Dancing with Ailey: Interview with Michael Jackson, Jr.

Dancer Michael Jackson Jr credits a video of Revelations as the start of his journey with Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. The New Orleans native became a company member in 2011 and was the face of Ailey for the 2017-2018 season poster. Jackson spoke with Phindie as the company prepares for their return engagement in Philadelphia. 

[Academy of Music, 240 S Broad St.] February 23-25, 2024ensembleartsphilly.org

Debra Danese: What was your introduction to the company?

Michael Jackson, Jr: At 14, I started dancing at Duke Ellington School of the Arts, where I first encountered Alvin Ailey’s magic- a video showed in class. Watching Revelations, it felt like discovering superheroes, except these heroes danced with a power and beauty that was out of this world. They were like black legends come to life; making me realize dance could be epic and actually possible for a black boy. It was a game-changer for me-blending my black roots, church, soulful music, beautiful bodies and lines. It was my vibe. I found my passion, all thanks to that first video.  

DD: You have been with the company since 2011. What have been some of the highlights during this time? 

MJJ: Since joining the company in 2011, I’ve had a rollercoaster of memorable experiences. Performing Revelations for the first time in Germany was a moment of pure magic, a mix of nerves and excitement in a foreign land. Then, becoming the poster boy for the 2017-18 season was both surprising and thrilling. It was an unexpected honor that made me the face of a season filled with great dancing. But probably the most heartfelt highlight was performing in New Orleans, my hometown. Blending the joy of dance with the familiar taste of crawfish was like a sweet homecoming. Especially the crawfish. Ha!  

DD: What is a typical pre-show warm up for you?  

MJJ: Before a show, I begin with meditation and yoga to find my center, enjoying the solitude to mentally prepare. Then, I dive into a ballet barre or class, integrating strength training exercises like push-ups, pull-ups, and sit-ups between each ballet exercise. This routine helps me balance both mind and body, ensuring I’m fully prepared for the performance ahead.

DD: Which piece are you most excited about performing? 

MJJ: I’m most excited about performing CENTURY by Amy Hall this season. It’s a new work with sections set to music from New Orleans second line bands, which instantly transports me back to my roots. The connection to my hometown through the music makes it a favorite for me. It fills each performance with a sense of home and passion that I miss from not being there. 

DD: What hobbies do you enjoy in your downtime?

MJJ: Picking up photography during the pandemic turned out to be a game-changer for me. Always being the one in front of the camera, I got curious about what it’s like on the other side. Now, I love snapping photos of pretty much anything; but capturing dancers and art hits differently. It’s a cool way to keep my creative juices flowing and see my world from a fresh angle. Plus, it’s just really rewarding to freeze those fleeting moments of beauty and share my perspective, adding another layer to how I express myself and connect with my passions.

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater will be at the Academy of Music [240 S Broad St.], on the Kimmel Cultural Campus, from February 23 to 25, 2024. ensembleartsphilly.org/events-and-tickets/2023-24/kcp/alvin-ailey-american-dance-theater/

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