Alicia Graf Mack: A Symbol of a New Era in Dance Training?

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With one eyebrow slightly raised and complex dark eyes meeting the camera lens dead on, Alicia Graf Mack has never looked so phenomenal or confident.  She greets the camera, unapologetically exposing sculpted biceps in a black turtleneck, a vision of confidence, and the ultimate culmination of artistry and athleticism. This very photo of Ms. Mack circulating on social media Tuesday immediately changed the course of history. Alicia Graf Mack an accomplished  performer with Dance Theater of Harlem and Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and established educator, will take charge as the new director of the Juilliard Dance Division. This is history in the making.

Foremost, this is a tremendous feat for women all over. Second but equally as important, this a tremendous feat for African American women all over and in the arts. Finally, this promises ground breaking and revolutionary things for the future of dance. And we must not forget to acknowledge that Ms. Graf will be doing all this while simultaneously raising to beautiful little ones! Ms. Graf our hats are off to you.

Ms. Mack will succeed the division head Lawrence Rhodes, who was artistic director of the Juilliard Dance Division from 2002 until 2017. It would be playing dumb if we did not observe the distinct surface level differences between the two. The new image that Ms. Mack carries simply based upon her gender, youth and ethnicity make a strong statement that Julliard is looking to move in a new direction. It would be naive of us to not ponder the possibility that this drastic break from Julliards prized traditions is a response to it’s growing competition with Gloria Kaufman’s newest investment in USC’s International Dance Center. It is almost as if Julliard is making the statement, “we can be just as ground breaking and still draw upon our deep history and tradition.”

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With Ms. Graf’s new role it can be assumed that she will bring the beautiful synthesis between codified dance and cultural dance that she has so carefully curated in herself to the training of the next generation of artists. The synthesis of two juxtaposing training techniques occurring under the roof of one institution is the very concept in which the Juilliard Dance Division originally found success. Almost 60 years ago under the brilliant direction of Martha Hill the Juilliard dance division was built on the platform of her belief that ballet and modern dance training were essential to the creation of successful dancers. And arguably dance training has not seen anything more revolutionary since. Yet, under the influence of Ms. Graf I am convinced that a revolution is being resurrected. From the influence of her heritage to her performance experience she brings something to the table that has yet to be realized.

In an interview with Dance Magazine Mack states “Dancers have to be equipped with versatile training and entrepreneurial skills in order to stay relevant and employable.” In this quote alone you can see the Mack understands that the traditional training objective of having their students be company ready upon graduation is no longer the only objective to create self sustaining artists. As a co-founder of D(n)A Arts Mrs. Mack has entrepreneurial experience of her own to bring to the table and will advance the business of Arts-making.

With such a change in leadership in one of the most influential artistic training centers in the world, comes a promise of a new era. While the rest of the united states has seemingly fallen into disarray with it’s leadership, here comes a beacon of light. A shift in power in the arts that makes a real statement and should not be underestimated. Mack, with a resume that includes every social mogul that is larger than life, including both Alicia Keys and Beyonce, she is no stranger to high expectations.

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It's a difficult process to make something from nothing, but its an even more difficult process to make a larger something from a huge something. When standing on the shoulders of giants,  there is a long way to fall. The Juilliard School has a massive presence not only within the arts community but throughout the entire world. The name comes with distinctive connotations of prestige, exclusivity and creation. Yet this, gargantuan presence does not threaten the incredible Alicia Graf Mack as she takes on the role of the new director of the Juilliard Dance Division.

To borrow the words of another great female artist; “You are phenomenally a woman. Phenomenal woman that’s you.” Ms. Mack we are rooting for you and can’t wait to see what you have in store for the future of dance as an art form.

Sarah BrinsonComment