Residence: Vestavia Hills
Occupation: Artistic director of Arova Contemporary Ballet
Education: Bachelor’s degree in dance and Spanish from the University of Alabama
Latest accomplishment: Becoming artistic director of Arova Contemporary Ballet and completing one year teaching at Children’s Dance Foundation.
Dancing for Joy:
Jamorris Rivers Find Passion in Ballet
By Keysha Drexel
When Jamorris Rivers was just 10 years old, the young dancer lost his biggest fan–and he almost lost his passion for the art form.
Rivers, the new artistic director at Arova Contemporary Ballet in Vestavia Hills, said he almost stopped dancing for good when his father passed away unexpectedly 21 years ago.
“His passing took the joy out of my life. He was my rock. He was always there to take us to dance (lessons), sports practices or help us with our homework,” Rivers said. “So when he passed, I left dance for two years.”
During the dark time after his father’s death, Rivers said, he often thought of the high expectations his father had of him and his five siblings.
“All five of my siblings and I danced in Auburn and Opelika (and) he fully supported whatever we were doing,” Rivers said.
Rivers said his return to the art form that had brought him so much joy as a child was inevitable because of the “magnitude of emotions that were lying dormant” inside him and “just demanding to be expressed.”
Rivers leapt back into the world of dancing with both feet, performing at competitions and festivals and traveling from his hometown of Dadeville to attend summer intensives at the Alabama School of Fine Arts in Birmingham.
While Rivers was happy about getting his dance groove back, it wasn’t until his senior year in high school that he became sure he wanted to devote his life to the arts.
“It was during that transition from high school to college (when) I realized that dance gave me the tools necessary to be comfortable in my own skin,” he said.
Right before he started college, Rivers went to New York to see the Broadway play “Fosse” and said the performance sealed the deal on his pursuit of a career in dance.
“It was there, after watching Desmond Richardson dance, that I thought to myself, ‘This is it. This is what I want to do,'” Rivers said. “Ever since, dance has helped define who I am in so many ways.”
After high school, Rivers attended the University of Alabama, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in dance and Spanish.
“So I became a dancer and later a choreographer,” Rivers said.
Rivers has performed with the Alabama Ballet and Southern Danceworks and has toured internationally with Complexions Contemporary Ballet. He has also been a dance teacher at Samford University and Children’s Dance Foundation in Homewood.
He took his post as the new artistic director at Arova Contemporary Ballet in Vestavia Hills this summer and said he thinks this is a place he can “grow, create and develop a deeper meaning for dance.”
Rivers said he hopes to teach other young performers the power of dance and other art forms.
“Dance is one of the many methods we can give our young people to (help) with any emotional concerns they wish to express through the physicality of movement,” he said. “It is through dance, acting, visual arts, music and many more creative practices that we find the authority to change the world we live in.”
Rivers said he would also like to pass along what he has learned about overcoming barriers during his career as a dancer and choreographer.
“The worst barrier of all is self-doubt,” Rivers said. “We just get in the way of what’s in our heart of hearts.”
Take male dancers, for example, Rivers said.
“Young men still have the preconceived idea that boys don’t do ballet–as if ballet is some type of training that feminizes men,” he said. “Believe me, ballet is a full contact sport.”
Rivers said the myth that “boys don’t do ballet” could be keeping many talented young artists from pursuing their dreams.
“While the trend is slowly changing, this type of thinking may prevent talented young men in our community from truly understanding a beautiful art form,” he said.
As artistic director of Arova Contemporary Ballet Company, Rivers said he wants to work to change all that.
“I’d like to offer a home for such bold artists at Arova Contemporary Ballet,” he said. “We want to set a new standard for professional dance in Birmingham for both men and women who want to show distinction in their work. Arova is for artists that want to showcase their creative abilities as well as the diversity of their dance styles.”
Arova Contemporary Ballet Company was established in 2006 and named in memory of Dame Sonia Arova, an acclaimed Bulgarian-born ballerina, teacher and the founding artistic director of the Alabama Ballet.
The nonprofit organization’s aim is to “design highly captivating performances that feature raw athleticism, passionate energy and a rich soul,” according to its website.
Rivers said he is inspired by the elation he see in his students’ faces when they figure out a step in dance class and said he also gets inspiration from Birmingham.
“I get stirred up just walking downtown through the historic districts, parks and theaters around Third and Fourth avenues,” he said. “You can just feel the history there. You can imagine the possibilities there, too.”
The arts have a lot to do with the possibilities for the Birmingham metro area in the future, Rivers said.
“When we look at the challenges that today’s society presents, consider this: Making art is about finding common ground with each other,” he said.
The next few months will be busy–and likely exhausting–for Rivers as he prepares for the Revive performances Dec. 5-7 at the Dorothy Jemison Day Theater at the Alabama School of Fine Arts. The show is “an exciting collection of contemporary dance works that celebrate the restoration of Birmingham’s art and culture movement,” Rivers said, and it aims to let people know about the wealth of talented artists in the Birmingham metro area.
“Although I feel like dance takes so much from a person physically and even mentally, I recognize that dance has the capacity to give back,” he said. “Dance has given me confidence, character, discipline, humility and respect for others. Dance has also given back my joy.”