By Walter Rutledge
Jamel Gaines’ Creative Outlet Dance Company is one of Brooklyn’s best-kept secrets. Founded in 1994 Creative Outlet is a dance company, which has performed nationally and internationally, a school that has an outstanding track record of developing professional artists, an Arts-in-Educations programs that has provided arts programming in over forty inner-city schools, and a rigorous summer intensive program attracting students from Asia, Europe, and the Caribbean. This cooperative and collaborative haven for the arts is the brainchild of founder and artistic director Jamel Gaines; and for almost two decades the organization has been a multifaceted cultural arts center.
Gaines began dancing at age eleven in Queens. He credits teachers Diane and Adrianne Brown, and Buster Grant for helping to shape his early dance aesthetic, later as a member of Jubilations! Dance Company artistic director/choreographer Kevin Jeff offered Gaines the opportunity to travel, which built his confidence and expertise as a dancer, teacher and choreographer. After successfully guest teaching abroad Gaines decided he wanted to give back to his community. He settled in Brooklyn and began to fulfill this dream of creating a creative outlet.
Based at the Ronald Edmonds Learning Center, Junior Hill School 113, in the Clinton Hills section of Brooklyn, the school provides dance training to over 250 students ages 3 to young adult. The performing ensemble places neophytes with professional dancers, teachers and choreographers in what can only be described as a competitive but nurturing environment. Creative Dance Company has lived up to its name. The organization has provided a creative outlet for young people who aspire to a career in the performing arts.
Gaines’ pedagogic approach is very personal and personable, allowing each student to find his or her inner artistic voice. He is able to not only build performers with a strong dance technique and a professional work ethic but also build strong character. He selflessly and tirelessly teaches and inspires the next generation of artists, sharing his reverence, knowledge and passion for dance. To his credit Gaines has established a dance environment that is reminiscent of academies of yesteryear. What I mean is Creative Outlet is more than just a school it is a community. This fact is immediately evident on any given Saturday; when from early morning to late afternoon Junior High School 113 is transformed into a dance village.
Classrooms are converted to dance studios where students receive training in ballet, jazz, modern and West African dance styles. In the gymnasium there is a rehearsal for the ensemble conducted by a guest choreographer, and onstage in the auditorium there is a ballet class for teens. The main hallway functions as a make shift cafeteria offering students and parents a variety of hot food, snacks, and beverages, which includes barbequed and curried children, peas and rice, baked fish, mixed steamed vegetables, herbal teas and salads. Parents volunteer to serve food, escort students to class, carpool and keep the facility clean.
One profoundly impressive fact is that the teaching staff primarily consists of former students who are now pursuing professional careers. Many are working professionals who return and generously give back to the school that helped developed their gifts. Former student and company member Jeroboam Bozeman was choreographing an ensemble work on the company the day we arrived. Bozeman who is making his debut with the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater this December came to Creative Outlet as a shy junior high school student in search of a creative outlet, at sixteen he was asked to joined the company and went on his first international tour to London, England.
Bozeman is just one of many gifted artists who have trained and performed with Creative Outlet this list includes; Cory Baker, Calvin Booker, Nicole DeWeever, Talu Green, Ryan Rankine, and Daniel Soto who were original members of the Tony Award winning Broadway musical FELA! Victor Reddick who is presently touring Europe in a production of Othello, Kevin Hunte who was featured on So You Think You Can Dance, and Khadijah Nicholas presently on tour with Europe with Rihanna.
Parents also continue to contribute to the Creative Outlet family after their children have gone on to professional careers; this speaks to the sincerity of the company’s mission. Norva Alleyne mother of Khadijah Nicholas is still an active volunteer on Saturdays. Now after over a decade of service Ms. Alleyne boasts, “I’ve been doing this for so long it feels second nature. We are a family here”.
Recently Gaines has decided it is time to rekindle his own creativity. He has renewed his interest in developing his choreographic talent. During the 2013 Harlem Dance Caravan performances performed in Marcus Garvey Park Creative Outlet performed Gaine’s Bitter Sweet. It was one of the works presented by six established and emerging choreographers. The ensemble work proved to be a watershed moment for Gaines propelling him to a new level and garnering positive attention and support for him as a dance maker.
There seems to be only bright things on the horizon for Jamel Gaines and Creative Outlet Company. The ensemble will have New York performances on January 17 through 19 at the Mark Morris Studios. At that time they will present works by Victor Reddick, Bahiyah Sayyed Gaines, Jeroboam Bozeman and Gaines. We will keep you updated as preparations for the performances progress. It’s safe to say that this organization will continue to live up to its name, remaining a dance village for the performing artists. For more information about the school and company visit the website at www.creativeoutlet.org.
In Photo: Ryan Rankine
Photo Credit: Mark Lee Blackshear