The Dance Enthusiast Celebrates Black Choreographers:
"Dance is my medicine ... Dance is the fist with which I fight the sickening ignorance of prejudice. Instead of growing twisted like a gnarled tree inside myself, I am able to dance out my anger and frustration." Pearl Primus
The Dance Enthusiast Asks Jacques d’Amboise
A Hero of Dance
A classical dance treasure and world-renowned ambassador of dance education, Jacques d'Amboise, is a remarkably kind and motivating presence. Stacey Menchel Kussell had the pleasure to speak to him about his career, his work with Balanchine, his passion for dance education, and what continues to inspire his love of dance.
Stacey Menchel Kussell for The Dance Enthusiast: Looking back on your career what makes you the most proud?
JD: I never stopped trying to get better. Every time I climbed the ladder and got to the next level, I tried to figure out how I could get even further. When I was in my 50s I did retire from the stage, as injuries and age started to limit me, but I left on a high note. I retired before I started to slip so that the memories of my best performances stayed with my audience.
Jacques d'Amboise in Balanchine's Apollo. Photo Courtesy of NDI.
TDE: Did you have any favorite roles or performance experiences?
JD: I think the role of Apollo was particularly important for me. Every male dancer wants to dance this role. It’s the story of a wild, untamed youth learning about nobility. I connected to it personally, being a street kid taught about the world through the refined art of ballet. I had George Balanchine teach it to me, which was such an honor, and I danced it exclusively for so many performances. It was a great challenge and a great joy.
Jacques d'Amboise in Balanchine's Apollo. Photograph by Carolyn George, courtesty of NDI.
TDE: You have accomplished a great deal with the National Dance Institute, what inspired its creation?
JD: I actually never liked the term education, I prefer learning. Education is something that implies a finite end, but learning is ongoing. It’s something that never stops. I always felt that to be truly learned, a person needed a strong grounding in the arts – music, dance, poetry, playwriting – it’s how humans express their emotions. I felt it was essential to have these arts accessible to young people, and to be put on the same level as learning math. That is why I created the National Dance Institute in 1976. We started with the schools in New York City, and over the years we’ve expanded around the world reaching over two million children.
Jacques d'Amboise on the roof of PS59. Photograph by John Dominis / Carolyn George, courtesy of NDI.
TDE: What advice do you have for young dancers? How do you think the field has changed?
JD: What is dance really, it is an invention for human beings to express their emotions in time and space. It’s a celebration of life, it always has been, and that is not changing. Nowadays, kids have even more access to media so they can see more dance. I remember when Michael Jackson was on television in the 1980s and how many young people, especially boys, were inspired to dance because of what they saw. Now, young people can see even more, old Fred Astaire videos, footage of Nureyev, there is even more to inspire them and I hope that it does.
Jacques d'Amboise works with students at the NDI Center for Learning & the Arts in Harlem. Photo courtesy of NDI.