“I had an idea to start a dance team…”
Jamara Hill, a 2010 graduate of Brooklyn Friends School, has a deep relationship with her alma mater as well as the student body, having joined the BFS faculty full-time this academic year as a teacher in the Physical Education Department and as a 7th Grade Middle School advisor. But her connections to BFS go much deeper. “While this is my first year as a full-time faculty member, for more than two years I taught PE Dance in the Upper School, worked as an afterschool teacher in the Horizons Plus program, and was a substitute teacher in the Tech and Dance Departments,” she said. Add to that her work as a choreographer for the fall BFS musicals and as the coach of the co-ed, 7th through 12th grade Panthers Supreme Dance Team, and the portrait of an involved, committed, and accomplished young woman emerges. Multi-talented, professionally driven, and ambitious for her students, Jamara does so much to make Brooklyn Friends School shine. “I am grateful and honored to be part of a community that has impacted my growth as a student, society member, and now teacher,” Jamara reflected upon her return to the school. BFS, in turn, is grateful to Jamara and delighted to feature her in the following “10 Questions” alumni interview.
You have described the Panthers Supreme Dance Team as especially near and dear to your heart. How did it get its start at BFS?
As a junior at Brooklyn Friends, I had an idea to start a dance team. There was already a step team in place, but there was no dance team, and I really wanted to bring that to the school. A funny story is that originally I wanted the team to be called Lady Panthers but it turned out that Brooklyn Tech had that name for their dance team so that’s how the name Panthers Supreme came about. It started just as an idea and now it’s been built up as a tradition with a great legacy. I’m really excited and very proud of how far it’s come.
How would you describe your background and growing up years, and what led you to BFS?
As a child, I was into a lot of activities where I could express myself creatively – whether that was through dance, figure skating, theater camp, or my premature attempt at starting a singing group. My middle school guidance counselor suggested Brooklyn Friends as a great place for me to thrive creatively. Upon arriving at BFS in 9th grade, I was not only exposed to new art forms and skills that helped diversify my creativity, but I also learned the value of introspection and self-reflection. These values have made me a more thoughtful and well-rounded artist and I seek to instill them in all of my students through my teaching and coaching.
Where did you attend college and what was your major?
I attended Marymount Manhattan College for freshman year and then I transferred to Manhattanville College in my sophomore year. I majored in Management with a concentration in Marketing, and I minored in Dance.
What led you to come back to BFS after graduating from college and beginning a career in the business world?
I was working part time in e-commerce fashion when I first revisited BFS. I don’t exactly remember what motivated this particular visit, but once I arrived I learned that BFS was looking for substitute teachers. Shortly after, I started substituting and quit my job in fashion without knowing if I would have a job once the school year ended. Thankfully, I was offered a job teaching Dance PE and coaching Panthers Supreme. I was honored to be asked to coach the team that I started as a student. It felt like everything was coming full circle and that I was meant to be back here. I receive confirmation of this every day, when I work with the dancers, see them perform and, most importantly, see them come alive on the stage and beyond.
What were some of your extracurricular activities when you were at BFS?
I was heavily involved in the performing arts while at BFS. I trained with the Rod Rodgers dance company while in school and I also figure-skated, which I stopped so I could focus on school. As a junior, I started to get more involved in activities at BFS such as the musical, the step team and of course the newly-developing dance team. Even with my busy schedule, I always say that I wish I had played volleyball while in school, though I didn’t because of the dance team.”
Who were some of your friends when you were at BFS, and do you still stay in touch?
Our graduating classes were much smaller back then — about 30 people — so we were all very close and still are. I still see people from my class on the weekends, at birthdays and other events. I’m particularly close with Rufaro Gulstone, another founding member of Panthers Supreme, and Asha Boston, founder of the Dinner Table Doc and Passion Fruit Vineyard Productions. Panthers Supreme has collaborated with Asha on numerous occasions.
Who were the BFS teachers that had a lasting impact on you?
I am very grateful to have learned from Jenna Goodman, my IB English teacher. Jenna inspired my writing and yearning for critical thinking. She taught me the strategies needed to question literary work and I’ve applied those strategies to every facet of my life. I credit Jenna for helping me become more introspective and explorative, which I think are crucial skills to have when navigating life, especially in today’s world. Another teacher who inspired me in this way is Jesse Phillips-Fein. I have grown to appreciate my time with Jesse even more, now that I’m her co-worker.
Tell us more about the ways this professional relationship with Jesse has evolved.
Jesse taught and has continued to teach me that dance is more than just a series of steps or a performance. Until my time at BFS I had just been what I like to call a “face value dancer” — a dancer who just trains and performs but doesn’t really dive into the intricacies of dance. Jesse exposed me to dance styles and conversations around dance that I’ve never had before, and that versatility is so important to have as a dancer and person. It adds layers of depth, evolution and humility that everyone can benefit from. Seeing her work with current students and inspiring this in them has helped me appreciate her work even more, and I am very thankful to have learned from her and now be working with her.
What advice would you share with current students at BFS?
Know that what is meant for you will be yours, nothing happens by coincidence, and everything comes full circle. Every pitfall or challenge is put in place to help you become who you need to be, to get where you need to go. Please do not be discouraged by closed doors, but rather assess, reflect, and work towards opening new ones. I encourage students to never stop learning and discovering new interests.
Your personality is serious, methodical, and professional. You also are exuberant, curious, and full of joy. What is it that inspires you and how does that translate into your work with students?
I wouldn’t be here to inspire my students if my mom hadn’t put me in a dance class and ignited a passion I never knew I had. You never know what will come from trying something new. I’m so fulfilled when members of the team share their newfound interests in becoming professional dancers, dance teachers, studio owners and more with me — all discoveries they unpack during their time on the dance team. I truly believe that in the end everything works itself out. I know that trying times can be discouraging, especially when navigating in spaces that may be uncomfortable, but I’m living proof that those challenges make you stronger and teach you lessons that are necessary for your growth as a person. I encourage all of my dancers to continue to try new things to unveil their truest creative potential. Brooklyn Friends has been and still is a great, inclusive space for students to try new things comfortably without judgment.