Jacquelin Harris, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre
Where did you grow up and how did you get interested in dance? JH: I am from Charlotte, North Carolina. My mother enrolled me in dance at the age of 2. I started at a local competition studio and danced there until I went to college, 17 years later. I lost my first tooth, tied my first shoe, and earned an extended family at Dance Productions. How did your background and your family's background affect your passion for dance? JH: Growing up, my mother and father were always supportive in my sisters’ and my extra curricular activities. They came to every dance recital and every competition in which we participated, even after we were able to arrive on our own. Their support of my passion for the arts encouraged me to fully commit to dance and continue to pursue it as a career. I didn’t inherit my love of movement from my parents, being that they both work in the medical profession. However, my family understands the importance of discipline and dedication, and they instilled those values in me. Dance is both physically and mentally challenging, but growing up surrounded by ambition created a strong sense of perseverance. What career would you have chosen if you could not have been a dancer? JH: I have a love of science and numbers. Even now, I still imagine myself working in the field of engineering. Entering college, it was my goal to double major in dance and engineering of some sort. While I didn’t get to do that, I do plan on returning to school at some point to get a degree in something related to numbers. What do you know now that you wish you knew when you first started dancing professionally? JH: It’s important as a dancer to understand that a “no” is not a reflection on your talent or abilities. Choreographers or artistic directors may have a million reason for making the choices that they make. Most of the time, their decision are based on more than how much they appreciate what you have to offer. In a nut shell, continue to put yourself out there even when “they” tell you no.
Of all the roles you have performed, which role helped you grow the most as an artist? JH: Because repertoire that we perform is so diverse, each role brings something different to the table. Performing Mr. Ailey’s “Pas de Duke” challenged me as a technician as well as an artist. This dust has a perfect blend of jazz, modern, and ballet technique. It is fun and flirty, and performing it brings out all aspects of a dancer. If a child told you they wanted to be a dancer, what advice would you give them? JH: Do it. Give it everything you have. Have patience and compassion. Understand that it’s not easy but it is one hundred percent worth it. How has social media changed a dancer’s status and what is required of them? JH: I think there is something extraordinary about live art which cannot be grasped through social media. At the same time, being able to research, watch, and study dance on the internet has expanded the dance community. Social media allows dancers to promote themselves in a more accessible way. 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? JH: I remember vividly being in my first year with the Ailey company and being asked to perform the duet “Pas de Duke”. I never expected to be asked to learn this piece of choreography, let alone perform it in my first season. Standing in the wings waiting for the cue from stage management, I was a nervous wreck. I have always struggled with stage fright. At one point, I was referred to an acupuncturist to control my nerves. But being on that stage surrounded by the support of my co-workers, I realized that when envelop yourself with love, you leave no room for negative energy. I decided in that moment to abandon my fear of not being perfect and embrace the joy of dance. Who would you like most to have a coffee with (could be dead or alive)? JH: Patch Adams. After watching the movie with Robin Williams, I realized that Mr Adams is a real person with the same philosophy on medicine. Being that it is one of my favorite movies, it’s only natural that I would want to pick his brain. I truly believe that kindness can cure most things, and I would love to speak with a scientist who uses love, kindness, and humor in his medicine. These are three things of which the world could always use more. Who were some of the people who influenced you the most in your career? JH: Working with Denise Britzclarke growing up definitely helped shape me into the artist I am today. She nurtured my dancing and encouraged me to seek training beyond where I grew up. She took me to see my first concert dance performance, Charlotte Ballet in Romeo and Juliet. Denise told me I could make it in New York as a dancer if I continued to love the art. What do you most value in your friends? JH: I try to surround myself with people who have good hearts and appreciate the goodness of life. In this time, it is all too easy to want more and be unsatisfied with what you have. But, I find myself gravitating toward people who choose happiness over everything else. I also think it’s important to be grateful for the life you get to live even if it’s not the life you envisioned for yourself. What is your idea of perfect happiness? JH: Being confident in who you are and what you have to offer to this world bring happiness. Once you have that, nothing will be able to bring you down. If you could be an animal, what would animal would you choose and why? JH: I would probably faint first, but if given the opportunity I would love to work with Carmen De Lavallade. From her stage presence to her artistic ability, I could learn a lifetime’s worth of lessons from dancing next to her for three minutes. What is your greatest indulgence? JH: Chocolate. Milk Chocolate. with Almonds. What are your worst fears (professionally or personally)? JH: My deepest fear is not living up to my fullest potential. I strive to continually offer my best to the world so that I may realize all that I am meant to be. What was your biggest mishap in a performance? JH: There was an incident in which I forgot to button my costume all the way. It is not the biggest mishap to every happen, but I was embarrassed. It was a ballet which always gave me trouble, and I was so concerned about the choreography that I forgot about the costume. I came off stage after my first entrance to the wardrobe assistance asking me if I needed to be sewn into the costume. I didn’t argue. I let her believe that there was a malfunction, but I never forgot to button it again. Is there a special meal you have before performances? JH: I try to have a banana or some fruit. The natural sugar helps with the energy and you feel light and healthy while performing.
Dress courtesy Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre