By Franklin Abbott
Juel Demetrius Lane remembers he had a lot of energy growing up. He says, “I was always moving as a child.” As a kinetic kid he was drawn to dance videos newly popular on TV. He was intrigued by the show “Fame” and made legwarmers out of his socks. He was enthralled with the music videos of Michael and Janet Jackson and thought of dance “as a way to be free.”
It was not until high school that he was encouraged to study dance. Lane attended Tri-Cities High School in Atlanta and came under the guidance of Freddie Hendricks, the schools drama teacher and founder of The Youth Ensemble of Atlanta. He says that Hendricks had a way of “looking into your soul and telling you what you are good at, what you destined to do.” Being encouraged to study dance was a revelation to Lane who says he “did not know men were allowed to dance.”
Lane was soon working with the Ensemble’s resident choreographer, Charles Bullock, and received ongoing training from Tri-Cites Dance Director Dawn Axam. Axam and Bullock introduced Lane to the work of Alvin Ailey, Ben Vereen, and more. Axam said, “you really want to move” and encouraged him to apply to the University of North Carolina School of the Arts, where he was accepted for his undergraduate work.
In college, Lane found “everything I ever dreamed of” in terms of creative instruction and encouragement. Having started late in his formal training, he worked hard to pick up steps that came easier to other dancers. He realized that he had something from his theater background he could show them, “all of us had something to teach each other.” His focus on dance was extreme and he immersed himself in the world of dance. Encouraged by his fellow student and creative sister, Camille A. Brown, Lane became more confident and auditioned for the Ronald K. Brown/ Evidence Dance Company. It was in Brown’s company that Lane would learn a movement vocabulary that he thought was too difficult at first. He recalls that in that company “everybody was gifted” and he learned to stretch himself towards excellence.
Lane has continued to dance with Bessie Award winning Camille A. Brown & Dancers. He stretched into choreography becoming the first independent local African-American man to choreograph for Atlanta Ballet. His current passion is choreographing and creating dance on film. In his short dance films Lane is excited to be taking risks, “to be true to who I am, to move in an unconventional way, to be different, to say what I have to say.”
Lane has just finished setting a choreographic work at Cal Arts in LA for their winter concert and is a senior lecturer at The University of the Arts in Philadelphia. He is working on another short film on dance, “What Is Technique?” He finds inspiration for his dance, choreography and films in ordinary life experiences, “I like to people watch” and is inspired by other creative people, musicians, artists and fellow dancers. Lane has had a remarkable professional development. As a proud African-American gay man, Lane makes bold statements about his own life experience and the experiences of the communities he is a part of. In dance, choreography and film Lane channels his need to move into art that moves and inspires others. Here is Lane’s latest film, “Where the Beat Drops.”
Last year, Lane and another African-American dancer/choreographer, and founder of Amazing Grace Dance Company, Kenya Griffin, called a meeting of Atlanta’s African American Dance Community to share ideas. They are featured choreographers in partnership with the National Black Arts Festival. Lane and Griffin will be joined by Daryl Foster, founder and director of Lift, and Tambra Harris, Giwayen Mata-Choreographer, Dance, Drummer. Lane says they hope to shine a spot light on dance in Atlanta and to support a narrative that puts Atlanta in a place of honor for African American dance. They will present their program twice, at 10 a.m. and at 2 p.m., at the High Museum. The presentations are free.
For more about The National Black Arts Festival, nbaf.org.
Franklin Abbott is an Atlanta psychotherapist and consultant, writer and community organizer.