Michigan’s Only Member of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater

Megan Jakel is an Eminem of dance—she’s one of only two White Alvin Ailey dancers and she’s from metro Detroit

he incomparable Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater performed at the Detroit Opera House earlier this month. Due to popular demand, dates for next year’s Detroit performances have already been confirmed: March 9-April 12, 2012.

B.L.A.C. had a chance to talk with the company’s only Michigan native, 26-year-old Megan Jakel.

How long have you been dancing? Where did you train in Michigan?
I grew up in Waterford. My mother enrolled me in dance class when I was 3. I fell in love with it. When I started getting more serious about dance, I started training at Terri Newman Dance Shoppe.

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How and when did you become a part of the Alvin Ailey company?
After high school, I moved to San Diego to go to a dance company. After a year I realized I wasn’t as interested in ballet and I wanted something more contemporary. I moved to New York and enrolled in the Ailey Fordham Program and graduated in 2007. They invited me to join the junior company, Ailey II, in 2007, and in 2009 they asked me to join the first company.

As the legendary Judith Jamison leaves, tell me what was it like to have a chance to work with her?
She revived one of her old dances, The Forgotten Child, which I had a feature solo in. So I got to work one-on-one with her. She is so incredible. She has a presence that livens up a room when she walks in. It’s really been an honor to get to work with her.

Do you find yourself having to challenge your inner sister to give the right spirit to the choreography?
Dance is a form of imitation. You look and say, “What are they doing and how can I mimic that.” Ms. Jamison encourages us to take liberties and add your own [flavor] to make it more authentic.

Ailey is considered an African-American dance troupe. Has being a part of Ailey changed your view of race relations?
I wouldn’t say it changed it, but it has enriched my understanding. I was raised to never see color. When they asked me to do this interview I was thinking what I would say and someone said to me, “You know Alvin Ailey would say that the only colors you should keep separate are in your laundry.” I think it’s important for everyone at some point in their life to be a minority.

Do you feel the diversity is more enriching because it’s more than Black-White?
Absolutely. There are people from all over the U.S., Canada, French Guiana, and all over the place.

How has Detroit influenced your dance career?
I remember my first ballet-it was the Detroit Opera House. It was Swan Lake, and the ballerina was Paloma Herrara. I have loved her every since. My mother actually had to drag me down to that ballet, but that memory is very strong for me. It encouraged me to keep dancing.

What was it like to return to Detroit to perform, at the Opera House in particular, as a member of this iconic, globally renowned company?
It was wonderful to return to Detroit and perform at the Opera House. It was a very busy week, but it was so nice to have my family supporting my performances.

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