Dance’s new hero, Michelle Obama

Michelle Obama is all right in my book. Last week the first lady of the country paid tribute to one of the first ladies of dance, Judith Jamison, in a special White House ceremony. (A full article on the event can be found here.) As a brilliant dancer, then a powerful and influential choreographer and artistic director for the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Ms. Jamison is certainly worthy of high praise. Yet how wonderful to actually be singled out and recognized by as high a post as the White House itself! As Jamison will be stepping down from her role as artistic director at Ailey in the coming year, this honor also serves as a parting homage to all that she has done.

But beyond a great tribute to a great lady, apparently last Tuesday’s celebration was also the first in a series of dance shows to be presented by Michelle and her elaborate digs. Earlier this year, the Obamas hosted a music series, with several evenings in the East Wing devoted to a variety of music styles. Now it seems the attention has turned to dance as last week’s ceremony was an inaugural event for dance, with supposedly more celebrations and performances planned for the near future.

And what a way to start! The evening included a workshop for young dancers from around the country followed by an hour-long performance from a variety of top-notch dance acts – Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Washington Ballet, Paul Taylor Dance Company, New York City Ballet, Super Cr3w, and one of the leads from the Broadway show Billy Elliot. Though Alastair Macaulay seemed to think the works focused more on skill than actual artistry in his review of the show, the selection seems like a perfectly delectable smorgasbord of dance in America to me. (Much of this can be credited to the evening’s director, Damian Woetzel, former New York City Ballet star and current member of the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities.)

Michelle Obama has really been a strong advocate for arts and arts in education since joining her husband on Pennsylvania Avenue. In the past 2 years, she has spoken many times on the topic and has promoted several artistic events, especially those that included educational opportunities for children. (See articles from 2009 and 2010.) Even though the arts continue to face a grim reality in this recession period, it warms the heart to know that someone at the top recognizes the importance of art and is fighting to at least keep it from being forgotten entirely.

Last Tuesday, a friend of mine noted that Judith Jamison was one of the top searches on Yahoo, a fact that utterly excited her. My reply was that I would be more excited if the whole tribute performance was televised and the show became one of the most-watched shows on TV for that night. She agreed but also rightly reminded me to appreciate baby steps. Indeed, baby steps and little victories. So even though dance is majorly struggling now and there is a long way to go to achieve wide-spread recognition, maybe dance is actually in a good place right now. With the help of Michelle Obama and the promise of more dancing in the White House, perhaps the future of dance is looking a little brighter. 

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  1. A Patriotic Moment for Art «

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