Jamal Ari Black knew embarking on a career as a full-time dancer would be a tough road, but in his early years of college it became obvious the sociology classes he’d chosen were not clicking.
“I was taking a dance class just to take it,” he says. “I wasn’t really understanding the sociology stuff and it was so obvious this was panning out better for me so I switched.”
Black got interested in dance in high school. He was in a group called Ramjam that performed modern dance and poetry at elementary schools in his Goldsboro, N.C., hometown. He eventually graduated from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro with a degree in dance and choreography. He tried New York briefly but didn’t like it so he came to Towson, Md., and found work with Edgeworks Dance Theater about four years ago. A few years after that, he met Daniel Phoenix Singh at a dance convention and joined that outfit as well.
Dakshina/Daniel Phoenix Singh Dance Company performs tonight and Saturday at 8 p.m. at Gala Hispanic Theatre (3333 14th Street, N.W.) with a show featuring two of Anna Sokolow’s works from her time in Mexico, “Frida” and “homenaje a Siqueiros,” the latter of which is a U.S. premiere. The company’s signature work, “Vasanth,” which draws on movements from classical Indian dance, will also be performed. Tickets are $25. Visit dakshina.org for details.
Black enjoys the different experiences he gets with his two outfits — Edgeworks is mostly black and he’s one of only two gay men in the company. Dakshina’s male dancers are mostly gay and incorporate more cross-cultural elements.
“It’s a way of understanding people different than yourself,” he says. “That’s one thing I really love [about Dakshina]. Some of the modern dances we do are very old, stuff from the ’30s, ’40s and ’50s that you normally wouldn’t get to do. It’s a totally different way of moving than we do now.”
Black, 27, and his partner, Duane, live in Temple Hills, Md. When he’s not dancing, he enjoys following pop music and watching TV.
How long have you been out and who was the hardest person to tell?
I was outed in high school through a series of events a la the movie “Mean Girls.” A letter was being passed around school and it ended up getting back home to my mother. That began our initial conversations about my being gay.
Who’s your LGBT hero?
Being an entertainer and a black man, I love how RuPaul has never been afraid to be who he is and have the amazing career that he has had. He is the epitome of bravery.
What’s Washington’s best nightspot, past or present?
I have actually had my best nights at The Fireplace. Dive bar it may be but you can’t beat cheap drinks and good music.
Describe your dream wedding.
It would definitely need to be something small and intimate.
What non-LGBT issue are you most passionate about?
The arts. I think music, dance and visual art helps give people a voice and an outlet for expression. It is a way into the mind and soul of another person.
What historical outcome would you change?
I don’t know that I would. I think things happen as they need to for whatever reason that we as people may never know. With that being said it is always unnecessary for innocent lives to be lost in wars, genocides and murders.
What’s been the most memorable pop culture moment of your lifetime?
I think social networking has not only changed how I communicate with my friends but sometimes I find myself Facebooking my brother instead of just picking up the phone. Oh what a world, what a world.
On what do you insist?
I insist that we as people treat others how we would want to be treated.
What was your last Facebook post or Tweet?
From Facebook: Whenever somebody over sings the “Star Spangled Banner,” I think of that Maya Rudolph SNL skit … Hilarious.
If your life were a book, what would the title be?
“Am I the Crazy One?”
If science discovered a way to change sexual orientation, what would you do?
I would find a way to break into the building where this said science was being created and destroy it. It would be very “Mission Impossible”-like. The first one though because none of the sequels were very good.
What do you believe in beyond the physical world?
I have always believed that we aren’t alone in this world.
What’s your advice for LGBT movement leaders?
Not that this isn’t already happening but getting the youth involved in matters of human rights. I think young people have always had a way of helping people see past their own hate.
What would you walk across hot coals for?
I kind of just want to walk across hot coals. It seems like a very memorable experience. I would do it to save a life.
What LGBT stereotype annoys you most?
The fact that people get annoyed with LGBT stereotypes.
What’s your favorite LGBT movie?
Does “The Wizard of Oz” count? If not, then “Hedwig and the Angry Inch.”
What’s the most overrated social custom?
A male giving up his seat to a female.
What trophy or prize do you most covet?
I hope that I am one day deserving of the Kennedy Center Honors.
What do you wish you’d known at 18?
I wish I would have known that it is OK to put my happiness before the happiness of others.
To me it is the perfect balance of a big city life with a small town feel.