Watching Jamaii Melvin dance feels more like having a conversation than observing a performance. Yes, the 19-year-old has flawless technique, and moves with an arresting combination of strength and vulnerability. But he's not dancing for himself. Instead, Jamaii uses movement to react to and shape the world around him.
Jamaii started dancing around age 7 at Paramount Dance Studio in Homestead, FL, and later moved to Dance Empire of Miami. He made a splash in the comp circuit early on, winning Mini Male Best Dancer at The Dance Awards in 2012 and 1st Place National Junior Elite Dancer at West Coast Dance Explosion in 2014. But he remembers beginning high school at New World School of the Arts in Miami as a turning point. "They introduced me to the world of concert dance, which completely shifted my approach," he says. "I noticed I liked more structure and rigor, so ballet and contemporary became more apparent in my dance vocabulary and choreography."
After his junior year, Jamaii started training at Miami Dance Collective, and quickly flourished on his newfound path. In 2019, he choreographed "Into One's Gray," a raw and emotional solo that helped him earn him NYCDA's Senior Outstanding Male Dancer title and made him a YoungArts finalist in choreography. The piece also served as college audition material, captivating the panel of judges at his dream school, Juilliard.
Photo by Kaybee, courtesy the National YoungArts Foundation
Jamaii, who was the 2019 winner of the NYCDA Foundation Dance Magazine College Scholarship, is now about to begin his sophomore year at Juilliard. What are his longer-term goals? "My dream is to dance for Nederlands Dans Theater, but I also want to have my own company," he says. "I want to fuse contemporary, ballet, Gaga theater, everything that helps tell a story." He's constantly sharing new ideas and choreography on his Instagram platform, Uncharted Figures (@uncharted_figures)—hopefully the name of his future company.
Ultimately, Jamaii hopes to keep developing his passions for dance, choreography, and connection. "Dance lets me articulate my thoughts and ideas," he says. "I love that this art can affect something greater than ourselves."
"Jamaii has a special sense of musicality that is only enhanced by his technique. With the mind of a choreographer, he has many different perspectives to lean on when he's interpreting repertory. The sky is truly the limit for him." —Alicia Graf Mack, director of the dance division at The Juilliard School
Photo by Christopher Duggan, courtesy Jacob's Pillow
Birthday: April 13, 2001
Hometown: Miami, FL
When he's not dancing: "I'm either journaling or singing."
Song that always gets him on the dance floor: "The Box," by Roddy Ricch
Favorite movie: "Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen, because I can relate!"
Favorite choreographer: "Just one?! Crystal Pite, and Alexander Ekman."
Biggest dance inspirations: Jamar Roberts, Barry Gans, and Mackenzie Meldrum
If he couldn't dance: "I would try to compose music. I don't play any instruments, but in another life I definitely would. There's never been an interest for me in doing anything but art."