Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Evolution of Dance Career

BOND: There's a great segue here. So, how did you decide on your career? What made you think I'll do this?

JONES: Hmmm — Well, unfortunately, I had too much freedom and not nearly enough resources. It was a time when you could — My mother and father were just glad that I had graduated from high school and I'd been accepted to two schools. Wow. They didn't have the money to send me but there were programs so I go off to the one, the State University of New York at Binghamton with the idea that I'm going to run track and go to Broadway. What did I know? I'd done Drama Club in high school. Had won awards and, like I said —

BOND: But you knew you wanted to be a Broadway dancer?

JONES: Oh, I don't know what it was. I knew I wanted to perform and be fabulous.

BOND: Okay. But you were thinking of Broadway, not —

JONES: What else was there? There was nothing else to think about. There was rumors that there was a tap dance class in the next town over, 10 miles. My parents were potato pickers. In the evening, you know, talking about soccer moms, no. They're coming from 30, 40 miles away, dead tired after having been up to here in potato gook, muck all day, or they're tired. No. You've got to get yourself to those classes, then you gotta get back out into our house which is also 10 miles out in the woods and up a hill and down a valley. You've got to do all that. It's beyond me, so I didn't do it. My mode of thinking was Drama Club brought all of that. I went to school with the idea of what I'd learned in Drama Club which was doing Broadway shows and it was only there that I began to take African dance classes when my niece said, "come and check out these classes." My coach, little did he know, let me go. I was a pretty good runner. I was a sprinter and he said, okay, as long as you're working on your cardiovascular system, it's okay. That was very open-minded, wasn't it, but it was the time. It was 1970. And I go to the class and the door opens and that acrid smell of sweat and the drums, I was hooked and that led to modern dance and so on.

We didn't think of careers because you have to realize it was also the workings of the counterculture which said don't fall into a straight job and that's what straight meant, something other than your sexual orientation, right? Don't fall into a straight job because the cool people don't have jobs. The cool people, you know, live on farms or just hitchhike from one commune to another. The cool people.

Now, does it matter that your parents are on welfare? That your older brother looks at you and says, "man, if you knew what I knew you wouldn't be messing around with this art stuff. You'd be trying to make some money," and I just thought that he was a straight, uptight dude that didn't know what he was talking about. Well, going into those classes was a way of the art world bringing you in because I love — I say I fell in love with my sweat. And there's a different kind of sweat from the athletics field. There is no apparent opponent. The opponent is you. The opponent is the history of your art form. The opponent is seeing the person next to you at the ballet bar who is a young woman who has been studying ballet since she was 5 or 6. Now, her leg goes up up up and even higher and your leg's bound like an athlete's or runner's legs, like someone who picks potatoes and a normal person's leg can barely get them up, but I had this desire to dance inside of me and where will you dance.

Well, there's Linda Grande [sp?] who was the teacher at that time who really didn't like me very much because I was much too showy. A room with only two or three guys in the first place, always wanted to be seen, and she said, "well, you know, you need more technique and maybe you should check out the" — She didn't say check out, "maybe you should go to the Graham School." The Graham technique is, what's the word, accommodating to black bodies. Accommodating to black bodies? And, of course, there's Mr. Alvin Ailey. Those were my options, right? Never mind Merce Cunningham, never mind ballet, never mind anything, but that is what they were advising me to do. Of course, I did neither.