His style has been called “Flow and Flash” and Duke Ellington is his biggest inspiration. Six years ago, the Frankie Manning Foundation made him ambassador. Folks, meet Jamin Jackson! He has choreographed, performed and instructed for two decades and just recently took a new step in his career. As an artist, entrepreneur and incomparable dancer it’s not easy to label him though people have tried. “I care only enough to keep me growing,” he replies.
Text: Annika Munter Editor: Odella Schattin
At just eleven years of age, Jamin already knew what he wanted to do: he wanted to dance. So he did and it became his profession. Over the last 25 years, Jamin has danced in stage shows, musical productions and performed as a background dancer for international artists such as MC Hammer, Carmen and Omarion. In 2010, the direction of his career changed. It was at a big event in Houston, Texas. Jamin saw a swing jam circle and was totally sold by the energy, atmosphere and swing music.
– I believed this was how I needed to invest my time as a professional dancer. I wanted to use my platform as a means to encourage more art and creativity into Lindy hop social dancing.
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At the time, Jamin also saw a flaw in the Lindy hop scene and felt his perspective and dance experience could encourage many to start fixing it. His work won him the Frankie Manning Foundation acclaim and the Foundation made him one of the first Frankie Manning Ambassadors ever. The same year, he won the pro-am division at ILHC 2011 in Washington DC. The video of him dancing with colleague Annie Trudeau was broadcast on the Internet. This was the first time I saw him. His dancing caught my newborn swing loving attention. I was glued to the film clip and couldn’t stop watching. Certainly I was a beginner but still, I had rarely seen anyone dance as playfully, or lead as carefully, as Jamin Jackson. He wore a white shirt, a bowtie and a grinddelin jersey, and he embodied the music in a way I had never noted before. Even today, it fascinates me how he captures the beat the second it blows from the speakers. Like a flag at the top of a mast, caught by wind.
His style has been labeled as “Flow and Flash” because of his way of blending performance skills with fluid social dance communication. He rays doing it.
– Every emotion that I feel as a husband, father, son, brother and child is meshed together in swing. I can share energy with a complete stranger and connect with their humanity more than I ever could with words. I think the world yearns for this kind of connection in the 21st century.
Traveling has been his life for the past six years. Now, in 2017, he has decided to take a hiatus from international travel, until 2018. For good reasons.
– I’ve been spending this year organizing my long-term plans as an artist, husband and father. I think I’m one of the few dancers on the scene with this type of life dynamic, and it has been a real challenge accomplishing what I have so far with this amount of life responsibility. It’s not easy balancing my life, but it’s worth it.
Three moths ago, in February 2017, Jamin officially launched Street Smart Swing, an online swing dance school, which he runs from his home studio in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
– It has been in the making for a few years. I knew opening a bricks-and-mortar establishment was out of the question since most of my influence has been overseas. I look forward to investing in the school for many years to come.
Online teaching seems to be the thing to do right now, other professional swing dancers also offer mentorship online. But Jamin’s seem to differ from the others. His whole intent is for his students not to need him.
– I market the cure not the medicine, teaching students how to be master dancers in seed form, so that they can grow with a full awareness of how to fix their dancing along the way. I like to teach in a way that even a child could understand.
What is the key to helping students without seeing them dance live?
– A mentor of mine shared a deep principle regarding the art of teaching. He said, “If you want to be a good teacher, make yourself dispensable.” This really hit hard early in my teaching career over 25 years ago. In order for me to teach students online and be effective, the curriculum building blocks must be grounded in simplicity…which happens to mirror how I teach in person. The approach we use demystifies the difficulty of swing and empowers students to fix their dancing themselves. Ultimately, when students know the same information I know as a more advanced dancer, they are able to accelerate their learning curve depending on how fast they want to mature. In the end, my success as a teacher depends on helping students not need me.
What do your students primarily wish and need help with?
– It’s interesting to hear my students’ requests. Usually they want me to fix their dancing without really having a clear understanding what needs to be fixed. Everything starts with a foundation and without it, students tend to view the dance through a broken lens. The main goal for me is to help them know the difference between what is necessary and what is a matter of preference. And most of the time, what they feel they need is really something optional and not mandatory. Most of the time, students confuse “need” with “want” and tend to be a little too hard on themselves, completely undermining their uniqueness. The hardest challenge for me is helping them see their weaknesses with proper perspective. Their weaknesses are a glimpse of their future style, under-nurtured and waiting to be embraced.
Who was your teacher when you started swing dancing?
– I feel like a mutt. Half my teachers were accomplished, internationally recognized social dancers and the other half were world class choreographers and performers. What they taught me was the best from their respective fields. By default, I ended up desiring to blend the “wow factor” of performance with the vulnerability of social dancing. Even today, after all these years and hours of dancing, I prefer a creative social dance over a creative choreographed performance. To me, there is something more powerful in making an emotional impact while remaining completely vulnerable in the eyes of the audience.
Who is your greatest source of inspiration?
– Duke Ellington. I feel he is my artistic “doppelgänger.”. We both entered our professions as artists from the outside joining into a foreign genre. We were both criticized for being different, both forced into a box. I can go on and on. The respect I have for his persistence, humility and fearless creativity is unparalleled.
Do you ever get criticized for teaching dancing online?
– No, but I’ve been criticized more offline and it hasn’t been for being normal or fitting in with whatever is popular. Though every season has new leaders who inspire the masses, it’s common to reject fresh ideas during times of artistic transition…new approaches take time to get used to. As irritating as it may seem to be criticized, I care only enough to keep me growing.
You have said “the world has not yet seen the biggest days for Lindy hop.” What is your vision?
– I think with the problems of self-identity, terrorism and narcissism plaguing humanity at this time, people are yearning for authentic connection. Our swing culture embodies this…at least on the surface. We have vibrant communities, big and small events, swing dancing schools, and social dancing opportunities in place throughout most of the planet. This will make casual integration easier for new people who find out more about us. People may end up eventually plugging into Lindy hop communities after being exposed through popular channels of communication like television, movies, etc. By that time, Lindy hop will be too mainstream for most of us, but it will be in a healthier place because the components that keep it alive have matured over the last 15 years. The number of influential participants will also be too big for us to control.
On World Lindy Hop Day, the 26th of May, Jamin will host Greenwood Swingout, for the fifth year in a row. It is held in Tulsa, Jamin’s hometown. The city is known for having had the worst race riot in American history. Hundreds of residents were massacred in the neighborhood within hours. This happened in the Greenwood District in 1921 and it is referred to nationally as the “Black Wall Street.” Jamin started the swing community Vintage Swing Movement, and the weekender Greenwood Swingout, to help unite the city.
– We thought the Greenwood District should not be defined by the atrocities that happened in the past, but by the spirit of the people who inhabited the community before and after the riot. We wanted to show our city how swing dancing is creating a practical bridge for people to connect all around the world.
For years to come, Jamin plans to continue his work, being an active creative force for Lindy hop social dancers as well as an international teacher of teachers.
– I encourage people to find what makes them excited about swing and duplicate that same passion in others for the right reasons.
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Facts about Jamin Jackson
Age: Just turned 38 on April 25, 2017.
Family: Wife Gina, daughter Petra, 7, and son Creed, 3.
Home: Tulsa, Oklahoma
Work: Professional instructor, performer, choreographer and real estate developer.