Caroline Lewis Jones Loves Herself and is Glad

By Bonnie Boiter-Jolley

Caroline Lewis Jones told her parents that she wanted to be a professional dancer when she was twelve years old. Now at 30, the performer, choreographer, and teacher whose impressive career has led her to New York City, Tokyo, and Los Angeles, among other exciting places, is back in South Carolina and stronger and smarter than ever. The powerhouse still has no room for “trying” in her vocabulary, only “doing”.

Known today for her raw, emotional and athletic movement, Columbia native Lewis Jones began her dance training, like so many others in the area, at the Calvert Brodie School of Dance. At a young age, Lewis Jones was drawn to tap because she “loved to bang [her] feet all over the ground.”  Intrigued by what she deemed the “harder,” and more “new and fresh” movement her sister was learning, the young mover soon broke ranks to audition for and join the performing company Southern Strut. Lewis Jones asserts that this was where she made many of the best friends she has to this day.

At the age of 19, Lewis Jones began working with renowned choreographer Mia Michaels. She credits Michaels’ high expectations and the emotional requirements of the work with allowing her to really discover herself. A huge influence on her work, Lewis Jones says of Michaels, “She would push us to limits of joy, exhaustion, humility, and take my soul to the most insecure places.”

Lewis Jones’s work with Brook Notary in Notario Dance Company in NYC left a different but equally important stamp on her philosophy. She has only positive reflections on the four years she spent with the small company where she says she felt respected, important, and loved. These feelings play a large role in the way she engages with her students today. Along with Michaels and Notary, Lewis Jones says Nancy Giles, owner of the Southern Strut, was a major influence in her training and still remains her dance mentor. Not only did Giles teach her that she had to work for what she wanted, but she also instilled confidence in the young dancer, simply by believing in her. Lewis Jones, who is now constantly on the go teaching all over the country, says that if she can teach her students to love themselves and what they do, she feels as though she has accomplished something.

Along with love comes respect and Lewis Jones feels that, particularly for dancers, this respect demands a responsibility to one’s self and body. Nutrition plays a huge role in her life philosophy and she believes that a consistent regimen of exercise and a diet of natural and whole foods can help maximize a person’s potential and prevent disease. Lewis Jones says her mission in dance is to help dancers to be healthier. “I see a lot of talent,” she says “but they cannot sustain it.”  Though she has always been health conscious, Lewis Jones admits that it wasn’t until after her mother’s death from a 17 year battle with cancer in 2005, that she really started to take a health initiative. Lewis Jones calls her mom’s death the “largest challenge” she has faced, but rather than letting the experience bring darkness into her life, she says it made her “want to take over the world.” Fueled by this determination, Lewis Jones began work on “Finding My Way,” a one woman show in tribute to her mother, Joan Hightower Lewis. Working in solitude, the artist recalls spending three months in the studio, recreating the final days of her mother’s life. “My mom was my everything,” Lewis Jones remembers passionately, and calls her death “the most beautifully sad moment” of her life. Her work resulted in a reaffirmed belief in her artistry and what she views as her best and favorite work on stage.

Back in Columbia for seven years now, Jones reflects on how her life here differs from her life in New York City. “NYC is Art,” she says, but she enjoys the fact that here, grown up Caroline can have a house, a car, a yard and a garden, and maybe even a family soon. Though Lewis Jones believes that change is in store for her hometown, she mourns the fact that she sees the same people at every arts event. While she loves the intimacy that comes with knowing her audience, she perceives that Columbia “wants and needs more.” She calls for suburbanites to discover the abundance of talent in the city.

Among this talent is Unbound, the company Lewis Jones co-founded with close friend Susan Dabney in 2008. The group was originally intended to be a home for trained dancers who wanted to perform while maintaining their day jobs, but over the years, the company has evolved with its founders. The differing but complimentary backgrounds, personalities and artistic styles of the two women are what Lewis Jones says make the company work. “We’re like night and day,” she says. Of her own choreographic style, Lewis Jones says she leads with her heart. She believes everything must have a focus and asks her dancers to reach within themselves to find the emotional motivation to get lost in her raw, passionate and athletic movement.

Lewis Jones has graced many stages performing works by renowned choreographers, appeared in music videos, on television, and with musical acts NSYNC and Britney Spears, but she still cites inspiring her students as her highest accolade. She recalls an email she recently received from a student claiming she changed her life by helping her to maximize her potential and get through a rough time with dance. “This made me cry,” she admits. Lewis Jones hopes her students stay true to themselves. “We all have hardships,” she says, “get over it.” Though blood, sweat, tears and hard work may make a dancer, “to be an artist, you must really love yourself.”



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