Name: Bill T. Jones
Who is he: Dancer, choreographer, director, author, HIV/AIDS activist.
What he’s accomplished: In 1982, Jones and his partner of over a decade Arnie Zane formed the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company. To date, the troupe has created over 100 works, performed in over 200 cities in over 40 countries.
Throughout his career, Jones has combined art with activism. In 1989, during the height of the AIDS epidemic, he choreographed D-Man in the Waters, which aimed to raise awareness about the horrors of HIV/AIDS then tearing apart the gay community, and in 1994 with his groundbreaking show Still/Here, which was about his own experience of being diagnosed with HIV.
Still/Here was a huge success and received an international tour. Homophobic reviewers labeled it “victim art.” Most, however, lavished praise on Jones for tackling a subject that, at the time, was still considered very much taboo. In 2016, Newsweek declared “Jones is probably best known outside of dance circles for his 1994 work Still/Here.”
In 2011, Jones was the subject of a PBS documentary titled A Good Man that followed him behind-the-scenes as he created a dance-theater production honoring Abraham Lincoln’s Bicentennial titled Fondly Do We Hope… Fervently Do We Pray.
We honor those we’ve lost and those who are still fighting. #worldaidsday ?: Bill T. Jones and Arnie Zane photographed by Robert Mapplethorpe
Why we’re proud: Jones is one of the most influential modern-dance choreographers and directors. Over the years, he has received numerous honors and awards, including the Human Rights Campaign’s 2016 Visibility Award, the 2013 National Medal of Arts, and the Kennedy Center Honors in 2010, among others too numerous to name here.
Much of his success comes from the fact that he has never been afraid to tackle uncomfortable or taboo topics in this work decades before anybody else dared. In a 2018 interview with American Theater, he said:
I am a man who is looking at 70 years old, have been a maverick for many, many years, and now I want to participate in big conversations, and I wanna do it in a way that I know how to do it.
It’s this attitude of dancing to the beat of his own heart that makes Jones such an inspiration and powerful figure to celebrate this half-century of pride.