March 8, 2022
Volume 3 Issue 2
By: Katie Watkins
As Kayla Marie Jackson’s career continues to take off, the highly accomplished artist often reflects on the values and community that helped her get where she is today. Jackson, who began dancing at the age of two, trained at premier facilities such as Milwaukee Ballet School and Debbie Allen Dance Academy. Living and training in Milwaukee and Los Angeles for much of her young life, the artist eventually relocated to Atlanta to attend Spelman College.
Jackson views her undergraduate experiences at Spelman as a major influence on her career today. “Spelman College is the number one HBCU in the world,” says Jackson. “We are like the home of Black girl magic. We are the first private institution for all women. There’s a lot of history at Spelman. And it’s a very small community, so it was my first interaction with a lot of women who looked like me and were all ambitious.”
While pursuing her Bachelor of Arts in Economics at Spelman, Jackson also studied abroad internationally, served as captain of Morehouse College’s dance team, Mahogany-N-Motion, and shortly post grad became a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc.
Jackson found that her experiences at Spelman pushed her to fiercely chase her goals and improve herself everyday. The focus on sisterhood and scholarship helped her “understand how to network and how to build relationships with people.” Now, as an active alumna and assistant coach of Mahogany-N-Motion, Jackson seeks to provide the same support to current students that she received as an undergraduate.
Although she had extensive performance experience, as well as rigorous technical and stylistic training, Jackson didn’t begin her dance career until age 22. While she previously worked as a marketing professional in corporate America, Jackson fully transitioned her career after she booked her first tour.
“I worked in corporate for four years. . . . It was cool to be able to have a corporate job and have the stability, but it definitely wasn’t what made me happy,” she says. Even though Jackson was a Captain of the Atlanta Hawks dance team at the time, she “still had an itch that [she] wasn’t scratching.”
In her third year with the Atlanta Hawks and while she was still working her corporate job, Jackson signed with Xcel Talent Agency. For the next season, this dedicated dancer juggled work, the Atlanta Hawks and various commercial dance opportunities. When the opportunity came to fully dive into the commercial world, Jackson took it as a sign to step away from corporate America.
Among numerous other opportunities, Jackson is currently working as dance captain for two-time Grammy Nominated rapper and songwriter Saweetie. When asked about her experiences with Saweetie, Jackson expressed her admiration for the performer and the work environment she creates.
“She is all about women empowerment,” says Jackson. “She’s all about being a businesswoman and being a scholar. . . . She just loves to present everybody in the most positive light so that they feel good. . . . As far as dancing with her, it just makes my experience really enjoyable.”
Although Jackson has left behind her role in corporate America, she emphasizes that her time as a businesswoman is far from over. While she is currently focusing on her career as an artist, she is still working to brand herself and give back to her community.
“I offer educational resources to people,” says Jackson. “Right now, I will choreograph when asked. I have consultation services for people who want help with brand development or things like that. In terms of myself, I am working on a product line.”
From her own brand and business to her performance career, Jackson truly does it all. The artist feels those who came before her “did it all,” and now she owes it to her parents and grandparents to be a similar example for others. One day, Jackson hopes to combine her marketing-savvy passion for the entertainment industry as a product developer. Her dream career would allow her to dance and act, while guiding artists in the music industry as they develop their brands and artistry.
Jackson has a clear passion for mentorship, always seeking to use her opportunities to help those who come after her. To those seeking a career as a performer, she urges them to build their team, build their brand and go after what they want. Jackson has felt the support of her people throughout most of her career. She urges artists not to “do things on their own,” but instead allow those in your corner to support you. Jackson’s current career has, for her, also reinforced the importance of branding oneself.
“If you’re going to dance professionally or be an entertainer, you need to automatically look at yourself as a business,” says Jackson. “You are a walking business, a walking brand.” Finally, she encourages artists to go for everything they want in their careers.
“Don’t allow people to place boundaries around what you want to do,” says Jackson. “The more that you listen to yourself and understand who you are, the better you will be.”
As specific as the dancer is with her brand, she is equally as specific with the tours, music videos, TV shows, commercials and other opportunities she takes. “I’m very careful about what I say yes to,” she says. When choosing which opportunities to pursue, Jackson views her work as an extension of herself, of her brand and of the people she represents.
“It took me a while to really learn myself as an artist. . . . When I first started, I was kind of just doing what people told me to do,” says Jackson. “But the more I became comfortable in my own artistry and the more that I became comfortable in who I was as a woman, it was like, I attracted the perfect jobs for myself. . . . I never had to compromise myself.”
The dancer remains bicoastal as she works from both Atlanta and Los Angeles, but she especially loves the community she has found within Atlanta. “There’s not really another place in the United States where people who are minorities are thriving at the level that they’re thriving and have the community to be able to support them in that capacity,” Jackson says. The same community of excellence she once found as a student at Spelman, Jackson now enjoys as a part of the Atlanta dance community.
Katie (she/her/hers) is a junior pursuing a B.A. Dance and B.A. English double major, with a minor in Mass Communications from Brenau University. In her three years at Brenau, Katie has discovered her passion for arts administration and furthered her compositional and performance training. In her two years at Brenau, Katie has been cast in concert dance works by choreographers such as Nicholas Palmquist, Allyne Gartrell, Owen Scarlett, Du’Bois A’Keen and Xavier Lewis. This summer, she completed an Arts Administration Internship with DanceATL, while teaching at Carla’s Dance Factory and Sharpsburg Dance Academy. She is currently working with Core Dance as the Social Media Coordinator, while also serving as the Chapter President of Alpha Chi Omega sorority, Tau Chapter.Donate to DanceATL