Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

How Race Consciousness Affects Work

BOND: I think you're ready. Let me shift gears here. How does race consciousness affect your work? Do you see yourself as a leader who advances issues of race or issues of society or are these the same thing for you or is there a distinction?

JONES: I think they're the same thing, although maybe different make ups. It's very important. You're still asked the question in the dance world, in the art world maybe, the dance world particular, what is black dance? And I used to say and I remember causing quite a kerfuffle once one morning in a program called "The Future of Black Dance," when I said I was an artist first and then black and the room exploded.

BOND: I'm sure.

JONES: They went, how dare you. Wait a minute. I'm saying that, you know, I'm thinking of Proust, hearing a collaborator read about what the great Amiri Baraka was saying about reading the modernists, James Joyce and others. Yeah, I said that Proust, I want to make dance like Proust. He wrote pages about the space between two clouds. That's what I thought, oh, isn't that what we're all here for? It's about transcendence but, no, no, no, no. You have an obligation and so I said, okay, many people think that black dance is dance about the trauma narrative of being black in America and I used to say, no, black dance is anything a person who defines themselves as black chooses to make and call it dance. That's black dance. That's where I'm at right now, quite frankly.

And I'm quite proud to be, for instance, at the Kennedy Center a few years ago, there was masters of African American dance. I didn't want to be on that program. I'd go there on my own. Suddenly, I've got to be now black African American dance. I make dance in America, but you know what now? I think it's just like I get "Fela!" I know about Fela's music that it comes in through your ears, but you hear it first in your hips and I'm proud of it. I'm proud of it.

I was just meeting with a major rapper the other day and these guys, lots of money. I won't mention his name, but everyone knows who is and he now wants to do this thing and he wants to do everything and he wants to do it all now and he has the money to do it and I keep going, whoa, whoa, whoa, slow down, what is the story. But, no, well, why would he slow down? Who was it that said, was it Toni that said we were the original post-moderns? African Americans have always taken what's there in terms of language, of style, and mash them up and then make something out of it. Unfortunately, they move on and others make the money from it, but maybe that's changed now, but look at tap dancing. What was that? African polyrhythms meets European or let's say Irish step dancing, clog dancing in America, and we make a form that changed the face of theatrical dance around the world.