Why I Dance: Jacquelin Harris
Photo by Clark Scott, Courtesy AAADT.
Regal and elegant, Ailey’s Jacquelin Harris moves easily through the company’s challenging repertoire. Growing up in Charlotte, North Carolina, she trained at Dance Production Studios. While earning her BFA in the Ailey/Fordham program, Harris joined Ailey II, where she quickly caught the eye of critics in pieces like Katarzyna Skarpetowska’s Cuore Sott’olio, which cast her in a leading role. She joined the main company this past summer, and will dance her first New York season in December.
The question of why I dance is one of the hardest to answer. For me, movement is something that has always come naturally. I’ve seen videos of my very first dance recital at the ripe age of 2 1/2. I was one of four little girls on an enormous stage, bedazzling in blue rhinestones as I sang “I’m a Little Teapot.” While I was supposed to be showing the audience my “handle and spout,” I galloped around and waved to my family. Even through adolescence I danced as big and vibrantly as possible. In my eyes, dance is about taking your body as far as it can go. It’s moving past physical limitation. It’s using your mind to venture physically into unmarked territory.
I always knew that dance was my gift. My mother enrolled me in dance classes, and from that moment, dance became one of the most important parts of my life. I lost my first tooth, tied my first shoe and made some of my closest friends at my studio in Charlotte, North Carolina. My love and respect for dance grew and matured as I did.
As I entered high school, I started to discover different styles of dance. Around 10th grade, I saw North Carolina Dance Theatre perform a contemporary version of Romeo and Juliet. I was mesmerized by the artists’ grace and delicacy. I decided I needed to enlarge my movement
Once I entered the Ailey/Fordham BFA program, I found what I was looking for—I was challenged by teachers and choreographers to explore unfamiliar worlds. I found that the human body was capable of many different textures and qualities, many of which are inspired by ideas. Thinking of marshmallows or taffy, for instance, can translate into a gooey and deliciously dynamic way of moving. Dance challenges you to become something else while still being yourself.
Every time you dance is a chance to learn more about yourself. To dance onstage is a vulnerable act. The way you choose to move your body tells the audience about you as a person, not just a performer. I dance to release my soul and express myself in a way more sensitive than words. To watch me dance is to watch my heart speak in its most vulnerable form.
Back in 2011 when Joe Lanteri first approached Katie Langan, chair of Marymount Manhattan College's dance department, about getting involved with New York City Dance Alliance, she was skeptical about the convention/competition world.
"But I was pleasantly surprised by the enormity of talent that was there," she says. "His goal was to start scholarship opportunities, and I said okay, I'm in."
Today, it's fair to say that Lanteri has far surpassed his goal of creating scholarship opportunities. But NYCDA has done so much more, bridging the gap between the convention world and the professional world by forging a wealth of partnerships with dance institutions from Marymount to The Ailey School to Complexions Contemporary Ballet and many more. There's a reason these companies and schools—some of whom otherwise may not see themselves as aligned with the convention/competition world—keep deepening their relationships with NYCDA.
Now, college scholarships are just one of many ways NYCDA has gone beyond the typical weekend-long convention experience and created life-changing opportunities for students. We rounded up some of the most notable ones:
We knew that Ivo van Hove and Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker's production of West Side Story would challenge our preconceived notions about the show.
But a recent Vogue story gives us a taste of just how nontraditional the Broadway revival will be. Most notably, van Hove is cutting "I Feel Pretty" and the "Somewhere" ballet, condensing the show into one act to better reflect the urgency of the 48-hour plot. (The choice has been approved by the West Side Story estate, including Sondheim, who has "long been uncomfortable" with some of the "I Feel Pretty" lyrics.)
"The show must go on" may be a platitude we use to get through everything from costume malfunctions to stormy moods. But when it came to overcoming a literal hurricane, Houston Ballet was buoyed by this mantra to go from devastated to dancing in a matter of weeks—with the help of Harlequin Floors, Houston Ballet's longstanding partner who sprang into action to build new floors in record time.