Drew James: More to the Story

Taylor Harrington 12/6/2021 7:57pm EST

Drew James is a New York City-based choreographer, producer, and all-around artist. Growing up in New Jersey, Drew first fell in love with dance at a young age and would spend hours perfecting his passion. Appearing alongside Lauryn Hill and Whoopi Goldberg in Sister Act III at a young age, James says that was just the beginning of the fuel that set his passion for dancing and entertainment on fire.

James’ eye for movement is captivating, and his commitment to the arts is unparalleled. Believing that no limits should be put on his creativity, James founded JD Agency, started working for Vogue three years ago, and has dreams of starting his own clothing line.

James’ dance work can be found on YouTube by searching “Drew James”, and you can stay up to date with everything he has going on including information about live dance classes and sessions @Drew_James_24 on Instagram.

Drew James is an amazing choreographer, film producer, and more. Drew, thank you so much for joining me today!

Thank you. I’m really, really excited to be here with you today.

Of course. So, Drew, when did you first get into dance?

I would say, dance has pretty much been with me since I was born. Literally. My Uncle said to me, “You did like this little like head nod thing when you came out.” Ever since I was a kid I have just loved to perform, and I have loved to dance. One of my biggest influences growing up was Michael Jackson. I would put the VHS tapes in the VCR and I would ruin the tapes constantly because I kept rewinding the tapes to learn the routines. It’s so funny now with these kids all having YouTube and all this other stuff. I’m young still, but dancing has always been with me.

You’re right. We are from the generation that we can remember audiotapes and recording things from the radio station.

In order to see one of your favorite music videos, you had to wait. There was no “let me type in like Britney Spears Baby One More Time”. You had to wait for it to show up at number one on TRL, of course, but you had to wait for that video to come on so that you could do the dance to it. Then you had to remember it and didn’t see it again until you saw it on TV again. It’s just so weird how even as a dancer, you are trained in different ways now from other dancers, and now being an educator, I’m starting to see the differences in stuff like that, too. But that was how I learned– I literally just kept pressing rewind, play, rewind, play, rewind, play.

When was the first time that you decided you were going to dance beyond your parent’s living room and move beyond dance as a hobby?

I would probably say it was around the time I was 16. I was in high school, and like I said, I always knew I wanted to dance. Those of you who don’t know her, during that time Lauryn Hill was a very successful R&B artist with the Fujis. At the same time, she was also one of the leads in Whoopi Goldberg’s Sister Act Two: Back in the Habit. Lauryn Hill’s Aunt worked at my mother’s school and she had seen me do a talent show performance, and she said, “Who was that boy up there?” My mom was like, “Oh, that is my son.” Long story short, I think I was16 at the time, and she (Lauryn Hill’s Aunt) said, “I want you to be a part of the third Sister Act, and I want you to be a dancer for me for my Smoking Groups Tour, which was with Outkast and Lauryn Hill was the headliner. That was the moment when I said, “This is totally what I want to do,” and when you’re 16, at that age, you’re just like, you’re not doing what the rest of your peers were doing, but you’re like, “Oh my god, I’m about to hit a stage!” I didn’t really have an understanding of what was going on, but yeah, that for me was what sealed the deal. 100%.

That’s incredible! Fun tidbit: We have known each other for years and we actually grew up in the same town. You were prom king with my sister as queen!

I wish I had the yearbook, I would flash it right now! That was so weird, it was literally the cliche of a She’s All That type movie. If you’ve never seen She’s All That— I wasn’t expecting to win either. I was up against like Freddy Prinze Jr.’s and the Paul Walker’s, all the jocks and everything. That was also around the time when I was starting to come out to who I was starting to become, like, comfortable with my sexuality. Being a high school kid too, I’m also dealing with that and dealing with the struggles of ‘Are people gonna like me?‘, because that’s the age where you want people to like you and you want friends. So, I remember going into it, and I was like, ‘I’m not gonna win this‘. Then your sister and I just ended up winning and it was great. I remember us laughing. There’s a picture of us laughing because we didn’t expect it.

That’s just another example of how you are able to follow your heart and put yourself out there, which then has transitioned into your adult life in continuing on in a platform that people are looking to you as inspiration. So what can you tell us about what you’re doing these days when it comes to your dance work?

So coming from the Lauryn Hill experience, which I talked about, I literally have now transitioned into what I call “being in my 30s”. Now, I’m a full-blown artist. I was dancing, then dancing took me on tour with different artists, music videos, and such, and then I started doing the choreography. So then I became a choreographer, which in turn, helped me to become a really good creative director. It was random– I started getting into videography, and then photography, and then I did a little modeling here and there in my early 20s. With all of these different things, I’m enhancing myself to be the best version artistically of myself. Now I’m at a point where I have my own business with my best friend called the JD Agency. J for Jonathan, and then D for Drew, Agency, and we are geared towards getting the next generation of dancers prepared, but not necessarily getting them prepared for just dancing. I think, like I mentioned before, the way that the world is shaping into a kind of building dancers, it’s so important now for young dancers to be able to do everything for themselves. It’s okay to have some support there, but I think it’s important to get these young kids turned into super soldiers, in a sense, in order to really be able to gauge and to be able to be like, “I know that this picture was not it, because there’s too much light, there’s too much saturation”, or “Oh, there’s too much space between the main subject versus everything else that’s there, and I wanted like a blurred effect and the composition”, yada, yada, yada. Really help them to be able to do it all.

