FACULTY Q & A
A Balanced Equation Alvin Mayes had an unlikely path to his position as director of undergraduate dance studies in the School of Theatre, Dance, and Performance Studies. He was an all-state fullback who went from guiding students through the mysteries of algebra to helping them channel their inner Judith Jamison. The longtime choreographer stretches beyond the campus’ boundaries, and is preparing a Jewish dance team to match its 2010 and 2012 gold medals in this summer’s regional Maccabi Games. Mayes talks about how these seemingly disparate pieces compute in his full life.–MAB
Q. YOU HAVE A DEGREE IN MATH AND WERE TEACHING IN A
Q. HOW WOULD SOMEONE KNOW AN ALVIN MAYES WORK WHEN THEY SEE IT?
SUBURBAN DETROIT HIGH SCHOOL WHEN YOU DRAMATICALLY
SWITCHED CAREERS. WHAT HAPPENED?
I was taking dance instruction classes when a member of the Gloria Newman Dance Theater saw me. They asked me to join them in California. At first, I said no. My dance friends said, “Are you crazy?” but I loved teaching mathematics. When I got out there, I realized that I was not going to make a living just dancing, so I became a math substitute. Then a position opened up at Orange Coast College. It was my first position teaching dance and I was the first male dance teacher. A.
Q. WHILE THERE, YOU CONNECTED FOOTBALL, WHICH YOU PLAYED THROUGH YOUR FIRST YEAR OF COLLEGE, TO DANCE. HOW? A. The
athletes were starting to look at dance, noticing that there was some discipline going on. We worked on agility and flexibility to improve their range of motion. Athletics and mathematics, these things still inform me. In mathematics, if I teach triangles, we define what are the properties. In teaching dance, it’s what are the characteristics of this movement. For both, it’s a spoken and physical language you have to learn.
PHOTO BY JOHN T. CONSOLI
I like my work to have a sense of folks. If there are seven dancers, you will see seven distinct people. And it’s all musical. Some choreographers use the music as background. In my work, there’s a weaving. Once you’ve seen a couple of my dances, you can tell. Q. SINCE 1982, YOU’VE ALSO TAUGHT DANCE AT THE JEWISH COMMUNITY CENTER OF GREATER WASHINGTON AND TRAINED ITS DANCE TEAM. HOW DOES A CHOREOGRAPHER FIT INTO AN INTERNATIONAL SPORTS COMPETITION? A. Jewish community centers are strong places for contemporary
dance, really. I prepare a piece for the JCC team, and I’ve been a judge. I’m interested in giving dancers feedback to make them better dancers, the way we teach dance here. I don’t want to look at their art in the same framework as athletics. Q. WHAT DO YOU DO WHEN YOU’RE NOT TEACHING DANCE?
I sing! I do a cappella singing. I also sing in a church choir and in two vocal groups. One is called Not What You Think. We switch male and female roles, so a tenor may sing a higher part, and I sing in a men’s trio called Nuance. Friends joke that I have two extra hours in the day that no one else has. A.
SPRING 2013 TERP 17