In Living Color is considered one of the most influential shows of its time. Unapologetically controversial in much of its content, the sketch show was home to some comedy giants before they became household names. Created by Keenen Ivory Wayans and launched in 1990, the original cast included Wayans family members Kim, Damon, and Shawn, along with Tommy Davidson, Jim Carrey, David Alan Grier, and Kelly Coffield. While In Living Color was launching some of Hollywood’s biggest comedy careers, however, the stage was also intermittently graced by a group of dancers that would become a touchstone of the show.
For many, the Fly Girls were the true aesthetic of In Living Color. This group of talented, culturally diverse hip hop dancers embodied the spirit of the show. As a collective, the dancing troupe created a legacy that lived on for years, as seen in Bruno Mars’ clear homage to the group’s style and moves in the 2018 music video for his song "Finesse." Individually, the Fly Girls went on to forge enormous careers, with some in still in front of the camera and some behind it. In this piece, we’ll take a look at what the In Living Color Fly Girls are doing today.
Jennifer Lopez went from Fly Girl to megastar
Despite being one of the most recognizable stars in the world, Jennifer Lopez still managed to find breakthrough moments in 2019 and 2020. She starred in and produced one of the year’s most talked about films, Hustlers, and performed the halftime show at Super Bowl LIV, respectively. In 1990, however, long before performing in front of millions of people, Lopez made her way through a national audition for the Fly Girls of In Living Color. Even though she didn’t win the audition (Carla Garrido did), Lopez would eventually make the team.
According to Homey Don’t Play That! The Story of In Living Color and the Black Comedy Revolution (via Entertainment Tonight), when Lopez joined the crew in season three, it wasn’t all smooth sailing. Allegedly, there were rifts and tensions between J.Lo and some of the other crew members, but there was no denying Lopez’s talent or place on that stage. "We all knew she was destined for greatness," fellow former Fly Girl Carrie Ann Inaba told The Hollywood Reporter. "She was a very determined young woman."
From In Living Color, Lopez joined Janet Jackson’s team of backup dancers. According to the Los Angeles Times, she then transitioned into acting with small parts before landing her first major roles in Mi Familia in 1995 and Jack in 1996. The following year, she landed the titular role of Selena, the part that helped shoot her into stardom and convince record labels to give her music career a shot.
Rosie Perez was the brains of the operation
Though not technically a Fly Girl, Rosie Perez choreographed the moves that helped make the dance crew what it was. In 1989, Perez’s dancing made its mark in the opening credits of Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing. Shortly afterwards, she replaced A.J. Johnson, the originally planned In Living Color choreographer, because of a scheduling conflict. Though Perez was excited for the opportunity, she met some resistance from the dancers.
"As soon as I opened the door, it’s like, ‘OK, she’s New York. She’s Puerto Rican.’ You know, they had all these preconceived notions of who I was and my abilities," Perez said on Here & Now. "And I had an assistant who had been working with me forever. His name is Arthur Rainer, and he’s black. He just looked at me, and he said, ‘Forget these girls. Come on, let’s do our thing.’ And thank goodness he said that because he knew the real me. I was shaking inside. And I said, ‘OK, line up,’ and you know, and that’s how it went."
It’s that strength of character that helped Perez build a lasting 30-year career. She moved from In Living Color to a memorable role in White Men Can’t Jump, choreographed for some of the world’s biggest musicians, and earned a 1994 Academy Award nomination for her role in Fearless. Decades later, she’s still at it, making huge moves in films like, Birds of Prey and The Last Thing He Wanted.
Carrie Inaba was the baddest Fly Girl
Carrie Ann Inaba, one of the original Fly Girls, started her career in a different area of the music industry. According to People, she won a talent show in Hawaii when she was 18 and was "groomed to be a pop star in Japan." Her first hit went top 50 on the charts, but the artificiality of the business turned her off of it. She them pivoted to dancing, and that’s when she heard about the In Living Color audition.
"I got a call from my agent. They were looking for hip-hop athletic dancers under 5-foot-7 of diverse cultural background," she told The Hollywood Reporter. "I went in wearing black leggings, motorcycle boots and a white lacy bra with a black leather jacket. I tossed my jacket to the side and walked to the center of the room, ready and eager. Keenen always said that I got the job the moment I walked in because my outfit was so bad and I had so much confidence."
