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Interview with Jamal Story, Drowned World Tour dancer

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Madonna Adria had the chance to get in touch with incredible Jamal Story, the Drowned World Tour performer who shared with us his fondest memories from that tour. In his first interview ever with a Madonna Newsite, Jamal talks about his beginning, career and upcoming projects!


Madonna Adria: Hello Jamal, welcome to Madonna Adria.


Madonna Adria: Did you know at a young age that you wanted to perform?

JAMAL: I actually did not. I attended a math and science high school fully intending to become an astronomer. It was sort of divine intervention in the sense that dance chose me. From ages 7 to 12, I trained in gymnastics, and it developed a high level of discipline in my body, which helped. So when the option to take ballet for PE was presented, I reluctantly took it and started to love dance. But otherwise, I never imagined I would engage in a career so completely physical. In fact, I still went on to get a degree in journalism as well just in case my dance degree didn't work out for me.


Madonna Adria: You performed on Broadway in the original casts of both The Color Purple and Motown: the Musical. Talk about the first time you walked onto a Broadway stage to perform.

JAMAL: The first time we performed "The Color Purple" was such a magical experience already because of the legacy of Alice Walker's book and the extraordinary level of talent in the cast. The process leading up to our first preview was__I have to use this word again__divine, down to the moment Oprah walked into the rehearsal as our new producer. Of course there were cameras and we all lost our minds. On stage, it was a spiritual experience during every performance of the show, which opened with a church sequence that felt more real than theatrical. The cast felt like a community and since that's what we were off stage, the love was even more tangible.


Madonna Adria: What is the best experience you have had during your time on a Broadway stage?

JAMAL: That's a hard one! There were hilarious moments that will live in infamy forever and then there were stellar happenings. In both Broadway shows I did, there were tumbling passes that were sort of set up to be "featured" moments, and in both cases I was given permission to take liberties. One night on "Motown the Musical" in a number that no longer exists the way it did then, I added a half-twist to the layout at the end and my colleagues sort of freaked out in the best way because they weren't prepared. It was a blind landing so there was a collective gasp. I was a dance captain for both shows too, so I helped teach Fantasia, Chaka Khan and Bebe Winans the show. Chaka Khan was particularly fun because I surprised her by picking her up one day; I carried her around the stage so that she would understand she was light enough to be easily lifted. So many stories, enough to populate another book.


Madonna Adria: Dancing in a Broadway musical must take a toll on your body. What is your daily exercise routine?

JAMAL: When I'm in a show, I usually get up in the morning and do some kind of abdominal ritual right off the bat to get centered. If I'm particularly disciplined, I'll do push-ups as well, all to get core and upper body strong enough to balance the lower body, which will get full fitness just from dancing. It's the post-show rituals that really save the day though: stretching, cooling down (most dancers don't explore the benefits of it), rolling out points of muscular tension with tennis balls, golf balls and foam rollers (although in my case it's a rolling pin). I also do some stretching in the morning if there's time.


Madonna Adria: Can you tell us about your second book, a dance novel, Toss in the Ether?

JAMAL: I'm so excited about this book! Of course it's a shout out to all dancers across the dance landscape who trained rigorously and daily in pursuit of their dreams. But I wanted to deal with dance in a way that would make it accessible to non-dancers especially. I wanted to show people why it's important to actually go to dance concerts and support dancers' work, vs. just watching SYTYCD at home, so I urge dancers to sell Toss in the Ether to everyone they know. It's about a repertory dance company that is struggling financially and can't get a new building without really impressing potential funders, and one of the dancers pushes her husband down the stairs. Another dancer is involved in an art sex scandal, there are a few villains, some fight sequences – Toss in the Ether is where dance fiction meets Scandal with a little Memoirs of a Geisha sensitbility. We had to make three trailers for it because words are just not enough to describe it. www.jamalstory.com/tossthestory


Madonna Adria: Your career as a dancer began with Madonna and Cher before launching to the Broadway stage. You are currently a dancer on new Cher's tour Dressed to Kill Tour, what's the difference working with Cher and Madonna? Tell us!

JAMAL: Cher and Madonna couldn't be more different to work for because of the environments their brands create. Cher is an artist whose stamina is a function of hard work and consistency of loved ones, staff, employees over years and years. Madonna is a constantly evolving artist who thrives on hard work and change. She is skilled at reinvention. As a dancer, you may or may not be compatible with the version of herself she presents for the next tour (although I haven't auditioned again since 2001 to test the theory and I hope she would hire me again if I did). I think I've spent more time with Cher herself, although I've also been working her for a lot more years. I also knew that while both legends had me in few clothes hanging upside down in front of thousands of people every other night, Madonna is much more controversial, so there were always high stakes.


Madonna Adria: Do you have any special memories of the auditions for Drowned World Tour? Was that the first time you got to meet Madonna and Jamie King?

JAMAL: I have a million special memories of that audition week. First of all, the line wrapped around an entire city block of Manhattan, across 8th Street and down Broadway. There was an audition hotline, so anybody, and I mean ANYBODY could be seen. If you had a special skill, anything from Argentine tango to sword swallowing, you could prepare a two-minute presentation and go through a shorter line before learning the Mia Michaels combination. My dance/acrobatic solo was impossible in the small studio, but I did it anyway, nearly tumbling out of the open window and on to Lafayette Street.

