Alicia Graf Mack Is Bringing A New Light To Juilliard’s Dance Division

by Michael Mahany | 4/17/2018 2:07 PM


Alicia Graf Mack. Photo Credit: Ailey/Arthritis Foundation


Quietly, during a week chock full of huge dance news— everything from the announcement of the 2018 cast of Dancing With The Stars to the opening of the Justin Peck choreographed Carousel on Broadway— a very special announcement came out of The Juilliard School’s Dance Division. A piece of news that in another week may have garnered more attention, should be given it’s due notice; the famed institution's prestigious school of dance announced last Tuesday that Alicia Graf Mack will become the new Director of Dance beginning July 1st.


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Ms. Graf Mack, a distinguished dancer, educator, and academic will bring a new light to the already highly regarded program. Offering a different cultural background in both heritage and dance style from previous heads of the department, Ms. Graf Mack, who is biracial, performed as a leading dancer with the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre as well as Dance Theatre of Harlem and Complexions Contemporary Ballet.


Ms. Graf Mack will succeed the acting artistic director, Taryn Kaschock Russell, who, after joining the Juilliard faculty in 2014, served as Associate Director of Dance during the 2016-17 academic year. Ms. Russell inherited the position of Acting Director when the long serving Lawrence Rhodes, stepped down from the position in 2017.


Graf Mack begins her new tenure when the previously announced former New York City Ballet Dancer, Damian Woetzel, takes over as the School’s new President.


Alicia Graf Mack (right) in Flowers” with Jamar Roberts (left). Photo Credit: Ruth Fremson/The New York Times


Alicia brings exceptional energy, creativity, and enthusiasm to the position of director of Juilliard’s Dance Division,” current Juilliard President Joseph W. Polisi said in a press release. “She is an innovative thinker and role model, and I am delighted to know that she will be leading our dance students into the future.”


Ms. Graf Mack, who grew up in Maryland, has danced with Alonzo Kings LINES Ballet, as well as legends of the pop world like Beyoncé, John Legend, Andre 3000, and Alicia Keys.


Even by hiring me, they are sending a signal,” Graf Mack told The New York Times. It’s important that each person is seen as an individual. There’s no cookie cutter look for a concert dancer.”


At the age of nineteen, Graf Mack was diagnosed with ankylosing spondylitis, a form of arthritis often affecting the spine and spinal joints, but can affect the entire body.


“I was living my dream, dancing professionally in New York City, and all of the sudden, my body betrayed me,” Graf Mack said in an Arthritis Foundation fundraising video. “I had severe inflammation throughout my body, in my joints, and even in my eyes. I couldn’t work, I could barely walk, much less dance, and I had to retire.”


After receiving her diagnosis, she halted her dance career altogether; yet during her time off, she achieved an undergraduate degree in history from Columbia University whereupon she graduated magna cum laude.

It wasn’t long after her graduation from Columbia, however, Graf Mack found her way back to dance and soon began performing with Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre in 2005.


Graf Mack has attributed a healthy diet to a significant change in the management of her arthritis.


“I discovered that changing my diet actually had a lot more influence on my body than the medication did,” Graf Mack said in a spot promoting the New York City based heath restaurant, Juice Generation. “I’ve pretty much maintained a gluten free and dairy free diet, and I try to power my body with really good foods, whole foods, and I find it has made all the difference in the world.”


Graf Mack is also a well respected and decorated dance educator. On top of her own academic achievements— she’s also earned a Master Of Arts in Nonprofit Management from St. Louis’ Washington University— she is a faculty member at The University of Houston and a visiting assistant professor of dance at Webster University. Graf Mack also created her own youth arts education program called D(n)A Arts Collective, “an initiative created to enrich the lives of young dancers through master classes and intensives.”


Alicia Graf Mack. Photo Credit: Alvin Ailey.


I am going to be committed to empowering young artists to know that they are the thought leaders and trendsetters now,” Graf Mack continued in her interview with The Times.


Among Ms. Graf Mack’s other notable accomplishments, she was named an American Innovator of the Arts and Sciences by Smithsonian Magazine, received the Columbia University Medal of Excellence, and is a published author.

“I am beyond thrilled to join The Juilliard School and community in this capacity. The opportunity to work with young artists who are on the precipice of achieving their dreams brings me a great sense of pride and responsibility,” Graf Mack said upon the announcement of her new position. “Looking forward, I see Juilliard’s Dance Division as a place that continues to embrace innovative ideas and new modalities of dance making, while holding steadfast to the legacy and incredible history of the institution.”


For more on Alicia Graf Mack, follow her on twitter, and check out The Juilliard School’s website.


Follow Michael Mahany on twitter and instagram @michaelmahany

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