Oscar winner Jamie Foxx and director Jessy Terrero call her “Saleemah,” but dancers who parade the pathways of the University of Southern California call her “Professor Knight.” At only 32 years of age, Saleemah E. Knight’s accomplished bio is chock full of on-stage experience and professional accolades that most dancers spend an entire career striving to accumulate. During a recent photo shoot in sun-soaked Marina del Rey, it was difficult to discern what was shining more brightly: the Southern California sun or Knight’s glowing persona. One can’t help but feel the warmth when basking in the glow of the professor’s smile as she radiates a confidence and passion both born of and driven by her deep love for all things dance.
Knight’s lifelong love affair with dance began at the doe-eyed age of three when she was captivated by the beauty of ballet. As her skills matured, she polished her craft at esteemed companies Gus Giordano Chicago, River North Chicago and Dayton Contemporary Dance Company. Knight carried her talents to the stage, spending three years in the Broadway production of The Lion King. After performing with the likes of Beyoncé, Jillian Michaels, Tyrese, Ludacris, and Chris Brown, among others, Knight sought after a deeper understanding of dance, mastered her craft through higher education and received a Masters of Fine Arts degree from the University of California, Irvine. Since then, Knight has continued to choreograph for both screen and stage.
As a current faculty member at the prestigious USC Glorya Kaufman School of Dance, Professor Knight has spent the early part of the spring narrowing down more than 1,000 applicants to a select 18 who will enter the dance program in the fall. Though she specializes in jazz and modern dance styles, Knight’s course, “World Perspectives on Dance,” focuses on dance in pop culture.
“I’m bridging the gap between conservatory style training and commercial dance,” affirmed Knight during an interview with Arts Management Magazine. “Whether in the classroom at USC or in the studio when teaching a master class, I tell my students to take the information and technique they learn and change the game.”
When she’s not teaching jazz and modern dance technique and performance-based courses at the USC Glorya Kaufman School of Dance, Knight is directing master classes at Debbie Allen Dance Academy, Jimmie DeFore Dance Center, Loyola Marymount University or at international studios around the world.
“Whether in the classroom at USC or in the studio when teaching a master class, I tell my students to take the information and technique they learn and change the game.”
And Hollywood red carpets and philanthropic events supporting education and the arts? Professor Knight can be spotted there, too.