by Katie Dravenstott
While college-then-pro is a typical path for many dancers, Jamal Story’s dance journey happened in reverse. He was already dancing professionally with Lula Washington Dance Theatre in Los Angeles when he decided to move to Dallas to earn dual degrees in dance performance and TV/radio communications at SMU.
“It’s like the Ivy League of the South,” Story says about SMU. “I was looking for a university that had strong dance and communications programs, and SMU had reputable programs in both.”
He explains, “I had a career that was in retrograde because I got into dance through Lula Washington Dance Theatre in a context where I was performing before I had really trained. So I was at SMU primarily for the technical catch up and not for the performative opportunities.”
When Story first came to SMU, the Meadows Division of Dance was focused primarily on Martha Graham and Paul Taylor. In order to continue growing in his preferred styles, Story forged strong relationships with local dance leaders through the Meadows dance department, including Kathy Chamberlain of Chamberlain Performing Arts. “I met Kathy when she subbed for some of my ballet classes at SMU,” he said. “I was also allowed to be a guest performer with Dallas Black Dance Theatre (DBDT) from time to time. A lot of colleges don’t want their students doing guest appearances like that; I’m grateful that SMU agreed to it.”
Over the last two decades Story’s relationship with DBDT has only grown stronger. In addition to performing and teaching, Story’s choreography has also become a fixture for the company, with his aerial duet What To Say? having been featured in three programs since the piece’s premiere in 2015.
Since graduating from SMU, Story has enjoyed working jobs in several different arenas of dance, including commercial dance, concert dance and on Broadway. His performing credits include Donald Byrd/The Group, Complexions Contemporary Ballet, Madonna’s 2001 Drowned World Tour, Cher’s Living Proof: The Farewell Tour and Cher’s Dressed to Kill Tour. He also performed in the original Broadway casts of The Color Purple and Motown: The Musical. Outside of the performing arts, he has also written two novels, “12:34 A Slice Novel” and “Toss In The Ether.”
Today, Story is once again dancing with Cher in her Here We Go Again Tour. When he is not touring Story is busy restaging works by Donald Byrd and assisting with Byrd’s Spectrum Dance Theater in Seattle. As for why he continues to do this type of work, Story says, “I am a concert dancer in my soul, in my spirit and in my heart and that doesn’t ever go away.”
Story also makes frequent visits to SMU where he says he enjoys teaching master classes as well as talking to students about what he calls “the business of dance.” He was also invited to present work for the 2011 Fall Dance Concert marking SMU’s centennial. “I was so excited to be asked back,” Story says about the concert. “It was also good to come back and see how the department has broadened its modern dance training. The Dance Division has made a number of top 10 lists in recent years and I’m proud of their recognition.”
Katie Dravenstott is a freelance writer and dance instructor in Dallas.