- The lilting music begins, and two by two, the dancers begin to
Waltz. All heights, weights, nationalities and different abilities
fill this cavernous studio with movement. They Waltz, Lindy Hop,
Polka and Tango together as the music shifts and changes. Some
effortlessly leading and following, others stopping to confer with
their partners on a new variation, all are focused on the task at
hand. The music stops. They switch to new partners as the parade of
dance styles continues: Foxtrot, Cross-step Waltz, Swing,
Hustle . . . The teacher, gently calls out occasional instructions
and guidance to the room filled with swirling figures.
Many of the more advanced dances that these students learn are
complex and quickly taught. The footwork is changeable, rapidly
executed and often contains patterns not immediately apparent. The
positions of the partner's bodies change frequently and rapidly, and
must be lead and followed with dexterity. The number of Engineering
majors per class increases with the level of difficulty of the
material, as does the speed of presentation of the steps.
There is less time allotted to acquire the moves, less repetition, a
greater deal of assumed knowledge, and a greater amount of self-
correction required in process. It demands a higher standard of
physical ability than the earlier levels. All of this naturally
requires a strong Kinesthetic ability or awareness.
My interest in the writings prompted me to look for a link between
Logical/Mathematical, and Bodily/Kinesthetic intelligences (as
defined by Gardner) in this population. I later added Spatial
intelligence to this list. Gardner defines as core characteristics
of Bodily/Kinesthetic intelligence as the ability to control one's
bodily motions and to manipulate objects skillfully. (1) (He considers
one's own body to be an object). He does not differentiate between the
fine motor activities needed for the placement of tiny objects in
electronic instruments, or the full-body movements required by the
In the case of Engineering, the ability to manipulate objects becomes
especially important. In Chapter 9 of Frames of Mind, Gardner
discusses the high incidence of inventors and engineers, particularly
engineers who learn and create by manipulating objects, who
demonstrate a high degree of Bodily/Kinesthetic intelligence. (2) This
intelligence is the dancer's ability to "see-and-do": to be able to
transform a dynamic visual image into physical action, and to hear a
direction and translate that into movement.
For these students to have been accepted into the School of
Engineering implies strong Logical/Mathematical skills, which
according to Gardner is the ability to translate concrete objects
into symbols and manipulate them mentally, to be able to visualize
without a concrete model, and the ability to create and relate
abstract thoughts. (3) Additionally, in the case of Engineering, a
strong Spatial intelligence is needed. Spatial characteristics are
"the capacities to perceive the visual world accurately, to perform
transformation and modifications upon one's initial perceptions, and
to be able to re-create aspects of one's visual experience, even in
the absence of relevant physical stimuli." (4) One can produce new
forms in the mind's eye, or mentally manipulate those forms that have
Judith Jamison has been one to make here creativity a reality. She
was born the younger of two children in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Jamison studied piano and violin as a child. Tall by the age of six,
Jamison was enrolled in dance classes by her parents in an effort to
complement her exceptional height with grace. She received most of
her early dance training in classical ballet with master teachers
Marion Cuyjet, Delores Brown, and John Jones at the Judimar School
Jamison decided on a career in dance only after three semesters of
coursework in psychology at Fisk University, and she completed her
education at the Philadelphia Dance Academy. In 1964 she was spotted
by choreographer Agnes de Mille and invited to appear in de Mille's
"The Four Marys" at the New York-based American Ballet Theatre.
Jamison moved to New York in 1965 and that same year joined the Alvin
Ailey American Dance Theater (AAADT).
Judith Jamison performed with AAADT on tours of Europe and Africa in
1966. When financial pressures forced Ailey to briefly disband his
company later that year, Jamison joined the Harkness Ballet for
several months and then returned to the re-formed AAADT in 1967. She
quickly became a principal dancer with that company, dancing a
variety of roles that showcased her pliant technique, stunning
beauty, and exceptional stature of five feet, ten inches. Jamison
excelled as the goddess Erzulie in Geoffrey Holder's "The Prodigal
Prince" (1967), as the Mother in a revised version of Ailey's
"Knoxville: Summer of 1915" (1968), and as the Sun in the 1968 AAADT
revival of Lucas Hoving's "Icarus."
These larger-than-life roles fit neatly with Jamison's regal bearing
and highly responsive emotional center, and critics praised her finely
drawn dance interpretations that were imbued with power and grace.
Jamison's and Ailey's collaboration deepened, and she created a
brilliant solo in his "Masekela Language" (1969). Set to music of
South African trumpeter Hugh Masekela, Jamison portrayed a frustrated
and solitary woman dancing in a seedy saloon. Her electrifying
performances of Ailey's 15-minute solo "Cry" (1971) propelled her to
an international stardom unprecedented among modern dance artists.
Dedicated by Ailey "to all black women everywhere -- especially our
mothers," the three sections of "Cry" successfully captured a broad
range of movements, emotions, and images associated with black
womanhood as mother, sister, lover, goddess, supplicant, confessor,
In 1976 Jamison danced with ballet star Mikhail Baryshnikov in
Ailey's "Pas de Duke" set to music by Duke Ellington. This duet
emphasized the classical line behind Jamison's compelling modern
dance technique and garnered her scores of new fans. Jamison's
celebrity advanced, and she appeared as a guest artist with the San
Francisco Ballet, the Swedish Royal Ballet, the Cullberg Ballet, and
the Vienna State Ballet. In 1977 she created the role of Potiphar's
Wife in John Neumeier's "Josephslegende" for the Vienna State Opera,
and in 1978 she appeared in Maurice Béjart's updated version of "Le
Spectre de la Rose" with the Ballet of the Twentieth Century.
Several choreographers sought to work with Jamison as a solo artist,
and important collaborations included John Parks' "Nubian Lady"
(1972), John Butler's "Facets" (1976), and Ulysses Dove's "Inside"
In 1980 Jamison left the Ailey company to star in the Broadway
musical "Sophisticated Ladies," set to the music of Duke Ellington.
She later turned her formidable talent to choreography, where her work
has been marked by a detached sensuality and intensive responses to
Jamison founded her own dance company, the Jamison Project, "to
explore the opportunities of getting a group of dancers together,
for both my choreography [and] to commission works from others."
Alvin Ailey's failing health caused Jamison to rejoin the AAADT as
artistic associate for the 1988-1989 season. In December 1989 Ailey
died, and Jamison was named artistic director of the company. She
has continued to choreograph, and her ballets include "Divining"
1984), "Forgotten Time" (1989), and "Hymn" (1993), all performed by he
Jamison has received numerous awards and honors, including a
Presidential Appointment to the National Council of the Arts, the 1972
DANCE MAGAZINE Award, and the Candace Award from the National
Coalition of One Hundred Black Women. Her greatest achievement as a
dancer was an inspiring ability to seem supremely human and emotive
within an elastic and powerful dance technique.