Codie Wiggins, who at 26 has a career that most dancers only dream of, is planning a strategy for the future. He has danced and choreographed for music videos, television appearances and a couple of major motion pictures; he frequently performs with Usher Raymond IV. As he prepares for a live show with Usher and a perhaps inevitable move from Atlanta to Los Angeles, he’s looking at his options.
“I don’t know who I’m going to dance for after Usher,” Wiggins said in an interview at the Gotta Dance Atlanta studio. But two priorities are clear: to continue to develop as a choreographer and director in the industry and to nurture young dancers coming up in the Atlanta hip-hop scene.
On recent evenings, after spending his day in rehearsals with Usher, Wiggins has been in the studio with two young Atlanta dancers, stretching his choreographic range, combining his trademark blend of popping, locking and krank with contemporary dance styles. The duet is set to singer-songwriter Laura Mvula’s “Is There Anybody Out There?” and will debut tonight and Saturday night on the Woodruff Arts Center’s Hertz Stage. He’ll join nine other choreographers in two of the three performances of “LIFT,” an annual showcase that fosters male dance talent in Atlanta.
Wiggins’ style has a classical sense of balance and proportion; he is never dominated by the music’s pulse but rather flirts with the beat. Strong and intricate foot patterns riff off the rhythm, while ever-changing facings, telling gestures and fluid transitions capture the lyrics’ phrasing and emotional lines. His choreography reflects his personality; it engages an audience with wit and spontaneity.
Wiggins carries himself with a confidence and physical readiness similar to Fred Astaire’s, but with an urban edge. He has a wiry, muscular build. His black T-shirt partly covers chiseled, muscular arms adorned with tattoos. Beneath black jeans are red shoes, a dancer’s giveaway — in this case, loosely laced high-tops. He wears a black NFL cap with its bill pushed high. He speaks swiftly and steadily, with an undercurrent of joy that often crests in a modest laugh, as if he’s still surprised at his success.
Born in Atlanta and raised in Fayetteville, North Carolina, Wiggins always loved music and dance. He played all kinds of sports in his youth; by the time he was in high school, he had become a serious basketball player. But one day he decided he didn’t want to play the game any more.
“It started to become more of a business,” he said. “I like to think that I’m pretty free-spirited. Not saying I have a problem with authority, but when someone is telling me, like, something I love to do, that I have to do it, you’re going to pay me to do it, it’s not as fulfilling. With dance, I picked it up just for one thing: you touch people.”
He moved to Atlanta for his senior year of high school and began dancing in clubs. He did “battles,” when two dancers compete in front of a crowd using different street dance styles, trying to outdo each other. In lieu of college, he set out on his own, intent on being a dancer. The first year or so meant struggle, diligent work and discovery.
“I would wake up, every day, and get on a bus at 3:45 a.m. to be to work by six,” Wiggins said. “Get to work, work for six hours. Right after that, go to a dance studio and just be in the mirror by myself and dance.” It was a time of physical and mental research, he said, with a focus on moving from street dancing in clubs to the stage.
His break came shortly after he turned 19, when he sneaked into an audition for the movie “Stomp the Yard.” He didn’t know it was an “agencies only” audition; he didn’t even know dancers have agents. But two BLOC talent agency representatives let him through.
Once inside, his club experience served him well. After he battled six people, BLOC offered him an agency audition and subsequently a contract. Shortly thereafter, “Stomp the Yard” became Wiggins’ first professional dance gig. “It wasn’t a big role,” he said. “I learned a piece of choreography to dance in the movie, which they took out. Which I’m not mad [about] — you know, movies are movies.”
His career took off from there. Within a year, he began to work with dancers in the Usher camp. Aakomon Jones, one of the most respected hip-hop choreographers and creative directors, took on Wiggins as a protégé.
“He looks like a lion, a pit bull without a chain,” Wiggins said with a chuckle. “When he walks into a room, there’s no denying that he is a specially touched person. He’s a big influence on the way I move. Even the way I articulate when it comes to piecing things together, to speak to someone physically. He has put the fear in me of failure.”
Jones made his expectations clear early on. He told the young dancer, “Look, if you’re gonna come do this dance thing, if you’re gonna be here with me, then I need you to understand that it’s gonna take a certain amount of drive in order to stay in this seat, to be in the car with me. So put your seat belt on.’”
Wiggins has since worked as Jones’ assistant choreographer on tours with Usher and Jason Derulo, as well as the 2009 Grammy Awards and the American Music Awards, among other credits.
Jones had Wiggins sit next to him as the performers walked into the room. He told his protégé, “This is your coming-out party. I need you to be focused. It’s gonna be quiet sometimes; you have to feel the energy. Sometimes it’s gonna be talkative; you have to feel the energy. You have to see how the room is running so that you can adapt. As long as you wear that confidence, then nobody can tell you anything. You’ll know exactly what’s going on.”
Wiggins acknowledges Jones, Jamaica Craft and Fatima Robinson as strong hip-hop influences, but he also studies things on different playing fields.
“I don’t try to choreograph to what everyone feels is normal for me,” he explained. “One, because I’m an African-American and we all are supposed to listen to urban hip-hop music. That’s just a statistic. I have a wide range, as far as classical music, as far as listening to show tunes. I listen to everything, so it paints a character for my movement.”
As other dance influences, he mentioned George Balanchine, Mia Michaels and Alvin Ailey, as well as jazz artists Gene Kelly, Frank Sinatra for “swagger” and Bob Fosse for angles, groupings and detailed gestures. “And just fluidity. That’s a big one for me. Making sure things make sense.”
When Wiggins saw “LIFT” last summer, he was inspired by the male camaraderie and a sense of mutual support that’s rare in show business. “It’s motivating to see guys take care of guys,” he said
Unlike choreographing for large crowds, “LIFT’s” small venue offers a safe haven for creative risk-taking. Spirituality is this year’s theme, and Wiggins has thought a lot about the subject.
“We’re a direct image of what we believe in,” he said. “I believe in positive energy. I believe that we possess a certain power that we can unlock. And a way of unlocking that … is our focus. And if we focus on the positivity and what it is that we’re trying to pursue, then success is inevitable.”