An Ailey Dancer Loyal to His Miami Roots and Mentor

Mr. Roberts spent a week in mid-September rehearsing with Empire students, and will add other young dancers from the area later. He’ll travel from New York to work on the show, even as he prepares his first piece for the Ailey troupe, “Members Don’t Get Weary,” set to premiere on Dec. 8 during the company’s season at New York City Center.

After the Empire rehearsal, Mr. Roberts joined Ms. Fraser-Logan and her daughter Brooke, 23, at their house, where he stays when in Miami. They sat in the kitchen, eating leftovers, telling stories about his teenage appetite, his wariness of her dogs (“where I came from dogs bite you,” he said), how he dressed up as a cartoon character for Carter, Ms. Logan’s 7-year-old son; and how he coaxed Brooke through adolescence. (She will be his choreographic assistant for the Ailey piece in New York.)

Close as they are now, Mr. Roberts and Ms. Fraser-Logan come from different backgrounds. Mr. Roberts and his two brothers grew up in Goulds, a poor neighborhood he described as regularly torn by gunfire and drug busts. His family moved often, living with relatives when they couldn’t afford their own home. After Hurricane Andrew destroyed their house in 1992, he said his parents’ drug use made his family’s already chaotic home life untenable.

Photo

Angel Fraser-Logan, right, became a teacher and mentor to Jamar Roberts when he was in high school.

Credit
Scott McIntyre for The New York Times

“We just got poorer and poorer,” Mr. Roberts said. “Nights were really dark and heavy.”

He found an escape in sixth grade, when he was transfixed by a dance performance at his school holiday show: girls in sparkly purple dresses whirling to a syrupy Disney tune.

“My whole world changed,” he said, laughing. “They were spinning and…

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