When did you start dancing?
I began dancing when I was in the womb, taught informally by my mother through the blood memory of her ancestors. My mom is Ivorian – from Côte d'Ivoire – and when we were little kids she would push aside the coffee table in the living room to teach my two older sisters and I West African dances from the Ivory Coast.
We started a dance troupe called Akwaba and at 8 years old I began performing West African dances with my sisters for different cultural events. However, it wasn't until I was 15 years old when I took my first ever dance class. It was a Ballroom Dance class at Arthur Murray Dance Studio. Then and there is where I began my formal dance training.
Why did you start dancing?
My mom's passion and pride for her culture was always present in the house. She loves dancing, (my dad as well), so I was influenced by her great enthusiasm. All I wanted to do was dance and would drive my family crazy always dancing around in the living room. I was an addict. I mostly started dancing because it made me feel happy and free and I loved interacting with others through social dances.
Which dancer inspired you most as a child?
As a child I was most inspired by Michael Jackson. I wanted to dance just like him.
Which dancer do you most admire?
Martha Graham would be the dancer I admire the most because she revolutionised dance in the theatre by developing a way of communicating the essence of what we experience as humans. She gave back dance its humanity in the theatre. She also used her dance language as a vehicle to empower the individual that broke barriers of race, gender, ethnicity and status.
What's your favourite role?
One of my favourite roles to dance is the Minotaur – Creature of Fear- in Martha Graham's Errand Into the Maze. After doing this piece, you are transformed into a superhuman.
What role have you never played but would like to?
The first piece I saw of Martha Graham's was Lamentation and I was deeply moved. Although traditionally danced by a female, it represents the pure universality of emotions, in particular grief, that we all share despite our gender, race, social/economic status, age, etc. I want to perform this piece to experience what it feels like to be pulled inside your own skin by the agony of grief… it would be transformative.
What's your favourite ballet to watch?
Chronicle, the timeless anti-war message by Martha Graham.
Who is your favourite choreographer?
I don't have one favourite choreographer but some who have most impacted me are: Martha Graham, Pina Bausch, Jiří Kylián, Nacho Duato, Mats Ek, Ohad Naharin, Crystal Pite, Cecilia Marta, Bob Fosse and Alvin Ailey.
Who is your favourite writer?
Who is your favourite theatre or cinema director?
Who is your favourite actor?
Who is your favourite singer?
What is your favourite book?
Why Mosquitoes Buzz in People's Ear.
What is your favourite film?
A Chorus Line.
Which is your favourite city?
New York City.
What do you like most about yourself?
My hair, skin, and eyebrows.
What do you dislike about yourself?
My bunions and knees.
Photos from NYC Dance Project's book The Art of Movement
What was your proudest moment?
My proudest moment would be when I graduated from the University of the Arts in Philadelphia, PA in 2011 awarded as the most improved dancer of my graduating class. That was also the same summer I got accepted into the Martha Graham Dance Company. When I had started at the University, I had no training in ballet, jazz or modern dance technique so to have graduated at the top of my class and be accepted into one of the most prestigious names in dance in the world meant that all my hard work and perseverance came into fruition. I was very proud.
When and where were you happiest?
I am most happy when I am either in nature, social dancing, or spending time with my closest friends. To have all these together in one would be heaven.
What or who is the greatest love of your life?
Dance is my greatest love.
What is your greatest fear?
My greatest fear is to be invalid.
If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
What do you consider your greatest achievement?
My greatest achievement would be when I was promoted to Principal Dancer of the Martha Graham Dance Company.
What is your most treasured possession?
My most treasured possessions would be an original drawing by Walt Disney and several of his cartoonists that was drawn for my great grandfather, and a piece of traditional Royal Kente cloth of my grandmother's that was given to me after she passed away.
What is your greatest extravagance?
My greatest extravagance is having a beautiful beach house on a remote island in the Caribbean with tons of food and close friends and live music, dancing the night away underneath the stars,
What do you consider the most overrated virtue?
No virtue is overrated.
On what occasion do you lie?
I tend to lie when I feel very uncomfortable.
If you hadn't been a dancer what would you have liked to be?
I've always wanted to be a dancer so if I decided to stop dancing then I'd want to become a choreographer and/or teacher to pass and share the gift of dance.
What is your most marked characteristic?
What quality do you most value in a friend?
What quality do you most value in a colleague?
Which historical figure do you most admire?
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Which living person do you most admire?
What do you most dislike?
Greed and vomit.
What talent would you most like to have?
I've always wanted to be able to sing well.
What's your idea of perfect happiness?
To be rich without any money.
How would you like to die?
In a pair of stilettos twirling into a frenzy. I absolutely love dancing in high heels so I'd like to die dancing in my favourite pair.
What is your motto?
Since you can fail at doing things you don't like, you might as well fail at attempting things you do like. At least this way you will enjoy the journey. Reaching the goal is not as valuable as how you get there… it's the journey that shapes you, so come to each new path with joy, peace, love and an eagerness to grow.
Abdiel Cedric Jacobsen – a biography
Abdiel Cedric Jacobsen is a native of Cote d'Ivoire and joined the Martha Graham Company in 2011. He performs in lead roles of Graham's repertory and in works by Nacho Duato, Robert Wilson, Sonya Tayeh, Luca Veggetti, Andonis Foniadakis, Michelle Dorrance, Larry Keigwin, Doug Varone, Richard Move, and Bulareyaung Pagarlava. He partnered with Diana Vishneva in Errand into the Maze as part of the Company's gala in 2012. Jacobsen received a BFA in modern dance from the University of the Arts. He is also a professional competitive ballroom and Latin dancer/instructor, and a guest artist with the Cecilia Marta Dance Company.
Graham Spicer is a writer, director and photographer in Milan, blogging (under the name ‘Gramilano') about dance, opera, music and photography for people “who are a bit like me and like some of the things I like”. He was a regular columnist for Opera Now magazine and wrote for the BBC until transferring to Italy.
His scribblings have appeared in various publications from Woman's Weekly to Gay Times, and he wrote the ‘Danza in Italia' column for Dancing Times magazine.
Fantastic interview and while most people from the formal ballet/tap/jazz world sometimes find that they can repurpose those skills in ballroom, it was so awesome to read how Abdiel got his start at Arthur Murray Dance Studio of all places.
And that picture of the grandparents dancing the Foxtrot should be a poster… not to mention all the other great shots of Mr. Jacobsen – wild animal picture included.
A tip of the hat to all who played a part in sharing this lovely story.