Though there have been many great dancers of color who have inspired me such as Alvin Ailey, Arthur Mitchell, and Carmen de Lavallade, one of my greatest inspirations was Tai Jimenez, former principal dancer with Dance Theatre of Harlem and one of the first African American principal dancers of Boston Ballet.
Looking back on my training Tai was very impactful when it came to my technical and artistic growth in high school. During my time at the Boston Arts Academy, she was one of my first ballet teachers of color and was a beacon of light for me, teaching me that skin tone had nothing to do with ability, and that everything depended on hard work, determination, and persistence.
Her presence eradicated the doubts I had concerning a career in dance and she opened doors for me to train at Boston Ballet and Dance Theatre of Harlem summer intensives on full scholarship. With great skill and care, she looked out for me and believed in me. And while I struggled with tight musculature, unarticulated feet, and lack of coordination she never doubted me, seeing the potential underneath my physical barriers when I could not. Noting my perfectionist tendencies as a young dancer, she soothed my worries and helped me focus on my artistry, assuring me that the technical components would come with time. She was also the first teacher to notice my ability to teach. In fact, she was the reason I was hired as both lead teacher for Boston Ballets Education and Community Initiatives and ballet faculty at Phillips Academy.
It was the Repertory Dance Theatre dancer interview project that helped me reflect on the impact Tai Jimenez had on my journey as a dancer and teacher.
Tai Jimenez joined the Boston Conservatory in 2014 as a ballet instructor and is an assistant professor of dance.
Prior to teaching, she was a principal dancer with Dance Theatre of Harlem and a principal with Boston Ballet. She has appeared as a guest artist with New York City Ballet and other companies across the United States.
Jimenez made her Broadway debut as Ivy Smith (Miss Turnstiles) in the revival of On the Town, directed by George C. Wolfe. She originated the roles of Fran in Maria Irene Fornes’s Letters from Cuba and Ysabel in Debbie Allen’s Soul Possessed. She was a featured dancer at the Academy Awards, the Kennedy Center Honors, and in pop superstar Prince’s concert video Rave Un2 the Year 2000. She has graced the cover of Pointe magazine and was profiled in Dance Teacher magazine. Her writing has appeared in Pointe and Dance Magazine. Jimenez writes a blog about life, dance, and spirituality at taijimenez.com. She has also taught at Harvard University, Phillips Academy in Andover, the Boston Arts Academy, Dance Theatre of Harlem School, Boston Ballet School, and other institutions.
Kareem Lewis has been a member of Repertory Dance Theatre since 2020.