From Skateboarding Hooligan to Principal Dancer: BalletMet’s Jonathan Jordan Reflects on his Lengthy Dance Career and Taking his Final Bow

By Steve Sucato

After a 22-year career as a dancer, BalletMet’s Jonathan Jordan will take his final bow with the company on Wednesday, December 22 in Gerard Charles’s The Nutcracker.  Jordan will dance the role of the Cavalier opposite Sugar Plum Fairy, Caitlin Valentine.

The Arizona native began his dance journey at age 12 at the Academy Ballet of Tucson and then the Phoenix School of Ballet before moving to Washington, DC to attend The Kirov Academy of Ballet.  He danced his first professional role at age 18 with Washington Ballet and remained with the company for another 18-years, thrilling audiences and critics alike with his skillful dancing. Washington Post dance critic Sarah Kauffman said of his opening solo in Twyla Tharp’s Push Comes to Shove, “…his head lolling as if he’s reliving an orgiastic memory; his hips circling tightly in the velvet trousers of a pimp, or a rockstar…he slinked through it perfectly, the silky movement, the hiccupping rhythms.”

Jordan counts as some of his favorite roles he has danced in his career, the title role in George Balanchine’s The Prodigal Son, Siegfried in Swan Lake, the slave Ali and Conrad in Le Corsaire, Basilio in Don Quixote, and Albrecht in his favorite ballet, Giselle.

In addition to his time at Washington Ballet and BalletMet, Jordan has also guest danced abroad and in the U.S. at Jacob’s Pillow and the Vail and Aspen Dance Festivals, with Mikhail Baryshnikov’s White Oak Dance Project, and at the White House for presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama. He also competed in several prestigious ballet competitions including the 2000 Varna and Paris International Ballet Competitions and he was a Bronze Medalist at the 2003 New York International Ballet Competition. 

Jonathan Jordan. Photo by Jennifer Zmuda.

I talked with Jordan recently about his dance career, retiring as a full-time dancer, and what’s next for him beyond the stage.

What got you started in dance?
My mother was taking adult ballet classes for fun, and she brought me along with her to keep an eye on me. I was a skateboarder as a kid and was getting into trouble. While there, her teacher would encourage me to try a ballet class and one day I did and liked it. From there, little by little, I got more interested in ballet.

How did you wind up at The Kirov Academy of Ballet?
I was having trouble at school and at home. My mom and my dance teachers at the time thought it would be a good idea for me to go away to a ballet boarding school for more serious training and the discipline that comes with it. After auditioning for a lot of schools, we decided on The Kirov Academy. It honestly was the best thing that ever happened to me.

Why did you leave Washington Ballet?
My wife Francesca [Dugarte Jordan] and I had been looking for a change in our dance careers. We had both worked with Edwaard Liang (BalletMet’s Artistic Director) previously and wanted to work with him more closely. We auditioned for the company and happily, we were accepted. It’s been great being with the company and in Columbus.

So why retire as a dancer now?
I just turned 40 and my goal from early on was to retire when I reached that age. I feel it’s time for the next chapter in my life.

Did the injury that sidelined you for the past 2-years play a role in your decision?
I have a partial hip replacement and it wasn’t certain that I could even return to dancing. Coming back, it was scary to step out on stage recently, but I feel good now and I want to retire pain-free.

What was one of your most memorable moments on stage?
The last time I performed the role of Albrecht in Giselle at Washington Ballet, my partner [in the role of Giselle] got injured not long before we were to perform. Artistic Director Julie Kent told me I would still be performing but it would be with two different partners. I rehearsed act one of the ballet with one partner, and act two with the other. That night right before my second partner and I were to go on stage, we realized we had not practiced a lift. We both looked at each other before I went out on stage as if to say, “It’s going to be okay,” and it was.  

Jonathan Jordan and Caitlin Valentine in BalletMet’s production of “Don Quixote”. Photo by Jennifer Zmuda.

What advice do you have for young dancers aspiring to have a long career like yours?
Allow your enthusiasm, joy, and love for dance to permeate all that you do. The challenge is to maintain this feeling daily. It’s easy to push yourself for a short period of time but you must create this feeling daily. This is where discipline and willpower become key to consistency… I think that to stay inspired you have to explore things like art, music, literature, philosophy, theater, and history to expand your mind and heart. I have also always supported my dance training with strength training… It’s been a huge part of keeping my body strong and healthy. Don’t ignore injuries… if you are having pain, you need to know what you are dealing with to treat it properly and to fix any imbalances.

What’s next for you?
Edwaard asked me to become one of BalletMet’s rehearsal directors. It’s a big transition, but I am excited about it. I have always loved coaching and teaching. I feel like that has been a natural thing in my career.

For tickets to see Jonathan Jordan’s final performance, or any of the other BalletMet The Nutcracker performances running now through December 26, visit balletmet.org.

Steve Sucato is a former dancer turned arts writer/critic. He is Chairman Emeritus of the Dance Critics Association and Associate Editor of ExploreDance.com.

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