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“Listen to that inner voice.” Learning to approach uncertainty with Jennifer Jones, the first African American Rockette

Updated: Jun 27

Jennifer Jones of Speaking of Phenomenal Podcast

Season 3 of the Speaking of Phenomenal Podcast starts with dancer, author and former Rockette Jennifer Jones. The first Black woman ever on the line in Radio City, Jennifer built a career as a professional dancer, having performed on Broadway’s Tony Award-winning musical “42nd Street” and Simply Red’s music video “Infidelity.” She is the author of the children’s book “On the Line: My Story of Becoming the First African American Rockette” and a forthcoming memoir, which will be released next year.

Throughout the ups and downs in her career and personal life, Jennifer learned to follow her intuition and persevere even when the path wasn’t clear. She had to abandon her passion for the stage for family reasons and battled cancer at the age of 50 after fostering healthy habits her entire life. In this first episode, Jennifer shares with Amy Boyle her unshakable belief in providence, inviting us to embrace our challenges as tools for growth. “If you move through roads open for you, avenues open.”

Despite being shy as a child, Jennifer fell in love with the stage while performing at her fourth-grade recital. After watching Broadway’s “The Wiz” five times with her parents and getting autographs from performers who “looked like me,” she made her decision. “That’s what I want to do. I want to walk out of that stage door.”

Growing up practicing tap dance, jazz and ballet, Jennifer enrolled in a dance program at a local college close to her home in New Jersey, which opened the doors to the Broadway Dance Center, where she took dance classes. She applied to a Rockette audition and got a call back even though she had little experience and doubted her potential. Jennifer learned later from a news channel that Radio City had hired the first woman of color as a dancer. She just didn’t realize she was that woman.

Jennifer's Rockette days - holiday outfit
Jennifer's Rockette days - photo supplied

She found resistance among people in the field but continued to pursue her career. “I wanted to dance. I wanted to be on that stage, have the lights, the lashes, the lipstick. And no one was allowed to take that away from me.” She only stopped dancing to find a better means of supporting her family. She didn’t have a college degree and didn’t know how to type, but again, she persevered. “I was starting over and over.”

At 50 years old, a cancer diagnosis tested her resilience one more time. She had stage III colorectal cancer, and her doctor said she would live for about five more years. Through Dancers Against Cancer, an organization that gives financial support to people in the dance community who are battling cancer, Jennifer found the help she needed to pay her medical bills.

Jennifer high high kick now - dancer pose on stairs
Jennifer high high kick now - photo supplied

Now an advocate for diversity in the arts and colorectal cancer awareness, Jennifer teaches children and adults to be resilient in the face of adversity by listening “to that inner voice” we all have within. “It’s very important for people to get still and quiet and really, really listen to what their gift is to the world.” Have you ever tried to find out what your gift is?

Find Jennifer on: Instagram, Facebook

Carolina Baldin is a freelance journalist from Brazil. Having worked in law, policy and regulation, she is passionate about everyday stories that illustrate larger issues. She graduated from a master's program at Northwestern University in 2023 and became a guest blogger on the "Speaking of Phenomenal" podcast blog in March 2024.

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