When I made it through this phase, I auditioned for Jamie King and Mia Michaels. After two callbacks, Madonna was finally there to see the remaining dozen or so of us. I remember freestyling for her and then tumbling before we were released back to the holding area. That was the first time I had ever been in the same room with her. I heard she liked my headshot too, which is ironic. Since I didn't have a commercial headshot before the audition, I enlarged that random photo from college and made due.


Madonna Adria: How was the work behind the scenes of the tour?

JAMAL: The schedule putting the show together was intense. I remember a lot of people asking me then what it was like, expecting that I would share a scandalous 2001 version of "Truth or Dare" with them. The truth is that I didn't have a lot of contact with Madonna outside of the stage. We spent a little time with her of course, and I experienced a macrobiotic cake for the first time ever. But the majority of behind the scenes touring experiences that stand out were ones the dancers had with each other. I wrote fun journals, but Madonna herself is not the subject of most of them. I was just so happy her work created the opportunity for us to have the fun we did.


Madonna Adria: Can you describe a typical working day, and a day off?

JAMAL: On every tour I've done, a working day for dancers is very different than for everyone else. It involves an early call to the theatre to test out the rigging and make sure all the apparatus are functioning as they should. Then we might have a dinner break and spend the time before the show warming up and preparing our bodies. There is usually an energy circle of some sort where the dancers collectively focused on centering ourselves as a unified calm body to handle the sometimes overwhelming flood of excitement from the arena crowd. One of my favorite past-times on the Madonna tour was watching the stampede of fans who had waited in line for hours – sometimes days – to be first in the mosh pit standing room area of the arena, right in front of the stage. I suppose we all had our individuals pre-show rituals; watching the stampede was one of mine.


sfh_ns1Madonna Adria: There were a lot of great performances in the Drowned World Tour, what was your favourite number?

JAMAL: I particularly loved performing "Sky Fits Heaven." I don't know that there is a video that shows the large scale theatricality and physicality of that number (the HBO DVD doesn't pan out wide enough to really feature the world Madonna was placed in on stage). But I remember seeing rehearsal footage years ago. It was spectacular to behold and brilliant to perform because it required everything of us: martial arts timing, elite attention to detail, specificity, story-telling. I remember tumbling toward Madonna to begin an offensive attack that was intercepted by other "ninjas." It was so much fun.

I also grew fond of the Butoh section, mainly because getting to a place of calm while hanging upside down 30 feet in the air by my ankles took lots of time and rehearsal. The costume change was hard too because we had two minutes to exit "Ray of Light," dash under the stage, strip to a dance belt and get preset for the aerial moment. I've journaled in more detail about the magic of that crazy backstage transition as well.


Madonna Adria: Do you remember rehearsing songs that did not made the final version of the show?

JAMAL: I don't remember rehearsing any songs that didn't make it into the show, but I think we rehearsed different versions of numbers that didn't make it into the show.


Madonna Adria: What's your fondest memory of being on tour with Madonna?

JAMAL: There are so very many standouts, and the majority of them had to do with the closeness I had with the dancers, especially Kemba Shannon, who was actually my roommate in New York before and after the tour. I would have to say that my favorite moment with Madonna happened during the one occasion she agreed to sign paraphernalia for us. She called me "the man who can fly" and then signed on my tourbook, "I hope you know how special you are."


Madonna Adria: You are an advocate for arts education & serves on the SAG-AFTRA New York Board and co-chairs the National Committee for Dance. You got two degrees from Southern Methodist University. What advice would you give for aspiring artists out there?

JAMAL: I would tell them all to pursue their dreams and balance these pursuits with integrity. It's important to invest thoroughly and continuously in your craft, understanding that the art is ever evolving. Always be authentic.


Madonna Adria: What are you currently working on? What are your future plans?

JAMAL: I'm working on selling my dance novel, Toss in the Ether, worldwide through e-sales and paperback orders on my website. In addition to setting works on different dance companies and touring with Cher whenever she's out, I'm working on a one-man show about the challenges of a career in dance. Who knows; maybe when it's up and touring, Madonna and Cher will show up.





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I always thought Madonna looked like 70s Bowie during that concert, mainly because of her eyebrows :s98:

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I always thought Madonna looked like 70s Bowie during that concert, mainly because of her eyebrows :s98:

indeed and that microbiotic diet sucked the life out of her.

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Guest Rachelle of London

Amazing! Such a brilliant interview

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Guest Rachelle of London

Probably because she had young kids too? Rocco was still a baby.

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I don`t think because of Guy only, but also because she had two very young children that time :)

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still that looks so long ago, now.

great read

I remember how spectacular to finally see her again on tour. she did like 6 dates in London..

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Guest bluejean

She was only involved with dancers when she was either a) fucking them b) making a documentary or c) all of the above

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Interesting interview! :)

She did seem less involved with the dancers on this tour, I think it was maybe partly down to Guy R and the kids being there. But I think there have only been a few tours where she really has had a lot of involvement with the dancers.

Edited by MLVC58

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Pretty good read!

Still one of my favorite tours even though never saw it live. :sad:

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She was only involved with dancers when she was either a) fucking them b) making a documentary or c) all of the above

I obviously don't know anything about show business but, it seems so odd to me that a perfectionist like Madonna would hire dancers to help realize her vision and not have a lot of contact with them. That implies SO MUCH TRUST that the people she hires not fuck up her shows. Seems like she would have daily meetings, including one on one, to talk about the show.

Maybe I've watched Truth or Dare too many times.

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