Vincent Paterson woke up early on a Thursday morning to make time to speak with me. A true professional, he was ten minutes early and was all smiles. His jovial laugh was exactly the spirit I needed to kick off my day. After a full career of working with some of the most standout artists in entertainment history, I wouldn’t be surprised if he carried himself with his nose to the sky, believing himself to be better than those who graced his presence. He has certainly earned the right to some entitlement. Yet Vincent instead chooses to carry himself with a humble attitude and a genuine interest in making the world better than when he entered it. I could feel his excitement to speak about his book, Icons and Instincts, after so many years of putting work into its release.
“I want people to enjoy the book, but I hope people will be moved by the story,” he told me. “Not so much about me, but that they can see something of themselves in my journey and that it might help them along their path.”
That’s the kind of man Vincent is. Selfless, sincere, and set with clear intentions.
Even if you don’t know Vincent Paterson by name (and you should!), you’ve probably seen his work. Vincent Paterson’s choreography and direction has left a remarkable imprint on pop culture and the world as a whole. He’s responsible for creating iconic pieces such as Michael Jackson’s “Smooth Criminal,” short film and Madonna’s “Vogue,” performance at the MTV Awards. His resume screams success and accomplishment, but you would never know all the trials he’s had to overcome to get to where he is now.
“I want people to know that I have had an incredibly successful career with amazing people and have had opportunities that have been mind-boggling,” Vincent said. “But I worked hard. It wasn’t an easy path. It didn’t just happen. I went through a lot of s*** to get here.”
Icons and Instincts doesn’t pull any punches. Vincent gets personal with details of a difficult home life. He explores the ins and outs of his relationships. He recalls professional experiences with big-name divas that were, in fact, divas–in every sense of the word.
The dance industry has a tendency to whisper in friend groups, sharing their traumas privately and accepting their role without much pushback (something that leaders like Taja Riley are working to change). The belittlement, the poor behavior, the disrespect that can happen while you’re working on set is often put out of sight… but Icons and Instincts goes there. Vincent shares in full detail the way that he was spoken to and treated on each job, and he’s not afraid to name names.
“When I share some of the more difficult stories, I share them as learning experiences for me,” Vincent said. “It’s not always easy–sometimes it’s difficult. Sometimes we make mistakes and sometimes we don’t even know what those mistakes were if people don’t communicate back with you. When those negative experiences come up and they disappoint the hell out of you, you have to stop and think about, ‘What did I do wrong?’ Partially, there’s something on my side that didn’t work as well. So those were times that I wanted to explore those moments and explain that it’s not always easy. ”
The book reveals intimate conversations shared with superstars like Michael Jackson and Madonna. Vincent paints a full picture of everything that these legends bring with them, both as artists and as people. There are times that the book will have you asking yourself if you’re really meant to be there in the moment with him. It feels quite private and exclusive. Yet Vincent grants the reader full access to his life, his career, and the events that led to his success. This access creates a complete vision of not only his life, but of the dance community and its evolution in the professional world. We see just how imperative dancers and choreographers are in the grand scheme of entertainment.
“We don’t just create dance steps,” he said to me. “In any given situation, we can create how someone picks up and holds a glass, how someone walks across a room, how Madonna crawls across the floor and puts milk on her face in ‘Express Yourself.’ These are things that choreographers create that were suppressed, swept under the rug, and pushed behind the curtain so that people don’t know that this is what we do. But we do.”
The book finishes with a confident and powerful Vincent Paterson, who has a greater understanding of himself and what he has to offer the world. He allows us to be privy to the growth he experiences, and it gives me hope that there is a journey for all of us and that there is space to find peace and purpose.
No matter where you are in life or what your goals are, you’ll walk away from this book feeling motivated and excited to tackle a new day. If you’re a dancer or choreographer, there’s so much history of the industry and its progression. If you’re an artist, there’s so much knowledge to gain here. If you’re a fan of Vincent or any of the stars that he’s gotten to work with, there are so many secrets shared.
“That’s what I really hope comes out of this book; that it inspires people,” Vincent told me. “It makes people laugh, it makes people have a good time. It gives them a more intimate view without it being a gossip rag, about not only my process, but the process of some of the most incredible entertainers in the world. So that’s why I wanted to do it, to share those truths. Truths of the process of creativity and truths of the struggle to make anything work. Nothing is easy.”
Icons and Instincts by Vincent Paterson with Amy Tofte is out NOW! Buy your copy HERE.