Judith Anna Jamison, an icon of American dance and the artistic director of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater (AAADT) for 22 years, will receive an Honorary Degree of Human Letters from Towson University on Jan. 8 during commencement.

“I’ve had extraordinary peaks, and you know how blessed you are when you can look back on a dance career and a directorship,” Jamison told the AFRO in a phone interview.

The honorary degree is the latest in a string of awards from higher education that includes honorary degrees from Harvard, Northwestern and Princeton universities for the performer who was the principal dancer for the legendary dance group.

“I was born a dancer, God gave me that gift and that means I have to pass along the knowledge I have and what I’ve received from others,” said Jamison, who stresses that like those who came before her, younger generations have “a responsibility to pass on excellence.”

Standing just two inches shy of six feet, Jamison, a native of Philadelphia, has captivated millions in her prosperous career with the graceful sway of her limbs and undeniable beauty.

Dancing before she was barely in grade school, Jamison studied gymnastics, tap, piano, and violin in her younger years, foreshadowing how, in later years, she would master and utilize several different art forms and techniques to make an undeniable mark on this world. After earning an undergraduate degree in psychology at Fisk University, Jamison left Tennessee to pursue her dreams of professional dance at Philadelphia Dance Academy, where she did in depth studies on human body language, movement, and interaction. Shortly after accepting an invitation in 1964 to dance in New York City with the American Ballet theatre (ABT), one of the most prestigious ballet companies in the nation, Jamison was asked in 1965 to join AAABT by Alvin Ailey. She became artistic director in 1989 after Ailey’s death.

In her professional dance career spanning more than four decades, Jamison has broken down barriers and performed internationally with companies such as the Swedish Royal Ballet and the Vienna State Opera.

Famous for her execution of pieces such as “Cry,” a 16-minute solo choreographed by Alvin Ailey in 1971to honor his mother’s birthday, and “Revelations,” the AAADT’s revered homage to African American spirituality in the Deep South, Jamison no longer performs for audiences, but has only gained speed as she serves as a mentor for future choreographers and dancers.

“You might hit a valley, but the next step will be even higher and you will learn from it,” said Jamison, when asked about her key advice to creating longevity in any art form. “You’re here to find out your purpose and share it.”


Alexis Taylor

AFRO Staff Writer