Instructor Spotlight: Christopher Jackson

Posted September 30, 2015

Christopher Jackson was selected to join Ailey II in 2002 and then became a member of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in 2004. For Christopher, joining the Ailey company was a life-altering experience for many reasons—one of them being that he had never traveled abroad.

On his first day on the job, he packed his bags for Dresden, Germany and upon arriving, performed one of his most beloved ballets: Hymn, choreographed by Ailey’s Artistic Director Emerita Judith Jamison. “That was my first international city, first tour, first piece,” he explained. “I loved that it all happened like that. It was amazing.”

Christopher has always felt like a performer—even while dancing to hip-hop artist Heavy D in his living room at just five years old. He began his training at the age of 13 at a small studio in his hometown of Chicago and went on to study at Chicago Academy for the Arts for three years before making his way to New York City. His Chicago-based dance teachers had a tremendous impact on him and ever since, Christopher has felt compelled to pay it forward. “I really like giving back and working with kids,” he says. “I’ll always be a dancer, but teaching is in my blood.”

At the Ailey Extension, Christopher instructs adult contemporary jazz classes which explore modern and ballet techniques coupled with the dramatic flair and influences of jazz dance. It truly seems like a perfect gig for him, considering his personality. “Well, I’m a contemporary jazz boy for sure. I remember being in the Ailey company and Judith Jamison telling me to tone it down," he recalls and starts to laugh. “I‘m so theatrical in my face, so telling a story is a really huge part of my movement.”

His experience has taught him that when adults learn choreography or technique, the mind holds them back more than their physical ability. Children have less inhibitions and that kind of mental freedom is the mode that Christopher tries to find in every class. “I remember how my teachers approached my learning experience. I’ve walked away [from that experience] with my own approach; I have that tough love, but at the same time I’m very nurturing.” Even though teaching adults is somewhat of a new venture for him, he relates to his adult students on a deeper level. He says of himself, “I still take class—in fact, I’m taking my butt to class tomorrow morning,” he says jovially. “So you’re never too old to stop learning as a dancer.”

I’ll always be a dancer, but teaching is in my blood

His youthful and playful spirit allows him to be open to learning new concepts and he encourages his adult students to do the same. “I’ve learned that beginners are only beginners in their head," he explains. “Sometimes it takes people 15 minutes to pick up choreography and other times it takes 45 minutes. The head needs to catch up to the body, but that’s just part of the process.”

Christopher has designed all of his classes to be essentially open level; more advanced dancers can delve into the theatrical aspects and beginners work on finding a greater connection between body and mind. Above all else, he preaches the importance of owning one's individuality. “You are your own individual and there’s no one else like you," he advises. “I say, capitalize on that because every dancer is made different and every single body is made different. That’s the beauty of it.”

Take Beginner Contemporary Jazz with Christopher Jackson on Sundays from 3:30-5pm.

Interview and blog post by Chandra Jackson.

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