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Setting a high bar: Performance artist encourages York City youth

Dawn J. Sagert
York Dispatch

New York City dancer Jamal Story wants York City's youth to aim high.

"You want to just strive to be your best self all of the time and know that the bar can always go up a little higher," he said as children arrived for his performance earlier this month at Crispus Attucks Community Center.

York City Mayor Michael Helfrich, left, talks with performance artist Jamal Story prior to Story's performance at Crispus Attucks Community Center in York City, Thursday, Feb. 15, 2018. Story is a writer, producer and dance-aerialist based in New York City and is  touring with Cher. Dawn J. Sagert photo

Story was invited to York by local nonprofit organization Positive Energy Arts, and prior to his Feb. 15 performance the dancer of 25 years enthusiastically engaged in several conversations, including one with York City Mayor Michael Helfrich.

The two share a common passion for youth, and both noted that education was strongly encouraged while they were growing up and helped to cultivate the values they now hold.

Story was raised by his mother, an English teacher, in Carson, California. 

"My mother told me to always strive to be better than myself, so that I didn't get into the habit of being comparative all the time. It wasn't about, you know, whether you're better or not than 'that person,' because that also involves a judgment of 'that person,'" Story said.

Performance artist Jamal Story is presented by Positive Energy Arts at Crispus Attucks Community Center in York City, Thursday, Feb. 15, 2018. Story is a writer, producer and dance-aerialist based in New York City and is touring with Cher. Dawn J. Sagert photo

Positive conditioning does something for self-esteem that enables one to thrive, said Story, who has performed on Broadway, toured with Madonna and is currently on tour with Cher.

After an opening performance by the Southside Steppers, he took the stage and performed a solo from "Obamania." 

Performance artist Jamal Story, right, talks to Sakai Smallwood, 11, of York City, about incorporating "the worm" into a dance routine being built with audience members during a performance, presented by Positive Energy Arts, at Crispus Attucks Community Center in York City, Thursday, Feb. 15, 2018. Story is a writer, producer and dance-aerialist based in New York City and is touring with Cher. Dawn J. Sagert photo

The event wasn't about Jamal Story, though. It was about the kids.

After performing his solo, Story sat on the edge of the stage and answered questions from the audience before inviting the children on stage with him.

Then, together, they built a dance routine that they then performed. Afterward, Story compared their dance to a folk dance that defines a community and gives it presence. 

"Movement is the oldest form of communication," he noted.

Story encouraged his audience to build a community around activities they enjoy doing together. Just as his mother encouraged him through education and surrounding him with a strong support system, Story encouraged others.

"The bar was high," he said of his mother's expectations for him. "My mother didn't paint some picture of success for me. She was always supportive of everything I did."