Sean Aaron Carmon, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre
Where did you grow up and how did you get interested in dance? SC: I was born and raised in Beaumont, Texas and spent a large portion of my early childhood in front of the television watching every Michael Jackson video. Seriously, anything he or his music was featured in was watched by me and videotaped (remember video tapes?) by my dad for later viewing by me. He was just so...fantastic and rhythmic and spontaneous. I was hooked very early on. How did your background and your family's background affect your passion for dance? SC: My father's extensive background as an athlete (like, he both played and was proficient in EVERY sport) both hindered and accelerated my passion for dance. When my mother first put me in classes (admittedly after a bit of begging; I played basketball, baseball, football, ran track and sang in both the school and church choirs), I think my dad was disappointed. He wasn't unsupportive but my 12-year old mind didn't quite comprehend that a middle-aged black man in the south could be proud of a son who danced. I didn't give him nearly enough credit. But because I assumed he was ashamed of what I chose to do, I threw myself into dance, gradually dropping every one of my other activities and adding more and more classes at different studios. I guess I wanted to make sure he would be proud of me whenever he saw me on stage like all the girls' parents. It might not have been the best motivation, but it definitely sowed the first seeds of my passion for dance. What career would you have chosen if you could not have been a dancer? SC: Definitely something in technology. I'm the resident Genius Bar and Geek Squad for my family and at Ailey. If someone's iPhone/Mac/iPad is acting up, they call me. Company management and stage management both implemented new apps to keep the dancers informed and up-to-date; they called me first to ask my opinion and give it a test run before they released it to the rest of the company. I'm also very interested in the marketing aspect of this company and social media brand strategy. I think it's something I'd be good at. What do you know now that you wish you knew when you first started dancing professionally? SC: It may sound like common sense, but I really wish I'd have known and understood that the world didn't revolve around me. I was used to being the best and the brightest and excelling at anything I attempted. When I was in school, I was always selected for the workshops and special performances. When I danced on Broadway, the actors were blown away by my technique and how quickly I learned the shows. Somewhere along the way, I started thinking, "damn. I'm that good!" It wasn't until my first tour with the Ailey company, when I was surrounded by dancers who were far more mature in their talent and to whom I had looked up to for years, that I was completely humbled (read: knocked off my high horse). But I'm glad I was. If I hadn't been, I'd have never been able to open my mind and my heart to all that this company and the people who've come before me have to offer. Of all the roles you have performed, which role helped you grow the most as an artist? SC: Definitely Alvin Ailey's 'Pas de Duke,' not only because I was snatched into an unforgiving all white jumpsuit with white jazz shoes that showed every technical feat and flaw, but because I had to command stages around the world with only myself, my technique and my smile. It's a heavy role for both the man and the woman, full of classic Ailey movements and wit and technical bravura. It requires the utmost stamina and focus. I'm so thankful I was selected to learn and perform the role. Without it, I'd have never truly learned what Mr. Ailey meant when he said he wanted dancers with "a modern top and a ballet bottom." To be able to embody that statement, moving and undulating the spine and the arms while staying connected and grounded in the legs, on top of performing for and entertaining the audience, is something I've always admired and something I'm still learning. If a child told you they wanted to be a dancer, what advice would you give them? SC: Get over yourself. Now. Don't take anything personally. The instant it becomes personal is the moment you strip yourself of the confidence needed to make it in this profession. Also, breathe. Relax. It's just dance. How has social media changed a dancer’s status and what is required of them? SC: Social media has added an "and social media brand strategist" to every dancer's resume. Whether we know it or we don't, we are a brand representative for both ourselves and for whatever company or show we are a part of. We have to be mindful of what we post and be sure to show our true selves while maintaining the integrity of our simultaneously exciting and mundane realities. That's what audiences want to see nowadays—the behind-the-scenes aspect of a dancer's life as well as the amazing physical feats we can achieve.
Do you have one moment in your career that you remember most fondly? Or one moment that you feel really defined your career or the trajectory of it? SC: The first time I performed Mr. Ailey's 'Revelations' and the curtain went up in Oslo, Norway to reveal us standing in the famous "I've Been 'Buked" opening stance.... I knew I was exactly where I was supposed to be. I cried my way through that performance—tears of happiness and the utmost gratitude. Who would you like most to have a coffee with (could be dead or alive)? SC: Easy. Alvin Ailey, Duke Ellington, Oprah and Maya Angelou (along with my best friend Mychael Chinn). Could you imagine the conversations between these titans of the arts? I don't know that I'd even speak except to ask questions. I know every single one of their histories, their back stories and what they overcame to become who they were and are. But to imagine them sitting down with me over something as casual as coffee? I'm in heaven just thinking about it. Who were some of the people who influenced you the most in your career? SC: Christopher Huggins, a choreographer, mentor and dear friend of mine, was most assuredly my biggest influence. I started out at NYU but had friends who danced at Ailey/Fordham. They invited me to a performance where they were presenting Christopher's 'Enemy Behind the Gates'. I saw it and began the process to transfer to Ailey/Fordham the next morning, without even speaking to my parents. It changed my life. I honestly believe if I had never seen that ballet, if I had never known that black people like myself could move with such technique and grace and fervor, I would never have ended up where I am now. What do you most value in your friends? SC: Faith, honesty and a damn good sense of humor. I don't care what you believe in or what name you call God, if you call God at all, but I strongly believe that without faith in SOMETHING, one can never be complete. Honesty is probably the hardest to find when it comes to friends. I find most people can't handle honesty. Uncomfortable truths are still truths and you're no friend of mine if you can't be completely honest with me. Friends that laugh together, stay together. There's power in laughter. If someone not only gets but complements my sense of humor (dry, quick, a tad dark), we can laugh together forever. What is your idea of perfect happiness? SC: Laughing with loved ones (perhaps over a cocktail or two). Simple. If you could be an animal, what would animal would you choose and why? SC: A puppy. Probably a Samoyed. Puppies are the only things in the world that love you more than they love themselves. And let's be real—lounging around and getting treats and massive amounts of attention isn't exactly a bad life. Which person (dead or alive) would you most want to dance with if you could? SC: Dudley Williams in his prime. To be able to feed off of his energy and physical witticisms on stage? Golden. What is your greatest indulgence? SC: Birthday cake. Hands down. What are your worst fears (professionally or personally)? SC: My worst fear is that my brand new nephew, Ace, may still have to grow up in a world where he's looked at sideways just because of the color of his skin. I'm also afraid that people will discover that I usually have no idea what I'm doing. I just fake it really well. What was your biggest mishap in a performance? SC: Köln, Germany. In the very last section of Mr. Ailey's 'Night Creature' the corp dancers have our final re-entry, bursting from the wings with a jete. I went to run out and stepped on the wing after it had been knocked askew by another dancer and face planted on stage. I was so befuddled I couldn't think fast enough to recover so I just crawled offstage. Backwards. TVW, the very worst.