During a time when Blacks were shut out from many of the District’s dance schools, the Jones- Haywood Dance School (JHDS) was created to teach high-quality dance training and arts education to students of all races and economic backgrounds. Today, the school continues to carry that same regime as it celebrates its 70th year.

Founded in 1941, the institution was originally known as the Jones-Haywood School of Ballet. The school’s founders, Doris Jones and Claire Haywood, believed all children could benefit from classical ballet training and opened the school for minorities when no other institution of its kind existed. “ here was kind of like a rite of passage for African-American children at the time,” Sandra Fortune-Green, the school’s artistic director told the AFRO during a recent interview.

Prior to taking over the helm in 2006, Fortune-Green first enrolled in the school as a student when she was 11. Though she described herself as an “out of control” child upon entering classes, she was forced to leave unruly characteristics at the door due to the school’s rigorous discipline requirements. “I came here and it was a rude awakening for me because I had to change my entire persona,” she said. “ I liked the change because I kind of liked the challenge. I either had to succumb to the challenge and be complimented for conquering it or I couldn’t stay.”
She would later instill that same doctrine in future students. “I try to teach them a sense of standard, moral values, character building and leadership,” Fortune-Green said. “We use the art of dance to bring a focus to those kinds of qualities and characteristics.”

Today, the school continues its longstanding tradition of commitment and service to local children. In addition to offering classical ballet and contemporary dance training, it also offers various choreographic and performance opportunities. A bevy of students who were first trained at JHDS have advanced to professional careers in dance.

While a handful of Black professional ballet dancers have gone on to attain successful careers, Fortune-Green believes a void still remains in the hiring of Black instructors. “There are dancers but I believe that there are no employment opportunities,” she said. There are ballet companies, but it is still very difficult for them to find work. It’s not work isn’t available, it’s because they’re not being offered the employment.”

She added that a counter method to this problem could be to create more Black-owned schools—which can present other difficulties itself. “Even in creating your own, a multitude of other challenges occur – mostly funding,” Fortune Green said.

JHDS can sympathize with those challenges, as it too has faced numerous financial obstacles and hardships in the past. Nonetheless, it has sustained.

The Jones Haywood Dance School will celebrate its 70th anniversary through many scheduled events and performances. For more information and to purchase tickets, call 202-882-4039 or email dance@joneshaywood.com.

 

Gregory Dale

AFRO News Editor