Commercial Dancer Khadija Nicholas – Pharrell’s Marilyn Monroe
Like many youngsters, Brooklyn-born Khadija Nicholas started dancing at the age of five at her mother’s request.
“She thought it was the best thing for me because I had a lot of energy,” Nicholas says laughing.
While at first Nicholas didn’t take to the structure and discipline of studying dance, she began to fall in love with it around age 12. She ended up attending a performing arts high school and studying at the Ailey School, the Harlem School of the Arts and the Creative Outlet Dance Theatre of Brooklyn. Later, she attended SUNY Purchase as a dance major, leaving after two years of study when she booked a gig performing with Beyoncé. Only 19 years old at the time, this was her big break into the business.
“I just decided to go for a ride until the wheels fall off!” says Nicholas, who continued to perform with Beyoncé for a couple of years while living in New York. Later, she moved to L.A. and her career skyrocketed when she joined Rihanna’s world tour for three years.
After this tour, Nicholas went through a work hiatus as well as a serious knee injury.
She explains, “I couldn’t walk for six weeks! I kept thinking, ‘What’s next?’ This is my body. This is my money maker!”
During this time, Nicholas was asked to attend an audition with choreographer Fatima Robinson for a music video by Pharrell Williams. According to Nicholas, not only did she book the gig, but when Williams walked into the room and saw her, he was smitten with her look and presence. He decided to make her face the cover image for his single, “Marilyn Monroe.” Nicholas says the whole experience was surreal.
“Once the single was released, we shook up the internet for three days. I’ve never been put on such a pedestal before,” she says.
Some people saw controversy in Williams’ decision to use the image of an African American woman above the iconic name of Marilyn Monroe. Nicholas admits that some people loved it, and others hated it.
“There was definitely a misconception that Pharrell wanted to recreate Marilyn, but if you actually listen to the lyrics of the song, that’s not what it’s about, ” she says, referring to these lyrics:
“… She’s everything I want, and it’s crystal clear,
Not even Marilyn Monroe,
Queen Cleopatra, please,
Not even Joan of Arc,
That don’t mean nothin’ to me
I just want a different girl.”
She says, “It’s just an image of a black girl who dances above the names of Marilyn Monroe and Pharrell Williams.”
In Capezio basics from the Team Basics collection the dancers wore red, white and blue lycra tops, briefs and leotards for a Capezio photo shoot with Nicholas and other dancers from the music video. Nicholas, who loves Capezio’s adjustable-strap sports bras and leggings, appreciates that Capezio follows dance beyond the concert world and into other genres.
“Capezio covers all realms of dance, and I’m thankful that they still have a presence in my world, and I can still be a part of it,” she says.
As Nicholas contemplates what’s next for her career, she says that one of the biggest takeaways from her experience on the cover of “Marilyn Monroe” has been the ability to think about her transition into what comes after dance.
“I think this has been an opening for dancers to see that dance is not the only thing you can aspire to be good at. I’ve always seen myself as more than just dancer,” she says. “I can actually do this in another form! Art is art, no matter the form.”
Article by Katherine Moore of Dance Informa.