Saturday, December 10, 2005

At The Door of the Temple

Nina Simone’s voice floated through the opened door when I first met Jermaine Browne. He asked that take off my shoes, leading me to believe I was entering a sanctuary. It turned out it was a practical request; he didn’t want snow and slush trailed over the polished wooden floors in his serene home in Harlem. The apartment is modern without being sterile, the living room sparsely decorated with colorful and artistic furniture. Sheer curtains cover large windows with lots of sunshine, which might double as the windows to his soul. Black and white artistic nude photographs of him by John Healy line the entrance hallway.

Who is Jermaine Browne? Born in Georgetown, Guyana, he migrated with his family to the metropolitan NYC area during his formative years to pursue a better life. He is one of seven children, born in the middle. His older brothers bullied and intimidated him as a child, which contributed to his retreating deeper inside himself. It was safer to retreat inside for self-preservation. As an aspiring dancer, Jermaine started formal dance training at Alvin Ailey School and then at Broadway Dance Center with Frank Hatchett when he was nineteen.

The British Guyana native’s first obstacles were the weather, a new education system, and learning about the various ethnicities in America. While on dance auditions, he had to adjust to racism and prejudices from those who wanted to categorize him as either too black or not black enough. “I wasn’t comfortable with the way I looked or my skin color. Everyone in Guyana looked the same.” The talented dancer hadn’t seen a white person until he moved to America. “White people weren’t real for me. I’d only seen them in the movies back home.”

The choreographer would have me believe he was unpopular and a loner as a child. Extracurricular sports and leadership clubs lead the way for him to come out of his shell— he realized he had something to offer. Cultural exchange programs at school helped bridge the gap in his new country. Early dance instructors helped him build self-esteem and pulled him further along on his journey to becoming the formidable person he is today. Among his special memories are being on the beach in Guyana, returning home to a hammock while his grandmother baked in a brick oven, dancing on stage in France in front of twenty thousand people, and falling in love for the first time.

The man who physically commands attention on or off stage is focused, dedicated and spiritual. He unwinds with visits to the spa, going to the gym, talking walks in the park, and learning to sketch and paint surrealist works. In his opinion, trust equals honesty, whereas loyalty doesn’t equate trustworthiness. “Some people might have their own agendas. I’d rather someone be upfront with me than sneak around behind my back.”

Sexy and provocative, Jermaine’s choreography examines various topics ranging from lynching, domestic abuse, and lesbian love and loss. “I want to introduce the world to a new kind of choreography not seen on stage or film before.” His detractors criticize for his triple approach to dance which is a mixture of Jazz, Funk, and Hip Hop. “Everyone has their own views, opinions, and ways to express themselves creatively. I tend to ignore people who want to take away from my energy.” A desire to be a few steps ahead of the competition drives him and makes it all worthwhile.

“I wouldn’t be where I am today without my mother’s love and support. She has always believed in me, and I’m grateful to her.” The lithe dancer/choreographer is an inspiration to his students and fellow performers. His advice to young dancers: involve your parents; have them in your corner, which creates a supportive environment as you pursue your dreams.

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