Picture this: 15-year-old, African American teenager living in Fort Lauderdale with my single mother, sister and, on occasion, my brothers. Having the fortunate experience of witnessing my girlfriend dance. She was rehearsing a solo that she would be performing to audition for a position in the Dillard School of the Performing Arts. Now, not knowing anything about dance I said to her after she finished dancing, “That was really nice.” She then asked if I had any suggestions I then said (with great hubris), “Well, you know when that high note in the music came maybe you should have kicked instead of going to the floor.” This was my first choreographic act. Soon after this episode I applied for Dillard School of the Performing Arts myself, after some persuasion from my girlfriend and my guidance counselor. I got in and took ballet, Graham technique and jazz, as well as the other mandatory courses. Every class was a new and exciting challenge. I felt a new found energy and possibility with every new step. At the top was ballet. I was really drawn to the rigor, discipline and the dedication to constant improvement. Needless to say, the ballet stuck.
I worked really hard for the next two years in high school. I also took extra classes from Brenda Gooden, a former Pittsburgh Ballet dancer who was the head of the dance program at Pine Crest, a private school in the area. After graduating from high school, I auditioned for and joined the Fort Lauderdale Ballet in their 1984/85 season. I was quickly thrown into pieces, and I had to learn quickly to catch up to the level of the other two male dancers in the company. It felt a bit like trial by fire and fortunately my innate ability to kinesthetically incorporate choreography, technique, and corrections helped me progress quickly and solidify my position in the company. It was an unpaid position, but I got free classes and worked in the office for a very small fee. The spring of 1985 I auditioned for many summer programs at professional companies and landed at the Milwaukee Ballet summer program with a full scholarship. This was an exciting time with lots of firsts - first time away from home, living alone, flying on a plane, and most importantly a time of, finding and bringing into being my identity as an artist, performer, and gay man.
At the end of the Milwaukee Ballet summer program, I was asked to stay for the following year as a trainee. Then a few months later I was asked to join the company as an apprentice--making me the first African American dancer in the Milwaukee ballet. In 1987 I was asked to join the newly formed Pennsylvania-Milwaukee Ballet, a joint venture that lasted two seasons. Upon its ending in 1989 I joined the Pennsylvania Ballet where I remained for the bulk of my performing career. I was promoted to soloist in 1999 and retired from the company in 2006. I continued to dance for two more years with Ballet X before truly leaving the stage in 2008.
During those 17 years with Pennsylvania Ballet I was privileged also to perform with Dance Theatre of Harlem in the summer of 1997 as a demi-soloist, and with Complexions Contemporary Ballet as a guest artist from 2001 to 2002. My proudest moment performing as a guest artist was in “The River” by Alvin Ailey with the Alvin Ailey Dance Theater in a gala performance in Honor of Masazumi Chaya. Having seen the Ailey company for years and knowing the pride, honor, and prestige they bring to the African American experience in the United States and around the world, I felt truly blessed to have performed just once on the same stage with this company.
I have had the pleasure of performing works by choreographers George Balanchine, Alvin Ailey, Mary Anthony, Paul Taylor, Lar Lubovitch, José Limón, John Butler, John Cranko, and William Forsythe. I have also originated roles with and for Jean Grand-Maître, Robert Weiss, Jorma Elo, David Parsons, Trey McIntyre, Kevin O’Day, Adam Hougland and Matthew Neenan. These choreographers and their work have influenced me as a performer, creator and educator. I was fully invested in the process of creating and sometimes re-creating works and also encouraged to be an engaged and a thoughtful movement collaborator.
The evolution into choreography seemed a natural transition and it afforded me opportunities to continue in the field of dance. Upon retiring from the Pennsylvania Ballet in 2006, I realized the I needed to find my voice outside of the classical ballet world in which I had spent all of my career. To that end I spent two years as part of the Susan Hess Modern Dance Studio’s, “Choreographer’s Project”. Here, we took part in workshops, peer-to-peer critique and collaboration, open studio showings and choreographic discussions/conversations with leaders in the field, such as Simon Dove. I was also paired with personal mentor Ralph Lemon for guidance.
With some new skills and strategies learned, I hung out my shingle as a choreographer and to varying degrees I have been successful. I have created commissioned works for Ballet X, Brandywine Ballet, Delaware Ballet, Hubbard Street 2, Incoln Ballet (Ballet Clássico Nacional de Colombia), Pennsylvania Ballet and Phrenic New Ballet. I have made and continue to make works for higher learning institutions such as American University, Bryn Mawr College, Drexel University, Goucher College, Peabody Institute of the Johns Hopkins University, Swarthmore College, Temple University, and The University of the Arts. My work has been performed throughout North and South America and Europe, as a part of the Miami International Ballet Festival, the International Ballet Festival of Ecuador, the First and Second International Ballet Festival of Calí, (Colombia) and as a part of Incoln Ballet’s tour to Madrid, Spain.
Having worked for many different companies and institutions and seeing how some of these organizations ran. I started to wonder how I might do it differently and what it might be like to run my own organization. Running a company was an idea that was always in the back of my mind. It became a serious possibility during the “New Edge” Residency that I was awarded in 2008 by the Community Education Center of Philadelphia (a wonderful time to start a company just before the great recession).
During this residency I realized just how much I enjoyed bringing people together to work on a common goal. So, at the end of that collaborative process I started Carbon Dance Theatre. In a short amount of time Carbon Dance Theatre had taken flight, garnering critical acclaim. The company was presented in New York, NY; Baltimore, MD; and Pittsburgh, PA and was a resident company at Drexel University.
For the next five years from 2009 -2013 everything I did was in service to the company. I learned quite a bit about myself and building an organization from the ground up. Welcome lessons in planning, listening, compromise, resilience, humility, and purpose helped me vision and shape an organization I was very proud of. These lessons were at times clear, easy, and affective while at other times disappointing, hard-fought and discouraging. As you may imagine this became increasingly depleting and I found myself longing a change.
After some deep soul searching and lots of discussions with colleagues and loved ones, I decided to shutter Carbon Dance Theatre in 2014. I realized I desired more time to concentrate on artistic projects and teaching in higher education and less on managing Carbon Dance Theatre. Since then I have taught and created work for American University, Bryn Mawr College, Gaucher College, Muhlenberg College and Swarthmore College. I have also lead master classes in Chicago for Hubbard Street 2, in Washington D.C. for American University, and in Baltimore for Gaucher College. I am currently an adjunct professor at Drexel University and Master Lecturer at University of the Arts and truly grateful for the students and colleagues that I encounter and work with every day at these institutions.
I feel real gratitude to still be in the field and discipline that I love. There have been lots of challenges, but I have had my fair share of awards and honors. In the past I have been awarded grants and fellowships from the PA Council on the Arts Fellowship Grant for Choreography in 1995 & 2002, the Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation Artist as Catalyst Grant in 2001, the Independence Foundation Fellowship in the Arts in 2002, a Pew Fellowship in the Arts Finalist in 2003, a Dance Advance Grantee in 2010, and The Joyce Theater Foundation’s The A.W.A.R.D. Show! Philadelphia 2011 winner.
When I look back on where I started as a young kid in this field, we call DANCE. I didn’t know anything, I trusted that it was where I was supposed to be. I left home, found myself, traveled to foreign countries, danced for major companies, performed with amazing artists, started and closed my own company, created works that I am truly proud of, made great friends, married an amazing man, and taught some incredible students. Through DANCE I achieved things I didn’t imagine possible in 1985, that movement is a constant in my life and gives me life.