Interview with Darrell Jones, dancer, choreographer and Chicago Dancemakers Forum grantee.
When did you start dancing, where and why?
I started dancing in my room, listening to Madonna, spinning around, and twirling around. I also did gymnastics when I was young. Then my first year in college, I said, “I want to take a dance class”. It is something I had always wanted to do, but I didn’t really know how to go about doing it. So I took my first class, which was a social dance class, I thought I was going to do Hip-hop, but it was Fox Trot and that kind of stuff. So I went with it and I was in a class with 10 football players because I think at the time for their degree they had to take some type of dance class. So I stuck with it, I stuck with it, there was something about it I knew I really gravitated to, so I was just taking everything at once, I was taking Ballet, I was taking modern, I was taking improvisation. My undergraduate degree was in psychology and I was doing that along with the dance courses. I went to NY after that and ended up coming back to Florida to do a graduate degree in dance. SO I spend two and a half years in Florida, and for my last semester I did a semester abroad in London. And so I end up getting a job in London and end up staying there for an additional year for a dance job. Then I moved to New York, and I was in NY for about 12 years. Then I fell in love with Somebody in Chicago and I have been here in Chicago for 10 years.
Who were some of the people you trained with during that time?
When I moved to New York I actually auditioned for Min Tanaka who is a very prominent choreographer and artist in Butoh. Part of his work was that he was very interested in the dancers — most of them were Americans and then some were Japanese. But he was interested in particular in the Americans dancers going to Japan to study there so the movement forms had a context. So we went to a place called Hok Chuo probably about 15 minutes outside of Tokyo, in a farm. It was a dance farm basically, the whole idea was that we did body weather, which is a type of movement form where most of the dancing happened outside, there were stages outside so the performances were outside, the training was outside. It was a profound experience, and an intense experience. I would always say “I will never go back”, but then I am going back. But it was physically weary and there was something about that that just stayed in my body. When I came back to New York, I was working with mostly what you would call postmodern African-American choreographer, Bebe Miller is somebody that I worked with and I continue to work with. Ralph Lemon is also somebody I continue to work with. There was a company called the Urban Bush Women, I worked with them. All of these different artists in New York that were interested in pushing the edges of what contemporary dance is.
How did you hear about Chicago Dancemakers Forum and the Lab Artist Program?
When I first moved to Chicago and started working at Columbia College, two of my colleagues in the program had got the CDF program. So I heard about it that way. I applied for it. They have two rounds, so I got through the first round and then ended up getting to the second round. It was really an opportune moment, cause I was just starting to feel like I was living in Chicago. And it really was an introduction to the Chicago Dance scene.
What type of work during your residency at CDF? What was your main focus?
My focus was looking at the vogueing aesthetic and looking at the vogueing that was happening here at Chicago. Which I think was different from some of the scene in New York. New York I feel is a little more… a little glossier whereas Chicago is a little bit greedier. Part of the process was figuring out where the balls were. The balls is where a lot f the vogueing and the scene happens. There wasn’t really a consistent resource to find that information. I was going online a lot. Once I started to meet people, it was working a lot by word of mouth. Sometimes venues would come up and then sometimes they’d disappear, so sometimes it was a matter of figuring out where the venue was going to be that week. There was something very exciting about it. Sometimes they would keep on going until 4 o’clock in the morning so I was going to sleep, and then had to get my ass up to gout there and do it. There is a lot to talk about what happens within the ballroom culture. What I found myself doing and my research of it was sort of working from the outskirt first and then placing myself inside. As I started to place myself inside I actually started to realize that I was learning more on the outskirts, and so I think I continued to stay on the periphery. It felt like the most appropriate place for me to research, and stay true to that.
Who are the people you collaborated with to gain access to these ballrooms and the vogueing community?
So I was at one ball and I was doing my thing on the side and this other guy was doing his thing on the side. And we kind of did our thing on the side together. And I end up talking to him and his name was Moran Avant Garde, member of the House of Avant Garde, which is a prominent Chicago house. So Moran has really been, above anybody else, someone who has been very encouraging and helpful, in the research and inviting me into things, and vice versa, I have invited him to things within the more contemporary dance world. His background is not only in vogeuing but also in Ballet, and lyrical jazz. So we sort of connected on a movement level, and we’ve collaborated on things. He is somebody who has been very prominent. Kid was someone I worked with when I first got the CDF grant, really part of the ballroom committee, helping to extract movement with me but also again him having a background in modern and ballet. So I think I have always gravitated towards the artists, the movement artists, that have a couple of different things in their pockets in terms of movement. Because I think that is why I have been interested in, trying to figure out the sources of the forms. There is a story I always tell. When I was around 11, I was walking up the stairs and my dad was behind me. And at the time I think I was just trying on different physicalities, and I think I might have been trying on a feminine physicality, at the time my hand might have been like this, I might have been swishing my hips, I don’t know. And my dad instantly said: “ Why are you moving like that?” And I remember it, so clear. Because he wasn’t angry, he was scared. And I had never heard him being scared before. So I thought, oh, maybe I shouldn’t move like that, this is scary, this might hurt me.