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Jacqueline Green on the Power of Dance, Braids, and Diversity

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It was late in the morning on Juneteenth when a warm and pleasant voice picked up my call two rings in. It was that of Jaqueline Green, one of the greatest dancers of our time.

Jaqueline Green has been described as a goddess on the dance floor and a rising star by many, but, surprisingly, her dance career was somewhat accidental.

Growing up, Jaqueline enjoyed dancing, but she never took dancing classes. She was an introvert and dancing in front of a crowd seemed like a nightmare. When she reached high school age, fate stepped in, in the form of her mother.

Jaqueline’s mother was searching for a great high school to send her to and came across Baltimore School of the Arts, which ranked second in the state academically. The problem was, Jaqueline would have to audition in some field of the arts.  When Jaqueline complained that she doesn’t have any artistic skills to audition for, her mother replied, “But you’re flexible, you can go in there for dance.”

At the age of 13, Jaqueline went to the Baltimore School for the Arts to audition. That event marked her first audition and her first ballet class.

She continued her dance education at the Ailey/Fordham University BFA program and graduated in 2011.

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by Andrew Eccles

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That same year, she Jaqueline joined The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater.

Now, Jaqueline is one of the most recognized and accomplished dancers at Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and travels the country performing in powerful productions.

Here is the rest of my conversation with Jaqueline Green.

[This interview has been edited for clarity and condensed.] So how are you coping with all the lockdowns and your work being interrupted?

JG: In the beginning, it didn’t seem like too much of an issue. When corona hit, I was on tour with Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater on a 20 city tour. We were in Dallas. They told us the rest of our shows were cancelled and we had to return to New York. It was a big surprise, I’ve never had a tour cancelled except for one city being cancelled back when Freddie Gray was killed in Baltimore, which is also where I’m from.

At first it felt like a vacation for my body because we travel and perform every night when we’re on tour, so I thought this is great, I can heal, rest, and reciprocate. In the beginning, nobody really knew how long it would last.

As time went on, things got really slow and I kinda got a little depressed. I wasn’t working on my passion and purpose and performing and expressing myself through that. My job requires me to be in a theater amongst a lot of people, so I just didn’t know what to do. I went out to walk my dog a lot, played puzzles, exercised.

I did Zoom classes which I hated in the beginning. You’re not getting notes on your performance as you would get in person. I am someone who doesn’t like being too attached to electronics, I want to be face to face with someone and have a human connection with them. Now, you need to have technology to have human connection. I thought at first I couldn’t do it, but I had to get over it.

Meditating has helped to center me. It’s been different for every person and I had to recognized whatever I feel like I need to do, I need to do to center myself. And that took a while to figure out.

RELATED: 3 Black Women Authors Whose Works Need to be on Your Shelf Where does your love for dance come from?

JG: Expressing myself. Dance allowed me to express myself and my feelings since I was an introvert and I didn’t speak too much, I could speak through my body.

The more I do it, it’s really about expressing yourself. Some people don’t learn from just reading something or seeing something, they have to feel things, and sometimes if they see art, it changes their perspective on something. That’s why I think art is so important.

I’ve been in theaters where I’ve gotten letters from people saying my child was one of the kids at Sandy Hook and coming to this performance has given me two hours of breath of fresh air so I’m not stuck in this dark place thinking about what my life is. And receiving things like that is affirmation that you’re doing what you’re supposed to do, walking in your purpose. It’s a love journey with this thing called dance.

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by Jerry Metellus What is it like working with other talented Black dancers in your company?

JG: Oh, it’s amazing. It’s so amazing. It’s funny that you can be from so many different places but you grew up similarly or had similar experiences. You share culture?

JG: Yeah, you share culture of being Black in America or being Black in the world and bringing that into the dance studio…Mr Ailey created the company back in the 1960s but I can relate to some of those dancers and some of those stories because of my experiences and that was like another time.

When I started dance, it was in ballet and a lot of my teachers wanted me to go into a ballet company. I was pretty talented so I got accepted into some prestigious ballet summer programs where I was the only Black person or one of two Black people, so I got a little appetizer of what life would really be like if I took ballet as a profession and I really didn’t like it. I didn’t want that for the rest of my life. I wanted diversity, I wanted not to be looked at and represent my entire race because I was the only Black person that you know.

And when I came into Alvin, it was Black people for sure, but Black people from so many different places. We had a girl that was Jamaican-Canadian, we had people from Japan, Afro Latinas. people from the South, people from the North, so many different types of Black people. And learning my experience was not the only story out there. What was it like performing on Black Girls Rock with Yolanda Adams singing “Cry”?

JG: That was so amazing! For me to be performing to “Cry”, a dance Alvin Ailey dedicated to Black women everywhere, with Yolanda Adams singing, whom I grew up listening to, at Black Girls Rock which was televised and my mom can watch me, it was incredible. It was a surreal experience to get picked to do that. You once spoke of the importance of dance for you especially in troubled times as an emotional release. Do you think this is something the Black community can benefit from as a whole?

JG: Yes, definitely. Dance can be therapeutic. It has similar powers to meditation.  It has the ability to heal when you let your body communicate through dance. It’s something I rely on, it’s my passion, and I think a lot of people can befit from that.

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by Jerry Metellus You’re known for your braids. Is that part of an effort to put an emphasis on representation?

JG: I’ll be honest, at first it wasn’t about representation. I was using braids as a protective style because we travel a lot and perform a lot. And as I started hearing stories of how some Black girls were being told they couldn’t wear braids when performing, I wanted to give them something to look at and say, yes, you can. If I can wear my hair in braids and travel the country dancing, they can too. It then became a matter of representation. I love my braids.