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WilldaBeast, and Other Forces to Be Reckoned With

And he is bringing younger generations with him. Front and center in his videos are members of ImmaBEAST, the dance company — or family, as its members call it — that he has been grooming since 2013. The chance to join them — to be anointed a beast — was one draw of BuildaBEAST, which, after a few days of classes in hip-hop and contemporary dance styles, culminated in an audition for the troupe.

Inside the convention center, during a break from watching classes and between rushed consultations with his production team, Mr. Adams described what he and Ms. Ginestra would be looking for in new dancers.

“Power, persistence, a conviction you can’t teach that’s like: ‘I’m here. Watch me dance,’” he said. “We want to see that that potential, that hunger, is already there, and that you are a force to be reckoned with.”

Mr. Adams could have been talking about his younger self, not to mention his current one. A latecomer to dance with a background in football, he began training in earnest at 18, learning from YouTube videos of dancers he admired. Since moving to Los Angeles from Indiana in 2009, he has built an extensive résumé that includes dancing for Usher and Madonna and choreographing for “So You Think You Can Dance,” the BET Awards and the sixth “Step Up” movie (not out yet).

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Members of the youth contingent at BuildaBEAST Experience.

Credit
Katherine Helen Fisher for Safety Third Productions

And then there’s his ever-expanding brand. Beyond BuildaBEAST and ImmaBEAST, his enterprises include Imma Space, his company’s own North Hollywood home; Imma Apparel, a fitness-oriented clothing line designed by Ms. Ginestra; and the Beast Network, which bills itself as a platform for “the best content of the hip-hop dance world and the lifestyle surrounding it.”

Twenty years ago, a career path like his didn’t exist, said the talent agent Julie McDonald, who has worked with commercial choreographers since 1985. (Mr. Adams and Ms. Ginestra are among the many represented by her firm, McDonald Selznick Associates.) “The artist has a lot more control over their own career and destiny now,” she said. “They make their own stuff. They don’t sit around and wait for the phone to ring. You don’t need anybody’s permission anymore.”

Mr. Adams didn’t need permission, for instance, to create his infectiously energetic video to “Upgrade U,” shot by the director known as Brazil with dancers who appear to be having a spontaneous, genuine good time.

Beyonce’ – Upgrade U | WilldaBeast Adams | Beyonce’ Series pt.1 | Filmed by @Brazilinspires Video by WilldaBeast Adams

The choreographer Brian Friedman, who has worked with Britney Spears and Cher among many others, said that while posting class videos online was nothing new, “Upgrade U” was the first to receive such widespread attention.

“It was shot head on; there were fewer dancers in it; it was nice and light in the room and easy to see,” he said. “It started to make people understand what would make a video accessible and get the public to want to watch it.”

Mr. Adams, who at the time was touring and appearing in music videos as a backup dancer, noticed the attention.

“People started coming up to me and stopping me,” he said by phone from Los Angeles, post-BuildaBEAST. “And it wasn’t, ‘Oh, I’ve seen you with Jason Derulo,’ or ‘Oh, I’ve seen you in this Black Eyed Peas video.’ It was, ‘I’ve seen the video you posted in the dance studio with bad lighting from an iPad.’ ”

“That kind of woke me up,” he continued. Why stay in the background, he reasoned, when his own work, made on a much smaller budget, could make an impact?

A choreographer needs dancers, and Mr. Adams took that into his own hands, too, recruiting a group of what he calls “dancers who didn’t look like they would dance” to form ImmaBEAST.

“I felt that way about myself, too,” he recalled. “People would tell me, you don’t look the way dancers need to look. You’re not tall enough, you’re darker skinned. It’s gonna be hard for you to get eye-candy jobs or Disney jobs.” His response: to bring together “the misfits of the industry,” he said, “and be the example — that I’m a beast no matter what.”

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From left, Sienna Lalau, Janelle Ginestra; Mr. Adams’s creative partner and fiancée; and Taylor Hatala.

Credit
Katherine Helen Fisher for Safety Third Productions

Chief among those so-called misfits is the glamorously tough Ms. Ginestra, whose credits include dancing for Nicki Minaj and Pink.

“There’s no category for her,” said Josh Price, a 15-year-old member of ImmaBEAST. “She’s just Janelle, and she can do whatever she wants.”

With more than 100 dancers from around the world, ImmaBEAST has become part far-flung global network, part tight-knit dance crew. Free training with Mr. Adams and Ms. Ginestra is one perk of being selected; another is the job opportunities.

“So many doors open up for you,” said Sienna Lalau, 16, who won a scholarship to BuildaBEAST in 2015 and made the final cut at that year’s ImmaBEAST audition. Through performing with the company in Los Angeles, she was signed to a talent agency, and recently she appeared with the troupe on “World of Dance,” the NBC show hosted by Jennifer Lopez. Ms. Lalau has also received invitations to choreograph and teach.

Yet even while championing unfamiliar faces, Mr. Adams and Ms. Ginestra can’t always escape industry pressures.

“Sometimes on jobs we’re forced to use people because they have a big following,” Ms. Ginestra said, referring to dancers’ popularity on social media.

As for his own social media presence, Mr. Adams isn’t letting up. “Anything I feel like we’re strong at,” he said, “I make sure that we let the world know every day.”

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