Judith Jamison Was My Secret Mommy from Outer Space
by Angelique Palmer
In 1988 I was convinced I was adopted, left on this planet by beautiful alien ballerinas. I was considerably thin, spent a great deal of time staring into the mirrored wall in my mother’s dining room and plucking about on my tippy-toes. I deduced my Mothership was a stage because with only a little training my body spoke dancer.
That year or maybe the year after there was a television special that changed my life. Television Specials pre-dated a time when everyone had cable; it was effectively the opposite of episodic television like say The Cosby Show. Though I may not remember the exact year or date I remember Bill Cosby Salutes Alvin Ailey especially because it introduced me to her.
I saw footage of her dancing Cry. This beautiful white gown played off her incredible marble-black skin. She wielded this amazing idea of a costume, like a pen and wrote this dance into a story. She wrote the choreography into the most gripping allusion of love and loss, into a tangible being. SHE DANCED IT TO LIFE! I wanted her to be my new mommy. Thus began an unspoken pact with myself to use the life of Judith Jamison as a secret talisman. To, in tough times and blank introspection, ask myself: What Would Judith Jamison Do?
Judith Jamison was the first person I did research on that I wasn’t assigned to in a class. The Philadelphia-born woman was made renaissance child by a father who gave her piano and violin lessons. Okay, my home was somewhat arty—no child concocts an elaborate story of being left by ballerina aliens without that sort of outlet at home. It was the first parallel I drew to her.
I tried to continue being a dancer at Florida State University, and I KEPT finding myself in writing classes. Jamison had a false start of her own, going to Fisk to study psychology before returning to Philly to hone her knowledge of dance. Spotted at a master class in the Philadelphia Dance Academy, she got a spot with American Ballet Theatre, bringing her to New York. When one thing, namely her stint with ABT, ended, another got its less than elegant start. Apparently she botched an audition with uncharacteristic gracelessness. The story goes, she ran out, in tears, and past a friend of the choreographer. This is how Alvin Ailey found her, later asking her to become part of his dance theater and solidifying an artistic relationship that would last several decades. I began to walk in my gift as a writer—specifically through slam and performance poetry, quite accidentally happening upon Will Da Real One in an empty Literary Café & Poetry Lounge in Miami one Wednesday Afternoon. As her career as a dancer ended she wanted to preserve the place that had made her into a performer—becoming Artistic Director of AADT. When my career as a news producer ended, I wanted very much to help new voices enter performance poetry. I am thankful Silent Treatment Entertainment lets me do that once a week.
If ever I need to ask “what would Judith Jamison do,” I know I am going the right direction. I say to myself, she would jump at Broadway, touring companies, choreography, the front office. She would do it with zeal, because she did. Now in her 70th year, she is Director Emeritus of the Alvin Ailey Dance Theater. She has done the best to preserve the opportunities she was afforded. She has danced an entire life, one I am still learning the steps to. She taught me technique, craft and improvisation is everything. I hope I am like her when I grow up.
Angelique Palmer is a Performance Poet and Educator from New Orleans now living in North Virginia. A former television news producer, she is the host of Silent Treatment Entertainment’s weekly open mic, “Spirits and Lyrics” in Manassas and is the curator of The Lock’d & Loaded Cash Slam. She's all about pancakes, Ska music, and answers to Artsy, Nerdy, and Ang. Find her on Twitter or Facebook.
Editor's Note: Thanks to guest blogger Angelique Palmer for choosing one of my favorite women on the planet and a huge inspiration to me - without even knowing! (This is why we're friends!) And thanks to her for kicking off the 2013 Women You Should Know series! I'm super excited to have guest bloggers for the series the whole month of March! Coming up later in Women's History Month: Caroline Rothstein, Nikki Skies, and Ruthanna Barnet!