Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Developing a Choreographic Style

BOND: Now, he [Arnie Zane] encouraged you to develop your dance company, did he not?

JONES: He encouraged me to be a professional dancer, artist. And he wanted to be with me, therefore he came along and the form that we were involved in — I should talk about avant-garde democratized dancing could allow a person who had very little official training to be making work and getting serious consideration. Yes, that's what we were doing.

BOND: So, as I said, he's not a dancer and you know you're going to be a dancer.

JONES: I had taken more classes in college, let's put it that way. I consider myself a self-taught dancer. But, yes, for the sake of my discussion, we'd say he wasn't, but now we both, by 1982, were a name. Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane. We were a choreographic couple, so he obviously became a dancer, but this seques into how the form was changing. It had the values of music. It had the values of visual arts and maybe before it had the values of what Mr. [George] Balanchine would've understood as being concert dance value or Mr. [Alvin] Ailey, even, because we were actually doing things like making stage pictures, mimicking film. What is the accumulation? What is a retrograde? How do you make everyday movement heightened? How do you take heightened movement and make it everyday? Those were the sort of questions that we had and they were not — So, when you say, was he a dancer, which meant, was he a svelte technician? No. Neither one of us were, but those were not the values of the dance world that we were a member of, the values that I suppose it allows me to be here at the University of Virginia and doing a piece called "100 Migrations" with people, any and all comers, anybody who comes, they can be part of this.

You call that dancing? What're you doing? You're marching about. You're doing gestures. You're organizing space. Well, quite frankly, yes, we do call it dancing. Dancing is the movement of people and things in space and time, my definition. Choreography is the discovery and/or generation and organization of dance materials. Balanchine choreographed for elephants in the circus. I could choreograph everybody in this room. You and I could do a dance. The way we switch the chairs, all of those are values that came out of the avant-garde in the 1960s, the place that opened the door for me and for Arnie Zane to call ourselves dancers.