Judith Jamison's Positive You'll Be Uplifted By Her Autobiography Positively Judith

Posted: December 13, 1993

NEW YORK — Here is what you will not read about in Judith Jamison's new autobiography, ''Dancing Spirit":

AIDS, drugs, ego collisions, eating disorders, pillow talk and painful details of injuries.

"Well, maybe when I'm 80 years old, you will," says Jamison, now in her fourth year as artistic director of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater.

She is 50. That means readers must wait another 30 years for a sequel.

"My wonderful editor, Jackie Onassis, asked me to write a book that I wanted to write," Jamison says in the company's West Side headquarters last week, between costume-fittings and rehearsals for the season-opening gala at City Center.

"I said, 'Look, it's not going to be scandalized. I'm not going to talk about anybody like a dog. I'm going to say the positiveness of my life, and talk about those who have contributed to the way I've been going, and that's that.'

"Maybe when I'm 80 years old, I might write some book, but certainly not scandalous. And it might be about my personal life, but I think my personal life stays personal because it's my personal life. You know?"

Jamison opted for discretion over dish in "Dancing Spirit," a respectful, powerfully positive retelling of her growing-up years in Germantown and her glorious 15-year career as the centerpiece of Ailey's internationally renowned company.

The book brims with detail about Jamison's professional side, but the star of Ailey's "Revelations" withholds offstage revelations about herself, her mentors and her creative peers.

That was deliberate.

"There's a certain mystique that you need to have about me," she says, her rich alto rumbling with a secretive chuckle. "And I think that a lot of things are nobody's business, when it comes right down to it."

Only fleeting reference is made to Jamison's nine-month marriage to fellow company member Miguel Godreau (she never remarried), to a six-month liaison with a Swedish man who was habitually unfaithful to her, and to a man who helped her through "some personal problems." She touches on the Ailey company's financial difficulties, but does not say how they impacted upon her or her colleagues when the rent came due.

The silence about AIDS looms especially large, considering its impact on the dance world - and, presumably, on Jamison. She responds that "it wasn't part of the subject of the book."

"This book was about my life, and how I grew up in Philadelphia, and how, hopefully, I've made it possible for other dancers to dance . . . It's about the beautiful side of this life, and of missing people who are spiritually still with me, and will always be with me. Hence, 'Dancing Spirit.' "

Jamison has been the keeper of the Ailey flame since 1989, when she was named to succeed the company's visionary founder 18 days after his death. She had already gained administrative experience with the Jamison Project, an avant-garde-leaning troupe of 12 dancers that received good notices during its short life span, from 1988 and 1990.

Now she presides over a multiracial troupe of 31 artists, a $9 million budget, a school that 3,000 students pass through every year and a summer arts camp in Kansas City for at-risk adolescents.

"I don't feel like I'm standing in anyone's shoes," she told an interviewer not long after assuming her new role. "I'm standing on Alvin's shoulders."

Those legendary legs - she has a 36-inch inseam - are now usually hidden in jeans during her workday. Jamison moves from office to studio, from fund- raising calls to interviews, from costume fittings to meetings with a dance collaborator.

Her "long Modigliani face," as it was once evocatively described, is composed, although the season-opening gala is just days away.

"Sometimes you want to go in the closet and scream," she confesses.

Jamison herself rounded up the celebrities who would lend glitter to the gala - Maya Angelou, Denzel Washington, Jessye Norman, Al Jarreau, Dionne Warwick, Spike Lee and United Nations Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali.

She hates to sit still, and it's a good thing, because when she does, ''everything hurts. Everywhere."

"Dancers use their bodies in extraordinary ways, so we are chronically pre-arthritic, because of how we use our muscles and our bones," she says. She will not name any particular trouble spots.

"I don't dwell on them," she says, nor does she in the book. "I didn't want to give young people the impression that you're in pain constantly. You're not. However, when you stop dancing, and don't move as much as you're used to moving, let's put it that way, then whatever you've overexerted - which is all of your body - doesn't feel as good as it used to."

Jamison describes the family rowhouse on Duval Street as "built with bricks, heated with coal and filled with love." Her father, a carpenter and metalworker, gave her her first piano lessons; her 5-foot-8 mother taught her 5-foot-10 daughter to stand tall always.

"At 10, I could walk down the street and see over everybody's head," Jamison writes. "I don't remember being little or having to look up at people. I think I was born 5 feet 10. It's not that I felt especially tall. I was wondering when everybody else was going to catch up."

The family took three changes of public transportation to attend services each Sunday at Mother Bethel AME Church. Family, church, music and dance lessons gave structure to Jamison's life during her years at Germantown High School, where she belonged to the Hockey Club, the Basketball Club, the Glee Club and the Future Nurses of America. She played violin in the All- Philadelphia Junior High School Orchestra and the All-Philadelphia String Ensemble.

She was introduced to ballet and social graces by Marion Cuyjet at the Judimar School of Dance in Center City, the first school in Philadelphia where black children could study ballet. She was 6 years old when she entered the school; Cuyjet recalled that her height made her look as if she were 9.

"The people who surrounded me in my life were the type where if a door shut, they'd open another one, and they created their own agenda," Jamison says. "They're the people I admire most."

Jamison is acutely aware that many urban children don't have as fortunate a start.

"I tell young people that people aren't just going to flock to you as your mentors. You have to seek them out," she says. "It could be your next-door neighbor; it could be somebody upstairs from you, somebody down the block from you. An aunt or an uncle. Some relative. A parent. Ideally, it should be your parents and your grandparents, but if you don't see that right away, then you're not supposed to just sit there and expect them to come running to you."

After three semesters at Fisk University as a psychology major, Jamison transferred to the Philadelphia Dance Academy, now part of the University of the Arts. Ailey discovered her at an audition for a TV special in New York, the first and only time Jamison auditioned for anything.

She didn't make the cut, but three days later, a phone call from Ailey launched an association that would spur both to greatness.

The book does not reveal the extent of private sacrifices Jamison may have made for her career, which kept her on the road constantly. Writing about her unhappy love affair in Stockholm, she says that at the time - she was 24 - "I wanted to settle down and have babies."

She has no regrets that that never happened.

"Absolutely not," she says, smiling. "But I loved putting that in the book, to see who would ask me about it. And I think you're the first person.

"There's nothing to regret in life . . . I have never been one of those, 'Gee, I wish I had done-its,' 'cause I've done it. I look to the next day, and the next day, and the next."

Jamison is likewise blunt when asked about accepting financial support for the Ailey company from Philip Morris. Some non-profit groups have begun to question whether a tobacco company is a politically correct sponsor; Jamison professes only gratitude.

"Philip Morris has been supporting us for so long, we thank them very much," Jamison said. "I wish I had a brochure on Philip Morris to show you the companies that they've supported over the years. Every company you can think of - from New York City Ballet to (American) Ballet Theater, to - you name it. Joffrey. Everyone."

Jamison begins each day with a prayer of thanks for another day and a floor barre, the exercises that keep a dancer limber.

"Even if you're no longer performing, you're always a dancer," she says.

She is, and always will be, someone who loves solitude, despite all her years in the public eye.

The teen-ager who spent so much time in her room that she worried her mother has given way to a busy executive who escapes to a private island off

Antigua when her schedule permits.

For the next six or eight months, the schedule will get in the way.

"This," Jamison says wistfully, reaching for a photograph on her desk of her beloved Caribbean hideaway, "is where I'm not going this year."

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