Ishmael Houston-Jones

TEACHING ARTISTS...IT'S WHAT THEY DO; IT'S HOW THEY TEACH. THE OLD IDIOM OF THOSE WHO CAN'T DO-TEACH IS LONG GONE. THESE CONTEMPORARY WARRIORS DO IT ALL.

It’s a rainy, dreary summer day in lower Manhattan. Nonetheless the streets still vibrate with possibilities and people journeying from point A to B to C. The air smells like fresh wet pavement. On the bustling 2nd floor café of a local grocery store I sit opposite teacher and artist Ishmael Houston-Jones. Two cups of warm coffee separate us as a thin stream of spiraling steam coaxes us to take a sip.  



Ishmael Houston-Jones is a writer, choreographer, curator, teacher, and performer based in New York City. During the summers, he often spends 6 weeks at American Dance Festival in Durham, North Carolina. It is in North Carolina where we first met and I became captivated by his knowledge, history, and candid honesty.


If you browse his website ishmaelhj.com, you will become acquainted with his dance and writing works that solicit unique conversations and considerations around movement. Houston-Jones is a pioneer for choreographers in contemporary dance facilitating dialogues surrounding gender, sexuality, race, and politics.


As the summer began to wind down, I sat down with Houston-Jones to gather insight on the following: What trends to you see emerging in dance? What’s exciting about dance for you right now? and How do you connect your pedagogy and artistic voice?


But first…How are you feeling Mr. Houston-Jones?


Tired—good—but tired. With so much going on at ADF it can be draining. It feels good to be back in NY. I’m glad to be home, but its good to also go away. I’m hopeful. Excited about the upcoming projects and teaching this spring at the New School.



What trends do you see emerging in dance?



Houston-Jones spoke about his excitement to see what young people are doing in dance. “There is an increasing interest to deconstruct existing structures. Instead of accepting conditions as is, young artists are continuing to ask questions.” From floating series to beer venues, many artists continue to challenge the conditions advocated during traditional proscenium experiences. There is a growing trend of performers guiding their attention back to the body through presentational bodywork experiences, while offering a unique consideration to the viewing audience. There also appears to be an unknowing and discovery within experiential presentation that encourages artists to continue to explore the intersectional possibilities between dance and theatre. 


The coffee aroma dances into my nose inviting me to take another sip. The warm liquid trickles over my bottom lip.





photo: Ruby Washington

What’s Exciting about dance for you right now?


In addition to a residency this fall, a duet with Emily Wexler punctuated an impressive list of upcoming adventures. Houston-Jones also spoke about taking his acclaimed Bessie winning work Them to Paristhis fall, and participating in Miguel Gutierrez’s work And Lose the Name of Action.  Houston-Jones glowed when articulating an exciting moment in And Lose the Name of Action for him when he is being chased by the cast while responding to this pursuit with confident ‘Fuck you(s)’.

When asked about the difference in being a performer and creator, Houston-Jones articulated “There is an appealing sense of balance when negotiating being a performer and creator. They inform each other.” And I get the impression that as a performer, it is sometimes nice to not be in charge. It encourages a nice balance.



How you connect your pedagogy and artistic voice?


Gracing his 60s, Houston-Jones spoke very frankly about the influence his age has on his teaching and artistic work. “As the dancing body is always in the flux of change, teaching can be seen as a different tool for expression. Also, the idea of revival comes to mind.” Reviving old work…letting it live and breath in new people.

Leading countless dancers through the possibilities of work creation and improvisation, Houston-Jones enjoys teaching and encourages students to use various prompts to discover their own voices. He also supports artists in New Yorkby serving as curator of DraftWork through Danspace. Although he is not part of a traditional faculty, his career choices facilitate a variety of inspiring relationships, teaching opportunities, and (if only sparing) away from institutional dance politics. While some may find a lack of security that is generated from traditional tenured employment, Houston-Jones has cleverly crafted a way to make it work. Negotiating the roles of understanding mentor and honest provocateur, Houston-Jones is a considerate cocktail of tact and kindness, coupled with a realness and willingness to tell it like it is…a combination one can most certainly respect and appreciate.

To learn more about the amazing works and writings of Houston-Jones visit:

ISHMAEL HOUSTON-JONES: http://ishmaelhj.com/




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