Photograph by Elli Morris

A dancer's life

May 25, 2021

Arts

By Matthew Dewald

Ask Kevin LaMarr Jones, ’94, how he feels when he is dancing, and he’ll start unrolling ideas about human conceptions of time. He recalls a theory he heard that says the mind can be in only two temporal places at once — in the present thinking about the past or in the present thinking about the future.

“I think dance, especially dance from an African perspective, enables you to be in all three places,” he says.

By day, Jones is a senior art director for the 300,000-plus-member Virginia Credit Union. On nights and weekends, he immerses himself in his passion project as the founder and artistic director of Claves Unidos (@clavesunidos on Instagram), a Richmond-based dance company. Its mission is “uniting the African diaspora through dance.”

In normal times, he teaches weekly dance classes at Dogtown Dance Theatre and performs at galleries, festivals, and other venues. His company also offers community workshops, and he collaborates regularly with UR dance faculty and students. His dance training has been lifelong, including seven years as a dancer with the Latin Ballet of Virginia. He traces its beginnings to the Saturdays he spent at Meljo’s Restaurant, his parents’ nightclub in Freeman, Virginia, when he was growing up.

“I wasn’t thinking about having a dance career then, but I knew I loved it,” he says. “I would just make up dances and explore movement on my own, which has been a plus for me as a choreographer.”

His interests today range as widely as the African diaspora and its innovations — from hip-hop and jazz in the U.S. to dances from Spain, Columbia, Peru, Mexico, the Caribbean, and throughout Latin America. He frequently fuses one or more of them together.

“I decided to start referring to it as reunion,” he says. “It felt like there was a shared experience in the development of these forms, one that came out of resilience and struggle but has ended up giving us a lot of beauty in the world.”