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By Jeffrey Page
Choreograph for a mega-superstar? Check. Take on Broadway? Check. Bring down the house on a nationally televised dance show? No problem—if you’re dancer/choreographer Jeffrey Page. Nigel Lythgoe called Page’s West African number for the fifth season of So You Think You Can Dance “one of the toughest we’ve ever had.” Page’s vibrant, energetic dancing was showcased nightly in Fela! on Broadway. Page choreographed Beyoncé’s 2007 world tour, the finale of the 2005 Billboard Music Awards and other award shows. He garnered an Emmy nomination in 2005 for his NAACP Image Award choreography.
Page attended a performing arts high school in his hometown of Indianapolis. After graduating from the University of the Arts in Philadelphia, he taught at The Ailey School and Cirque du Soleil. A dedication to authentic African dance has led him on frequent journeys to West Africa, and he gives master classes at dance centers like Debbie Allen Dance Academy and Lula Washington Dance Theatre. Currently he’s choreographing the video for Beyoncé’s single “Girls Rule the World,” slated to be released in July.
At Aunt Pat’s house in 1983, Michael Jackson is texturing the airwaves and I’m in the living room showing off my best Funky Chicken, Robot, headstand, the show-stopping backspin—and, for the cherry on top, the James Brown Get-Down-to-Get-Up that I saw earlier in the week on Video Soul. I was unstoppable!
Often I was called into battle from my next-door neighbors, the Jordans, by the alluring smell of food and loud music. There, I would find myself in a utopia where I out-danced all who dared accept my challenge. I felt alive, and through dance I had the audacity to think big, welcoming opposition as an exciting dance battle.
As a third-grader at Saint Joan of Arc, I enjoyed watching the older kids battle each other in line dances to beat-boxin’, hand-clappin’, and foot stompin’ during recess. Radios weren’t allowed at our school, so the students created their own rhythm. I considered them to be master groove scientists of some sort. I was in awe of their style and swagger in everything from creating silly chants at lunch to making a school pep rally vibrant with rhythm and song.
Once, I was asked to dance in the school talent show by a beat boxin’, foot stompin’ virtuoso seventh-grader. I was beyond excited; I, a third-grader, was beckoned to dance with the seventh-graders in front of the whole school. It was serious business. Rehearsals, held on the playground during recess, began promptly at 11:00 a.m. It was a team effort. I was empowered when fellow dancers encouraged me to contribute dance steps. I felt I was a part of something larger than myself.
While many categorized me as a problem child who was failing miserably in school, dance offered me a refuge. It gave me a reason to keep my head held high. We worked hard to bring something to life that would impress our family and friends. We stuck our chests out with pride. In the school gym adorned with ribbons and balloons, among teachers, parents, and the entire student body, we performed our masterpiece. Sixth-grade singing phenom Janita Hale won, and although we were crushed by our loss, the feeling of it all left me wanting more.
Today, during the rehearsal process of being in the studio and developing new work, I find myself engaged in very interesting dialogue with…myself. It’s reminiscent of the “conversing with God” concept. The process of being a “dancemaker” is my sanctuary, not only my profession. It’s thrilling to transform an intangible idea into something that is intriguing and beautiful; it offers immediate gratification.
I am captivated by the groove of a simple handclap or foot-stomp in a schoolyard. We are all drawn to beauty and revere the magnificent textures that it fosters. This supreme beauty transcends time, space, cultures, and class; it forces us to pause and evolve into something better. Through the manifestation of dance, I feel like I can change the world.
Photo by Rich Schaub, Courtesy Helio Public Relations