist development and, of course, choreography. Elliott ended up recruiting him instead for her “WTF” video. “I was so shook,” says Bankhead. “She was my Michael Jackson [growing up].” He has worked with Elliott since and commends her out-of-the-box approach to visuals, specifically on “I’m Better,” which features a move inspired by Bankhead bouncing on a medicine ball during rehearsals — which, to prevent music leaks — typically take place between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m.
Last fall, Bankhead approached Walker’s manager at one of her shows; a year later, he became creative director for the R&B singer’s current First and Last Tour. Walker openly battles stage and social anxiety (she recently trimmed her tour schedule), so he opted for more “moments” rather than intense choreography, like using a wine glass as a stage prop for her song “Wasted.” Before her tour began in October, Walker wrote the entire production on her arms with a Sharpie. “She gets to the bottom of her wrist,” recalls Bankhead with a laugh, “and I’m like, ‘Summer, there’s eight more songs’ — so she rolls her sleeves up and starts writing down her [other] arm.”