Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Influential Dance Teachers and Choreographers

BOND: And others as you grow older, go away to college or go to college?

JONES: Well, I've written a book about it, so some of them are a bit well worn, the stories, of course. There was —

BOND: They're new to us.

JONES: Yes. [laughter] There was a person like Percival Borde who was the husband, gorgeous, tall, Trinidadian dancer who was the husband of the great Pearl Primus and he was teaching West African and Caribbean dance and he actually showed me an example of what a black body, a black male body moving could be "like" and here I use the word quotes, "in a natural way." It was not Sammy Davis, Jr., and the Rat Pack. It was not the Nicholas Brothers. It was not Duke Ellington. It was not Chubby Checker. Here was a man who as I talk about my book, when he raised his arms and he did what we call the Watusi study or he showed us the Dumballah study with his kind of acerbic comments about it and how to hold these ritual sticks as the watusis did and it will take you 10 years to understand how to even hold these sticks, but we'll do our best, he said. He was embodying and I thought, ahh, that's what this arm, this chest is. That's what these arms are. That's what these legs are. That's what this syncopation I'm hearing all the time is and I was able to see past popular culture through him. That was a very important one.

The others later on become important in other ways. Merce Cunningham is the choreography free of psychology and social location. Martha Graham in her own way, choreography rooted in the psychoanalytical analysis of experience as Karl Jung might have understood it, all of these things. The avant-garde of the '60s, non-narrative film, non-narrative. What does it mean that art is purely about perception? It's not about some symbol of something else, that it could be its own thing.

Paint dripping down a canvas, Jackson Pollock, all those things. Why is it beautiful that gravity -- isn't that sloppy that paint is allowed to drip down? No, it's an evidence. It is evidence of an essential elemental event. Can you find that in your body? What is gravity? What is the weight of an arm? What does it mean? What is space around us? All these things helped extend what I understood art to be.