Dancing is bigger than the physical body. Think bigger than that. When you extend your arm, it doesn't stop at the end of your fingers, because you're dancing bigger than that. You're dancing spirit.
People don't remember me for how high my legs went, even though they went up very high, and how many pirouettes I did. They don't remember me for that. They remember me and any other dancer because something touched them inside. It's an indelible memory on the heart and in the mind.
It's called the Ailey American Dance Theatre, not the Alvin Ailey African-American Dance Theatre. One thing also that Alvin wanted people to recognize, he had to wake up black every day. That's not an issue. His culture is an issue, not his color, his culture. So he really negated the fact that there was such a thing as a black choreographer.
Concert dance is the hardest kind of dance. We tour constantly, around the world, year in and year out. It just doesn't work for everybody. It's the lifestyle, it's the stamina, it's the love, it's the dedication, it's the commitment, it's all those words.
I don't think of myself as a leader. I am, but I don't think of myself that way. I'm not trying to belittle what I do, but I think of myself as a dancer first. I'll always be a dancer.
I believe God has a path for me. He's always had a path for me, and I've always been in the right place at the right time - not because of my efforts, but because of my preparation and because of the guides that I have, the mentors that I have, the spiritual walkers that I've had all my life.
We can go on talking about racism and who treated whom badly, but what are you going to do about it? Are you going to wallow in that or are you going to create your own agenda?
I tell young people that people aren't just going to flock to you as your mentors. You have to seek them out. It could be your next-door neighbor; it could be somebody upstairs from you, somebody down the block from you. An aunt or an uncle. Some relative. A parent.
At 10, I could walk down the street and see over everybody's head. I don't remember being little or having to look up at people. I think I was born 5 feet 10. It's not that I felt especially tall. I was wondering when everybody else was going to catch up.
One thing I cannot stand is when people say, 'Hi, how are you?' and they don't wait to hear how I am. They're just going through the motions. I say to people: 'Keep it human. Keep it alive. Don't turn into a robot.' You have to hear what the other person is saying clearly.
As long as there are dancers around who love to dance, there will be an Alvin Ailey American Dance Company. We miss him so much, but he's alive as soon as you see a dancer hit the stage.
My idea for the Jamison Project was rather like a pickup company. The idea was to give the dancers a taste of the menu. Today, dancers need to try as many companies as possible without having a drop-dead loyalty to me or anyone else. They like to have the leeway to go their own way.
We're dancing from here, from inside, not from outside. You could look at anybody throwing their leg and kick their leg up and a million pirouettes and do all kinds of tricks and stuff like that. But that's not what dance is really about.
Since babyhood, I've always evolved from one thing to another. My mother gave me ballet lessons at 6 as part of her enthusiasm for the arts and for life. We went to museums, to the theater. While her own talent was untapped, she worked for church causes.
The way Alvin Ailey has transformed modern dance and dance in general is the fact of variety. It's a cornucopia of ways to move. There are choreographers in the company as - as diverse, as different from each other as Donald McKayle and Bill T. Jones, or Jawole Zollar and John Butler, Lar Lubovitch, you know, and Judith Jamison.
As a dancer, you really try to stay true to whatever the choreographer/artistic director is giving you. So, now the shoe is on the other foot and I have to trust everyone else - I have to trust the dancer. As I was trusted as a dancer, I trust my dancers.
I could say now at 66, yeah, I was a fabulous dancer. I was really terrific, you know. But I was always present. I was present. I was supposed to be where I was supposed to be at the time I was supposed to be.
My wonderful editor, Jackie Onassis, asked me to write a book that I wanted to write. I said, 'Look, it's not going to be scandalized. I'm not going to talk about anybody like a dog. I'm going to say the positiveness of my life, and talk about those who have contributed to the way I've been going, and that's that.'
You wake up white, and you think about certain things every day. You wake up black, and you think about certain things. You wake up Chinese, and you think certain things - but those things aren't major. What's major is that you are good at your craft.