Honoring Ailey Extension Father Figures

Posted May 29, 2015

With Father’s Day right around the corner, the Ailey Blog highlights three Ailey Extension instructors who are also father figures—Richard Martinez, Maguette Camara, and Finis Jhung—and whose lives have been enriched by both fatherhood and teaching.

Maguette Camara
West African Dance

One of the Extension’s popular West African Dance instructors, Maguette Camara, hails from Senegal, West Africa. For Maguette, the most fulfilling aspect of fatherhood, he says, is sharing the rich culture of his homeland with his two sons, 5 and 9 years old, who were both born in America. “We are so far away from my country, but I’d like to share everything that I am and everything that I know. Dancing, drumming and social living is a huge part of it. Every year, [my sons] go to Senegal with me, and they love it. That’s all they talk about at school. It’s nice to see that they are already soaking in their culture.”

When asked to impart some parental wisdom, Maguette shared, “I try my best to be real with them. I can be as up front as possible with whatever questions they are to coming to me with. I want to always be there to explain and talk to them.” Even though Maguette loves to share his Senegalese culture with his sons, who often come to class and drum alongside him, he is mindful not to force them to become dancers or musicians. “I don’t want to push it. I want them to find it for themselves,” he says.

Maguette with his sons.

Finis Jhung
Beginner Ballet

Beginner Ballet instructor Finis Jhung had a successful performing career prior to turning his attention to teaching, both on Broadway and as a member of Joffrey Ballet and San Francisco Ballet. It is not his impressive resume but rather his unconventional background, though, which provides the most insight into his tenacity and drive to inspire others. “When I was six years old, I told my parents, ‘When I grow up, I want to go to New York and Hollywood and become a famous dancer.’ Considering the fact that I was a little Korean-Scottish-English boy with bowed legs growing up in war-time Honolulu in a completely un-artistic family with little money, that came as quite a surprise.”

Though Jhung has taught advanced students and professional dancers all across New York City and throughout the U.S. after retiring from the stage, it was at the Ailey Extension where he discovered his passion for mentoring in the studio. “I have found my true calling as a teacher of adult students at the Ailey Extension,” said Jhung. “Most are adults who have never danced in their life but have always had a passion to learn ballet. I love them all, and learn so much from them—I consider them my ‘adult babies’ and look forward to each class knowing that we will be sharing ideas and becoming better people.”

Finis with his son, Jason.

For Jhung, this fatherly instinct runs deep. “My wife and I divorced in 1986, and I took the responsibility of single-parenting Jason. My son has always loved baseball (which I never could), and I allowed him to follow his dream in the same way my mother allowed me to follow my dreams.”

And for that, Jason is grateful. “He let me make my own decisions and watched me fall from afar, yet he was always there to pick me up without judgment. My dad let me be who I was and am, and isn’t it funny how the fruit doesn’t fall far from the tree? I consider myself a thoughtful and altruistic individual, and it’s really all because he showed me how you do things the right way and then left me to make my own decisions.”


Richard Martinez

“I want to lead by example. Growing up in the projects, education was never a true option. The goal was to get a job after high school and survive,” says Richard Martinez, Zumba instructor for the Ailey Extension. “In my household, education is mandatory. My wife and I knew that if we wanted our children to be successful, we needed to be successful ourselves.” Richard, who now has two daughters—Cristina, 26, and Lindsay, 19—realized early on that he wanted to create a better life full of opportunities for his future children. “I can’t expect anything from my girls if I don’t do it myself.”

Richard earned a master’s degree in Public Administration, but it wasn’t until much later in life that he discovered an interest in dance, one that would lead to a passion for teaching. Zumba classes gave him a safe space to express himself creatively and helped him to shed 75 pounds.

“Having a stressful corporate job led me to find something to do that I loved as a way to de-stress. I remember taking classes at Ailey and thinking, perhaps one day I will be good enough to work here. That day came in April of 2014,” he recalls, when he was given the chance to lead his own class at the Extension.

Richard with his daughters.

Having a career to provide for his family and still being able to pursue what truly makes him happy has had a long-lasting effect on his family dynamic, says Richard. “Being a manager in the corporate sector can be very demanding and stressful. Teaching dance at the Ailey Extension feeds my soul and allows me to have a work/play balance. I go home de-stressed and ready to be the best dad and husband I can be. My daughters are my greatest accomplishment, so I want to be there for them as long as I can be: Healthy, stress-free and happy.”

It is safe to say that Richard’s tactics have worked; Lindsay is preparing to enter Nursing School, and Cristina is currently finishing her Masters of Education. “My goal is to instill in them that anything is possible. Anything worth having requires work, and if you are not afraid to never give up, you will succeed.”

Inspired to get dancing? Check out some upcoming opportunities:
•    Throughout the month of June, bring your favorite guy to Capoeira every Thursday at 8:00pm for FREE!  
•    PLUS: Join us in Hearts of Men which brings together many generations of males, from elders to youngsters, in one circle of shared experience. Led by Earl Mosely and guest artists, this workshop will be offered starting Aug 23-Sept 4 and culminates with performances on Sept 5 & 6.

Interview conducted by Christina Daniels. Blog article by Chandra Jackson

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