Celebrity choreographer shoots for the moon, moving with stars like Rihanna, Nicki Minaj, Jennifer Lopez and Beyoncé.
Jose “Hollywood” Ramos first requires a little something to take the edge off. “Let me get a drink before we start this,” he says, flashing a wide and toothy grin. “I don’t know why I get nervous though, I really am a people person.”
On a sunny Wednesday afternoon, at Uptown Manhattan’s Guadalupe restaurant on 207th street, the 30-year-old Dominican and Puerto Rican dancer is clad in a sheer, gray tee that only barely conceals the thick, gold necklace dangling from his neck. A matching nose ring clings on his right nostril, and a crème-colored fedora hides his honey-brown buzz cut.
His “Hollywood” tattoo sticks out from his chest, but don’t think that for one second Ramos is anything like what his moniker suggests. When a tall waiter finally brings him a frozen passion fruit margarita, he politely refuses it. “Oh no, I wanted it on the rocks,” he says abruptly, before profusely apologizing for his request. “I’m sorry, I feel like such a diva.”
I quit college and pursued dancing. —Jose Ramos
His pragmatic demeanor coupled with a relentless work ethic is what has made Ramos a household name in the dance world, and has earned him credit with some of pop culture’s ruling queens. Ever since he can remember, Ramos knew he had an affinity for getting down with the get-down. He recalls at an early age being inspired by the likes of Michael, Janet Jackson and Prince. He would take up the gauntlet any chance he could when it came to following—literally—in their footsteps.
Growing up he participated in talent shows and choreographed local Quinceañera parties. During his teenage years, he moved from New York City to Lynn, Massachusetts and, at 21, attended North Shore Community College majoring in Liberal Arts. To make ends meet, he worked as an after-school counselor at a YMCA and a teacher at a day care center. It was then he knew he wanted to take dancing seriously. “It wasn’t until I turned 21 that I discovered what passion really was,” he recalls. “And so I quit college and pursued dancing.”
Before he quit higher ed cold turkey, he hustled his way into the dance scene and managed to win a spot at Monsters of Hip Hop, a dance convention based in Orlando, Florida, where up-and-comers get to meet world-renowned, established choreographers. There, he won a scholarship to New York’s coveted Broadway Dancer Center that covered 10 classes.
“I was going back and forth from Boston to New York because I would have to commute during the weekends to be able to take the classes,” he remembers. Once the classes were over, he was prompted to keep his momentum going. He applied for an internship at BDC where, in exchange for $5 classes, he would clean the bathrooms, throw away the trash and wash the windows. At the time, he remembers not being able to pay the full $18-20 price, because he had to help his family pay the bills. He participated in a variety of classes including: street jazz, modern, ballet, and hip-hop. “I did everything because I wanted to make sure I had a big vocabulary when it came to dance,” he notes.
Who, on the first day of a major gig, loses all their money and savings? —Jose Ramos
Eventually, he ended up auditioning for Lil Mama back in 2006, and that’s where everything really started to take off. He became a finalist in her show on MTV, Dancers From Tha Hood, and also ended up going on tour with her and Chris Brown. That gig led to him choreographing her video for the single “G-Slide,” which marked his first time ever working on a music video. “I was very nervous because I knew it was a chance to prove myself,” he says between sips.
In 2009, things took another turn for the better when Ramos auditioned for celebrity choreographer Tanisha Scott. He ended up getting a job with ex- Love & Hip Hop Atlanta star K. Michelle, but her project never saw the light of day. He remembers the first day on the job being the same day Michael Jackson passed. Two months later, in August, with the help of Scott, he booked the only dancing role on Rihanna’s “Rude Boy” video. Within the span of three months, he moved to Los Angeles and managed to book her “Last Girl On Earth Tour.” The first day of rehearsals proved to be the first of many trying days, as the IRS had infiltrated his bank accounts and procured all of his money due to school loans.
Ramos wouldn’t allow such a mishap define his future. “I didn’t let that get to me,” he says with conviction. “I’m not going to let that be my first day of rehearsal. I felt great—this was the first day of my life, and I knew that the devil was trying me, because who does that happen to? Who, on the first day of a major gig, loses all their money and savings? Luckily, I had paid my rent, where I was staying, months in advance.”
Little did he know back then the blessings were just beginning to pour in. Following his stint on tour, he worked with Ciara on 2012’s “Got Me Good.” In 2013, when Beyoncé dropped her self-titled surprise visual album, Ramos was able to hear it before it hit the U.S. because he was overseas. When he touched down in L.A., he began teaching to “Partition” and “Yonce,” two songs he predicted were going to be hits.
During his class, a dance crew called 8 Flavahz from MTV’S America’s Best Dance Crew made a video of the choreography. The video went viral and got major media attention. Beyoncé even posted it on her Instagram. But Ramos wasn’t getting any credit for the dance. Still, he felt something bigger was going to happen.
Eventually, Bey’s creative director at the time, Frank Gatson, called saying he was interested in working with Ramos. The same day of the meeting with the singer’s creative team, he had a flight to Japan, and by the next day, he sent them a choreographed number he’d created the night prior. A month later, he got a call back and booked the job to choreograph for Beyoncé. His routines would find homes in the Mrs. Carter tour, The 2014 MTV VMAs and, today, on The Formation Tour.
My mom died the following week after the performance. —Jose Ramos
Nicki Minaj and Jennifer Lopez soon came knocking on his door. (Coincidentally around this time, he was dropped from his agency because of creative differences.) He was initially supposed to choreograph Lopez’s “Big Booty” video alongside Iggy Azalea, but then plans got cut because director Hype Williams did not want choreography in the video. But Casper Beau Smart (J.Lo’s beau and Nicki Minaj’s creative director) told Ramos he would call him back for more work. Smart kept his promise, and Ramos went onto work with Minaj during the 2014 Billboard Awards.
Months later, choreographer Parris Goebel (responsible for Justin Bieber’s “Sorry”) called Ramos in and asked him to co-produce J.Lo’s performance at the 2015 American Music Awards. That particular performance meant a lot to him, because it was the last time his mother saw him on stage. “I did that and it changed life,” he says matter-a-factly, while peering outside from the window next to him. “It was very bitter sweet because that was the last gig my mom saw of me. She was in and out of the hospital when I was doing the gig, and I didn’t know that I was strong enough to do it, but with her strength and prayer I pulled through. My mom died the following week after the performance. I knew that it meant a lot to her because she actually saw me accomplish a dream.”
Soon thereafter came the Bad Boy Reunion tour in May. Another major feat, as he got to work with Diddy and a slew of other prominent members of the Bad Boy family. Yet, despite the big accolades, Ramos isn’t satisfied. He desires to create his own global movement and entertainment enterprise, as he still makes it a point to teach dance all over the globe, in places like Japan, Korea and Italy. Not to mention, his own concept videos to some of your favorite tracks, often go viral.
Esteemed choreographer Jamal Sims has reached out to him via social media to work with Michael Jackson’s nephew, Austin Brown. And recently, Ramos just finished choreographing a video with Wale for “My PYT.”
It’s now 6:20 p.m. and Ramos is rushing to get to his 7:30 dance class at the Broadway Dance Center. “I don’t let the things that I’ve done get in the way of my progress, because I don’t want to become comfortable,” he says, adding that life comes full circle. “The very same room I used to clean windows at is where my classes are now sold out.”