Keeping up with choreographer and dancer Juel D. Lane

For dancer and choreographer Juel D. Lane ('02), life is all about breaking through boundaries—and giving back to the school that gave him the confidence to do it.

He’s done plenty of both since graduating with a BFA from the UNCSA School of Dance with a concentration in Contemporary Dance. He’s taking command of the national stage with his boundless, captivating style. However, it’s hard to keep up with Lane’s more recent accomplishments. 

This year, Lane was chosen as one of only ten dancers to perform in NBC’s Emmy Award-winning “Jesus Christ Superstar Live,” choreographed by alumna Camille A. Brown. When commenting about being selected for the performance Lane said that it was, “a dream opportunity for any dancer, and I couldn’t be more grateful to be a part of it.” This was not his first collaboration with Brown, as he has been a long-time ensemble member of Camille A. Brown & Dancers.  

In September, Lane’s piece “Touch & Agree” received two awards from Celebration of Dance: Choreographer of the Year and Best Choreography for Live Performance. The original work by Lane debuted in October 2017, and was his choreographic debut with Ailey II, a second company created by the world-renowned Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. 

Touch & Agree

Suffice it to say that Lane has come a long way since his first foray into dance. A child of the ‘80s, growing up in Atlanta, he fashioned leg warmers out of a pair of old socks and got his groove on in front of the family TV, dancing along with the cast of the popular series “Fame.” 

“Every time it came on I would pretend to be in the show. I felt like they were speaking to me, even though I didn’t understand the storyline. I just saw that a black guy could do this — that this was a possibility.”

Sure enough, like the kids in his favorite TV show, Lane went on to study at Atlanta’s version of the performing arts magnet school. At Tri-Cities Visual & Performing Arts High School, under the direction of Dawn Axam and Freddie Hendricks, Lane was named Student of the Year in 1998. From there he landed at UNCSA after, ahem, a memorable audition during which the cassette tape he brought to accompany his dance solo malfunctioned not once, but twice. (“I just kept moving in silence,” he recalls.) 

It was here, at UNCSA, where Lane found his identity as a dancer. Like a sponge, he soaked in all the school had to offer—listening, observing, experimenting and dedicating every spare moment to his passion.

That’s why he feels it is vitally important to give back.

Over the past several years, Lane has returned to his alma mater on numerous occasions to work with students to develop the next generation of dancers. A member of the UNCSA Summer Dance Contemporary faculty, Lane spent time working with up-and-coming dancers, ages 12 to 18. For Fall Dance 2018, Lane premiered a new original work titled “DM,” set to original music by composer Munir Zakee. 

When describing “DM,” Lane says “the piece dives into the world of social media. It takes a spin on how we function from the palm of our hands. Social media is a great asset to the world, but can also cause trouble.”

During the 2015-16 academic year, he was an artist in residence and worked with students to premiere his original choreographic work “When the Beat Drops.”

“It is so important for the students to find their own identity. Once you can own your personality, you attach that personality to the moving body, and you have this beautiful artist who is confident and not afraid.” 

Fear is not a word in Lane’s vocabulary these days. The Atlanta-based artist’s fearless fusion of various dance styles attracted national attention in 2013, when he was named one of Dance Magazine’s “25 to Watch.” 

Lane credits the well-rounded training he received at UNCSA in both classical and modern dance for his versatility on the stage. “Wherever I go in the world,” he adds, “they say UNCSA students can do it all. UNCSA really prepared us to be individuals and to be able to grasp any style. That speaks highly to the nurturing you get at the school.”

Associate Dean of Dance Brenda Daniels, who taught Lane during his UNCSA days, remembers his raw, rough-around-the-edges talent. She watched with awe as he repeatedly put himself on the line, performing in many different kinds of work. 

“He was the kind of dancer that everyone wanted to work with. He developed a greater ability technically, and his confidence grew, but he never developed an ego,” Daniels recalls.

He was the kind of dancer that everyone wanted to work with. He developed a greater ability technically, and his confidence grew, but he never developed an ego.

Associate Dean of Dance Brenda Daniels

“When someone is that talented, that gifted, that able, coupled with his extreme modesty, pleasantness, respectfulness and ability to be generous and giving—it’s not often those two things go together—it makes for a wonderful dancer that everyone wants to use. When Juel comes into the studio, there is no ego, no baggage. He is just there to do the job.” 

“I would have him here all the time if I could.”

The training he received at UNCSA, and the work ethic he developed here, helped Lane reach his goals and dreams. Now he’s returning the favor. 

“Somebody did it with me,” he reasons, “so why would I not do it with these kids here at the school now? I never came from that way of thinking that once you make it, you’re good. I came from that way of thinking that you have to give back.” 

“You have to share your gifts.”

by Melissa Upton & Dave Roos

Originally published: November 9, 2015

Story last updated: October 22, 2018