For three seasons, Inaba shined on stage alongside her fellow dancers. She went on to dance during Madonna’s world tour in 1993 and landed roles in two Austin Powers films, including Austin Powers in Goldmember as Fook Yu. In 2005, the multi-talented star became a judge on Dancing with the Stars, a spot that she would go on to hold for the next 15 years.
Sasha Alexander traded in her Fly Girl ‘hot pants’ for an acting career
When she was a young girl, Sasha Alexander set her sights on a career as an Olympic figure skater. She explained on The Ellen DeGeneres Show that an injury cut her dream short, so she took aim at dancing instead. "I had a momentary stint as a Fly Girl on In Living Girl," she said in the interview. The gig didn’t last long, however, because Alexander’s parents weren’t thrilled with the career move. "They didn’t let me take the job any further, because they didn’t want me skipping geometry to dance around in hot pants," she said.
The short-lived gig did, however, lead her to a career in acting. According to an interview with IGN, Alexander started performing on stage and then got into TV roles with a part in Wasteland. From there, she got her big break, landing the part of Gretchen Witter on Dawson’s Creek. Though she is probably best known for playing Maura Isles on Rizzoli & Isles, a part she held for the show’s seven seasons, as of this writing, Alexander was most recently in the Netflix hit film, Dangerous Lies.
This Fly Girl opted for a life behind the camera
Laurieann Gibson may not be one of the most recognizable names from the Fly Girl cast, but she is certainly one of the most successful. The former Fly Girl joined In Living Color in the fifth and final season, so she didn’t get the chance to really make her impression felt on the show, but it didn’t matter for her career arc. Gibson would go on to work with some of the biggest names in music, including choreographing for Sean Combs in a variety of formats, one being his reality TV show, Making the Band.
She’s also been the driving force behind so many iconic performers and performances, such as Beyonce, Alicia Keys, Mary J. Blige, Nicki Minaj, Katy Perry, and Lady Gaga. In fact, for years, she worked as the choreographer and creative director for the latter, creating the famed "Born this Way" egg routine for Mother Monster. The titular character in the dance film Honey was even "based loosely" on Gibson, as per the Los Angeles Times. With the majority of her work done off-camera, Gibson’s impressive resume may go unnoticed by many. In 2019, however, she joined So You Think You Can Dance as a judge, so fans might be seeing more of her moving forward.
Being a Fly Girl was a ‘unique opportunity’ for Lisa Marie Todd
Lisa Marie Todd was one of the original members of the Fly Girls, and her time on In Living Color remains one of her greatest memories. "I had been working for a bit, about a year or so, and I had done a couple of sitcoms and started acting, and I was still doing the dance jobs, and my agent called and said, ‘Hey, there’s this pilot they’re doing. It’s a comedy sketch show, and they need four dancers,’" she recalled in a Personal Space interview. "So I auditioned. We shot the pilot, and I forgot about it, because that’s what you do. You just forgot about those things because you never know if they’re going to go or not. … The show happened to get picked up and started, and it was probably the most amazing thing that I had done as a dancer."
After In Living Color, Todd landed a part on The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, but she would later leave the celebrity world behind to raise her daughter. In 2009, Todd started her own company and brand, Marie Todd, which specializes in jewelry and fragrances. While motherhood and running the business now occupy her time, Todd’s past successes aren’t lost on her. "I don’t think I realized what the show was while I was doing it," she told Personal Space. "It was just such a unique opportunity that came around, and I’m really grateful and happy that I had a chance to do that."
Jossie Harris Thacker: The untrained Fly Girl
Before Jossie Harris Thacker (then Jossie Harris) joined the Fly Girl troupe in season four, her big break came when she was cast as a dancer in Michael Jackson’s music video for "Remember the Time." Her raw and untrained dancing style must have caught the eye of casting agents for In Living Color because she was brought on shortly after. "All the girls had … dance backgrounds," Thacker said in an interview from In Living Color documentary, Back in Step with Fly Girls. "So, for me, it was pretty interesting to just mix my street dancing with hip hop dancing with more of the technical stuff, which is what Rosie [Perez] did."
After In Living Color ended, Thacker began an acting career, landing a string of roles on sitcoms like Living Single and The Wayans Bros. In film, Thacker starred in award-winning films like Mississippi Damned and No Weapon Formed Against Us. While carving out her own 25-year path in the industry, Thacker has also helped others find their way. For more than 15 years, Thacker has run acting classes for children and adults, including the Respect for Acting Academy and Kids W.A.Y. (Who Are You?) Acting Academy.