Clarence Brooks. the name that may be familiar to you already.
I met him in the mid-1990s when he was dancing with the Nikolais/Louis company. Our paths crossed frequently in NYC and again in 2005 in Boca Raton, Florida where he is the Director of Dance at Florida Atlantic University.
This spring, while teaching Dance History at George Mason University, a video of Nikolais' work included Clarence as one of the dancers. When he appeared on the screen, a student shouted out "That's my teacher!" She had taken his classes at Bak Middle School of the Arts in West Palm Beach. The point I am trying to make: Clarence has been invested in dance for decades and the impact of his thoughtful teaching and dedication to this art-form is widespread. Here's the interview:
Question 1: Why do you teach?
Clarence: I started teaching dance shortly after I started training to become a dancer - which is not something I would recommend. It is something that I really enjoy doing. As a highly kinetic and spatial learner, I obtain a great deal of sustainment observing others challenge their bodies, their imaginations, and their use of space and environment. Watching others learn enables me to have a deeper understanding of what I am doing as a dancer, teacher, choreographer and as a student.
Question 2: During your dancing career you have performed in virtually every state with a range of ballet as well as modern companies, what advice would you give to aspiring dancers?
Clarence: I am so very grateful to this field for the opportunities it has afforded me.
Always educate yourself; place yourself in a learning environment; what you learn can never be taken away from you; learning is never a waste of time, energy or money;
Study the other art forms and the relationships between them;
Study more than one dance form and see as much dance as possible;
Document as much of your training and career as possible; collect a program from each performance you participate in; get a video/DVD; collect photographic images of you in rehearsal and performance as well as you with your peers and teachers; write down your recollections of classes, master classes and performances;
Audition for the sake of auditioning; you are not entitled to get everything you audition for (or apply for) but you should open yourself to the possibility of a new experience as well as to the inevitability of rejection;
Don’t be afraid to fall/fail because the ground is not that far below us;
Don’t be afraid to get up/fly again – do it with grace and humility;
Unfortunately, Life and dance are roses with thorns; things are so much better now than they were and if the youth put their shoulder to the wheel it will get even better; but you have to get involved, and do the right thing, and keep forging newer, better paths for those who will follow behind you;
Above all, be a good person and try to do no harm;
Respect yourself; take real good care of your instrument; treat it well and responsibly.
Question 3: We both admire and miss Kathy Grant (in the photo above with Clarence). How did she contribute to your growth and success as a professor?
Clarence: Kathy Grant was a teacher and mentor and friend to me.
When we were introduced to each other after a performance she noted that because I was the only black person onstage and she was the only one in the house, other audience members thought I was her son. She said since I knew what I was doing she did not disown me nor did she set the appreciative-but-mistaken audience members straight. She guided me through other moments of racism that were not as endearing as our initial greeting.