Inspired: Bill T. Jones

The dance portion of the performing arts profession has been heavy laden in royal decorum. These imperial traditions for conduct are fabulous for cultivating professionalism and an esthetic of formal manners as we watch society indulging in instantaneous casualness. However, the dance industry also cultivated a culture of coercion, unfair wages, and uncaring organizations. A leader who introduced and remains a provider of inspiration, fair compensation, and an attentive organization is Bill T. Jones. This American choreographer is the co-founder of a progressive performance company who challenged ethical emerging issues through dance productions and the Artistic Director of New York Live Arts. Jones’ artistic direction has influenced the dance industry to explore social, ethical, and spiritual issues and began an industry-wide change in the treatment of performers.

According to Paris (2005) “Jones invokes a Janus-like figure, challenging himself to please stand up, fighting over which “Bill T.” will prevail, and playing out this conflict in his choreography as well as in his public statements” (p. 64). By using transparency Jones’ dance performance pieces expose the internal conflict of grappling with social, ethical, and spiritual formation to public scrutiny. The process of preparing performers to debut a piece of performance art includes hours of deep thinking, acting, and dancing. “Jones’s process, a spiritual endeavor as well as a rigorous investigation of material culture, situates the physical body at the locus of discursive sociopolitical and artistic intrigue” (Jones & Dent, 2005, p. 23). The expectations Jones has of his dancers are extraordinarily high.   He asks for lengthy and physically taxing rehearsals that cross into spiritual and philosophical explorations. Performers and artists gravitate towards Jones because he does this with respectful and ethical leadership.

Jones contribution to the dance performance arts profession over the last 45 years has introduced a deep commitment to the performer that was not present in the hierarchy of ballet performance. The industry’s paradigm shift to appreciate both classical and postmodern performance art has taken nearly 90 years.  Because his dance company and the New York Arts Live environment is not cynical or oppressive, dancers flock to his auditions and program opportunities. Jones regularly has 450 women and 125 men to audition when looking for just a few performers. He addresses dancers’ feelings of inadequacy during rehearsals, offers full-time employment, and makes artwork about relevant issues.  By exemplifying fairness, putting the dancers’ needs in front of his desire to make the art, and living out the virtuous choice in the treatment of others his organizations displays an ethic of care previously undetected in the industry.



Jones, B. T., & Dent, M. (2005). T: Tracing the language of Bill T. Jones. TDR: The Drama Review49(2), 14-23.

Paris, C. (2005). Will the real Bill T. Jones please stand up?. TDR: The Drama Review49(2), 64-74.

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