Simmons Leadership Blog

Judith Jamison: "I Have a Light Inside of Me"

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Judith Jamison spent many years of her life communicating through dance. And that experience has helped her live into the leadership role she holds today as the artistic director of the Alvin Ailey dance company. She sat down with Maria Hinojosa at the Simmons Leadership Conference.

Here's a bit of the wisdom she shared: 

Hinojosa: I know the positivity hasn't been easy. What happens when you take over an institution that's $1 million dollars in debt?

Jamison: I deal with things in order.
Hinojosa: And when you only see darkness...

Jamison: I've never in my life only seen darkness. Inside of me there is light. Always.

Hinojosa: Where did that light come from?

JJ: When I was born, I felt connected to something much bigger than myself. I couldn't put it into words then.

MH: When you went to an audition...

JJ: I've had one audition in my life, which I failed. And I met Alvin Ailey on the steps outside, on my way to call my mother to say I'd failed. And he brought me back in. You have to keep going forward.

MH: You've spoken of Obama's good looks, and you were recently at the White House. Did you tell Obama he was "fine" to his face.

JJ: No. He's the President of the United States. And even though you're thinking those thoughts, you have to respect him. He's divine.

Hinojosa: Arts budgets are being cut...people say arts can be cut in the schools. How do you press through that?

Jamison: We have programs in the schools. And we'll get money from wherever we need to get that money to sustain those programs. Go to whoever you need to go to fill the gaps.

Jamison: My dancers go where there is a need. They are ambassadors. I have dancers teaching in schools today. Literally.

Hinojosa: People have said you like to please your audience.

Jamison: As Alvin said, we don't mind having a "popular company." We make difficult dances--like Revelations--look very easy. It's not easy. You don't know what you're gonna get when you come to Ailey. 

Hinojosa: You want all of us to move with ourselves. At any moment, right, to dance with ourselves?

Jamison: Yes, from inside. Receive the light you were born with. Artists get the chance to express this all the time. Artists remind you that the light is there.

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