TheGrio’s 100: Bill T. Jones, activism through movement

TheGrio's 100 - Some choose to protest with marches and picket signs. Bill T. Jones chose dance...

A revolution can occur in many ways. Some choose to protest with marches and picket signs. Bill T. Jones chose dance.

The acclaimed dancer and choreographer has informed audiences on race, politics and sexuality in modern dance productions around the world for over thirty years.

Born in Florida, Jones has said that growing up during the 60s and 70s, many of leading voices in the social movements of the time were artists who expressed their beliefs through their work. Jones started his dance career as a theatre major at the State University of New York at Binghamton, where he trained under famed dance instructor Percival Borde.

Shortly thereafter, Jones would meet up with his dance and life partner Arnie Zane, creating provocative choreography that showed subjects like homosexuality and racism, which were revolutionary at the time. In 1982, the two dancers would take their innovative choreography to new heights with the founding of Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane and Company. Although Zane died from AIDS in 1988, Jones not only carried on the company’s torch, by expanding his work into the field of opera, musical theater and television with the Alvin Ailey Company and PBS, but also became one of the world’s most respected choreographers. Many of his dance interpretations have stood out over for the years for testing the boundaries of modern dance.

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Recently, he choreographed two new productions that are being performed simultaneously. They showcase the lives of two historical figures through dance interpretation – President Abraham Lincoln and Nigerian Afrobeat hero Fela Anikulapo Kuti. While the subjects are from different time periods, races and continents, Jones saw something about both figures who left behind legacies that inform society today.

Jones is a truth-seeker through motion, and he will inspire future generations to see the revolution through his steps.

In an NPR interview, Jones said, “If you look at the emotionality of my work, it is – even against my will, it often turns to be about issues, identity and those things. I’m an expressionist in my heart, a poet.”