Khadijah Wilson — known on Instagram as Honeybits — the self-proclaimed Neighborhood Hope Dealer from Los Angeles, has been dancing for most of her life. But there’s no way a 9-year-old Khadijah knew that she would end up dancing behind, and alongside, one of the greatest entertainers of her time: Beyoncé.
Khadijah first performed with Beyoncé in her 2016 visual album Lemonade, followed by the 2016 Super Bowl, and 2016 The Formation World Tour. Those three projects are not only among Beyoncé’s most famous performances, but also some of the most important pop culture moments of this generation. Still, none compared to Beychella, the singer’s now-iconic 2018 Coachella set dedicated homecomings at Historical Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). Homecoming: A Film By Beyoncé premiered on Netflix April 17, and in it you’ll find Khadijah getting in formation in a yellow (weekend one) and pink (weekend two — Bey doesn’t do repeats) leotard and knee-high white boots.
Khadijah’s journey to Beychella started in Atlanta, took her around the country, and ended with four months of practice and secrecy leading up to the big event. Here, she spills secrets about what it was like to be behind the scenes of one of the most powerful performances of our time.
Refinery29: How did you get your first gig with Beyoncé?
Khadijah Wilson: “It started four years ago with Lemonade. I actually got called down to this convention centre in Atlanta [where I was living at the time] by this choreographer for a picture audition for “an artist.”I just happened to go, [and] there were so many other dancers there. At the time I had this red hair and didn’t think anything of it; I just went. I got the callback to do Lemonade, and I’ve stayed ever since. After that came the Super Bowl, Formation tour, and then Beychella.”
Beychella was a 105-minute long performance. What went into that preparation?
“Beychella was a lot fun because there were so many dancers. There was a lot of good energy! The hours were long, but that’s normal. We just were so excited about what we were doing [so] it didn’t really feel long. I can’t say that I was stressed at all.”
Once you get past just being next to Beyoncé and trying to get everything right, there is just a calm that she brings into the room.
How private did you have to keep your involvement in Beychella?
“Oh, very private. It is known in the camp to keep [everything we do] private. Out of respect for Beyoncé, but also I think you should do that with any artist you are working with because they want their art to be a surprise, too.”
Did you have to sign an NDA?
“I can’t remember, but I’m pretty sure we did. Normally you have to sign NDAs for any artist that you work with.”
What was the significance of the performance’s homecoming theme to you as a black woman?
“Beyoncé represents a black woman that is on top, doing her thing, 100%. Everything is so well put together. For me as a black woman, this is something that I can be proud of — something that I can show my grandchildren. As a creative that’s important to me. I’ve always been a firm believer in everything that I do [that] my [future] daughter will never be ashamed of my work. I love that if she were to want to become a dancer, I can be her example. I would be proud if she did that. Being on that stage, next to Bey, standing for what we were standing for. I was proud.”
How did seeing this ultimate display of collegiate blackness, make you feel?
“It made me feel amazing. For Formation I didn’t even realise the greatness of what we were doing, I had to sit back and say, Wow, what we displayed was incredible. So when Coachella came around I’m like okay, I know what this is about to be. I felt strong. I felt empowered to be on that stage. I feel that way every time I’m on the stage with Bey. I feel well represented as a woman and as a black woman.”
What is your favourite song in the Beychella lineup?
“‘Partition.’ ‘Partition.’ ‘Partition.’ That is my absolute favourite number to perform. I am a completely different person. I don’t know who I was or who I thought I was, but that was my favourite. But I also love the breakdown with OT Genasis to ‘Everybody Mad.’”
Everyone was crying. We were just like we made it! We had finally made it, together.
“Swag surfin” is the ultimate call to action in black culture. When you hear that intro you know exactly what you’re about to do. How did it feel to swag surf on the Coachella stage?
“It was motivating! So many of those dancers I hadn’t gotten to work with before. It kept me going. We had each other’s backs. I remember when we first got to Coachella after all the rehearsals in LA, [and] it was emotional. Everyone was crying. We were just like we made it! We had finally made it, together.”
How did you start dancing?
“Actually my story is kind of funny. I was at North Carolina School of the Arts, and I booked my first movie, but they wouldn’t let me do it. I ended up doing it anyway, and they got mad. I realised, you know what? This isn’t for me because starring in a film is my dream.
“My ultimate decision was to come back to Atlanta. I was dancing for a while, and I got really down on myself. I pushed dance to the side and went to hair school. I thought I was going to make some money, but I was not happy. I could not figure out why. I would go to school and sit out in my car and watch dance videos. I used to get in so much trouble! But I couldn’t see myself walking through those doors everyday.
“Someone came into the school one day and said something about putting all your eggs in one basket, so I literally didn’t come back after lunch. I quit. I don’t even think I told them I wasn’t coming back. [O]ne month later I got the call to come down to shoot for the pictures and images for Beyoncé.”
What is the biggest lesson you’ve learned from Beyoncé so far?
“How to truly and genuinely, from the inside out, be a woman. She’s so well put together. I love that about her. Once you get past just being next to Beyoncé and trying to get everything right, there is just a calm that she brings into the room. You feel calm when you’re with her. Even the dancers who have been with her for years, they are women. They carry that same air. When you’re new and it’s your first time dancing with Bey, they bring a calm. One girl in particular, Kimmie, she was my chakra. Anytime we were stressed she centred us, because they know what you’re going through.”
Given this learned lesson from Bey, what is your new definition of Womanhood?
“Being a woman is all about how you react to things. It doesn’t matter if you’re having a horrible day — how you react to things is what keeps your future going. Living in the present and enjoying each moment.”
This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.