For the past three years now I have been working for Vogue, which is another milestone. If you would have asked me when I was Homecoming King, “Are you going to work for one of the biggest fashion people in the world?” No, never. I never would have imagined that. That literally got sent to me from God. I still teach dance at different studios, and I travel a lot. I always say I’m highly blessed and highly favored, so now it’s like I’m literally doing the dream of not just dancing, but everything, literally everything.

I’m so happy for you that you have been able to reach all of these huge milestones and goals, but you’re still only in your 30s, so it still is just the beginning. What are your goals for the next five years both personally and professionally?

I’m laughing about the personal one. Personally, I would love to find a man. I mean, that’s the personal aspect. I would love to be able to share everything. That would be phenomenal, but I am one of those types of people that believes when the time is right it’ll happen. Beyond that, personally, I would love just to make people laugh. Professionally, I would definitely say I just want to keep going. I think seeing that there’s no boundary and there are no limits to what I can obtain and achieve and to know that there’s more. Sometimes, I feel like as people we feel as though we should be grateful and thankful for where we’re at, and I totally am, but I always feel like the moment we get to that point, we start to get complacent. Complacency starts to kind of sink in a little bit because you want to enjoy this moment, but then, we also can’t remain too complacent, specifically as an artist, because there are so many other people out there that are constantly putting things out that, and you want to be the first one or creative to kind of put an idea out there. I think for me, I just want to keep growing as an artist creatively. I would love to create my own fashion line. It’s funny, because now I’m even interested in learning how to sew. I’m having a Project Runway moment now. I have an aesthetic towards fashion, so now that I have the means and the money, to a certain extent, to put out my own stuff. I mentioned my agency, JD Agency, and I would love for my business partner and I to be able to create a huge hub, not only for dancers to train, but for other choreographers to work under us. I just want to keep growing. I have no limit and I do not want to retire anytime soon, praise Jesus.

Amazing. So where is JD Agency based out of and how can people find your information?

The real truth is we’re based in New Jersey, but it’s funny because people are always so quick to be like, “New York is better than Jersey”, so we’re based in New Jersey, but I mean, New York is just a bridge away, right? We say we’re on the East Coast. We both live in Jersey, but since I’m always working in the City, and my business partner Jonathan Merced, is always going into the city, it’s like whatever. If people ever want to find our Instagram, our handle is @JDAgency0724, and then we each have our own separate accounts. We like to give people our individual lives too because he does different things than I do, and then it’s kind of like Captain Planet, you know, we put our rings together, and then it’s done. I know, a lot of people are like, ‘Captain Planet?!’ I’m aging myself so bad.

We kind of had to put a little bit of a backseat on the plans that we have for the JD Agency because of the pandemic. We had just announced our Agency, maybe six months before the pandemic, so we had already our production line with our hoodies and our sweatshirts and stuff like that, then, boom, the pandemic hit, and all of the plans we had for the summer just kind of went out the window. We look forward to doing it big in 2022.

JD Agency

What’s your personal handle so that our readers can follow you on Instagram?

I recently got hacked, y’all, but that’s a whole nother story. My new handle is @Drew_James_24. I have to say, Taylor, being hacked is never fun, but I can tell you this, I took that as a learning experience. I said, ‘You know what, at the end of the day, if I did not have Instagram, I still would be moving and transcending.’ I guess this is just a friendly note for others, that yes, Instagram is great, it’s wonderful, right? But I think when you have a traumatic experience like that, being hacked, and have all of the things that you worked for taken away, at the end of the day, you still have to have yourself and your soul and your spirit. My work didn’t change, I just wasn’t posting about it. Some people rely so heavily on social media, it’s actually a little sad, and so I just say to those, it doesn’t matter what you’re posting, it doesn’t matter what you people like, it doesn’t matter what other people see you doing, as long as you know that you’re doing it, that should bring you that much satisfaction. You can’t judge someone just based on the fact that they’re not posting.

Drew, do you have any projects that you’re working on now that you want to share with us?

Um, let’s see. Today was the premiere of Episode Two of Candid Conversations with Jon and Drew. It’s a web podcast type of vibe series where Jon and I talk candidly about things in the dance industry and being in the studio world. We have received mostly positive feedback. No one likes to hear the truth, so as much as they always say, “Oh, I want honesty, I want honesty”, the minute that they hear it, they’re like, “You guys sound a little cocky.” We’re talking about the things in the industry that no one wants to talk about, and that is always what I guess called good TV. That’s probably why I’m a fan of Bravo TV. Don’t get me started on all the shows I’ve watched on Bravo, I love television like that. We’ve been getting a big buzz and it’s a hit. I mean, I would love for it to even make it to Bravo, so if the producers want to put me and Jon on for a little, that’d be fabulous. We have that big show, and we have another intensive coming out for dancers to train with us, which is in December and January.

Let’s all just make each other smile, and what better way to do that than through laughter, music, and dance? Thank you so much for joining me today, Drew!

Yes, yes, yes. Thank you so much for having me. I appreciate you!

Of course! We will chat again soon!

Originally from Edison, New Jersey, Taylor won the 2005 “Middlesex County Caring Award”, and hasn’t stopped caring since. When she is not writing or hosting More to the Story, Taylor can be found chasing her two mutts around Athens, Ohio where she currently resides with her husband. Moving to Appalachia has made a huge impact on her life, and she can’t wait to share some of her stories, laughs, and (mis)adventures with you!

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