Where Dancers Extend Their Reach
Thursday, July 10, 2008
For more than 50 years, hundreds of young dancers made their way to the Jones-Haywood School of Dance at Georgia Avenue and Delafield Place NW for the opportunity to be molded and trained under the discerning eyes of Doris Jones.
After Jones's death two years ago, former and current students wondered about the fate of a place many considered a second home.
When a funeral home offered to buy the property from Jones's estate, the school's creative director, Sandra Fortune-Green, looked inward and relied on the discipline instilled by her mentors to preserve a school cherished by generations of black dancers.
"This is the school that I grew up in," said Fortune-Green, 57, who purchased the property last year with her husband, Joseph. "My whole career came right out of this school."
In August, the school, founded by Jones and Claire Haywood in 1941, will be marked by a plaque as a destination along the African American Heritage Trail by Cultural Tourism DC. Parents and alumni are more than delighted that one of their own kept the doors open.
"There was no greater candidate to continue the tradition than Sandra," said Peter M. Newman Sr., 56, a former student whose daughter Malaika, 15, attends the school.
The school's tradition has produced performers such as Kennedy Center honoree Chita Rivera, three-time Tony Award winner Hinton Battle, choreographer Louis Johnson and Renee Robinson, who joined the Alvin Ailey Dance Theater in 1981 and remains the longest-tenured female dancer in the company's history.
"The history of Jones-Haywood is actually richer than this new generation even knows," said Patricia Peerzada, 54, who, like her daughter Aidaa, 17, began attending the school when she was 4. "A lot of African American legacies don't get to continue because there's no one trained to continue."
While retaining the lofty expectations of the past, Fortune-Green has moved the school forward by creating an upper division that held its first performance June 29 at American University's Harold and Sylvia Greenberg Theatre.
Twenty-four students performed several original pieces choreographed by Assane Konte, artistic director of Kankouran West African Dance Company; Stephanie Powell, founder of Baltimore Dance Tech; and members of the Jones-Haywood faculty.
Jones's "Bach Vibrations," a choreographed tap dance piece set to the music of the classical composer, was restaged by Keith Lee, founder of the Dance Theatre of Lynchburg, and performed by students from both companies.
"It's all about these young people," Fortune-Green said. "When they come out onstage, I know that my work is worthwhile."