Arthur Avilés '87 (BardCorps)
Download Arthur Aviles Transcript (185 KB)
This interview was recorded as part of Myra Armstead’s 2017 course, Hist 117: Inclusion at Bard, which culminated in a series of oral histories with alumni/ae of color.
A first-generation New York-Rican raised in the Bronx, Arthur Avilés developed a unique relationship to his identity while studying theater and dance at Bard. Studying under Aileen Passloff, Lenore Latimer, Jean Churchill, and Susan Osberg, Arthur speaks fondly of his dance education. Greatly inspired by the unique pedagogy of his beloved professors, he says he “twirled and twirled in ecstasy” and trained his body according to “very jagged edges of dance.” Though he learned numerous styles and philosophies of dance, he points out the Judson Church Movement as most impactful in shaping his self-perception. Carrying the sense of this dance style into his personal life, which “wanted to bring the dancer down to the ‘every person’”, Arthur describes his political relationship to Bard as “nonexistent”. Admiring the idea that “we’re all the same in a wild way,” he maintains that he was not “politically aware [or] very savvy.”
After graduating from Bard and joining the Bill.T Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company, “Bill T. helped me to empower myself and to understand myself as who it is that I was, and am…Bard did not do that. So that's important, I think. Bard did not help me to understand who it is that I was–and am–as a Puerto Rican gay man from the ghetto… because I think that they were kind of, like, clearing away the intensity of what that means.” Arthur also discusses these feelings within the context of his parents who moved from Puerto Rico to New York in the 1950s and also faced an assimilation campaign of their own: “that's a pretty traumatic experience to really feel like you get–you're jettisoned out of the culture that you were born in. And figuring out, you know, how do I deal with that?”
Upon his arrival to Bard in 1981, his initial view was that of fascination: “it seemed as if people hadn't gotten over the initial shock of the sixties. There was women with flower skirts and flowers in their hair. It was nirvana for me. I just loved the atmosphere. And also to get away from, kind of, the urban setting that I lived in–which I loved very much. So I love my ghetto, but I also love to be able to be in other settings.” Finding his place in academia was not so much of a given matter, though, as Arthur was asked to leave after his first year. He discusses this challenging time, after leaving and before re-enrolling, as a period of determined self reflection: he stayed upstate, took classes at Columbia-Greene Community College, and “was able to get a window washing job…Sometimes I think about it and I'm thinking, what were you doing? Just trying to survive is really what I was doing… I found this old codger guy out in the woods. And he had a window washing business. I would ride my bike and I would have the bucket in one hand and I would have the squeegee in another hand… and I would make a little bit of money at doing that.” With renewed support from the Higher Education Opportunity Program, he returned to Bard and became a housekeeper for a Bard professor in order to make ends meet. Arthur relates his hardships proudly. Over the course of the interview, he refines his retrospect: “Myra is actually pushing me to realize who I was at Bard. And that was, really, a person who had no understanding of how it is that I could have been treated.” Joining the New York dance scene in the eighties, Arthur recounts his experience as a witness to the AIDS epidemic and “getting hit on the head with the reality of all that. But not necessarily at all going through any of that at Bard College.”
Since then, he founded the Bronx Academy of Arts and Dance (BAAD!) alongside Charles Rice-González and received a Bessie Award for Lifetime Achievement in Dance. He holds a BA, honorary doctorate and Arts and Letters Award from Bard College.
Arthur Aviles ‘87, Myra Armstead, Bessie Awards (New York Dance and Performance Awards), BAAD! (Bronx Academy of Arts and Dance), Bronx, Queens, Long Island, New York, Bill T. Jones and Arnie Zane Dance Company, Albany, Talent Unlimited, Manhattan, Puerto Rico, Alex McKnight, HEOP (Higher Education Opportunity Program), Ted Saffarally ‘86, Florida, Columbia-Greene Community College, Hudson Valley, Catskills, Mrs. Richmond, Professor William “Bill” Walter, Rhinebeck Antiques Fair, Red Hook, Professor Stephen Shore, Professor Aileen Passloff, Judson Dance Theater, Professor Susan Osberg, Sufis, Professor Jean Churchill, Professor Lenore Latimer, José Limón Dance Company, Merce Cunningham Dance Company, Audre Lord, AIDS (Acquired immunodeficiency syndrome), Mrs. Richmond, Charles Johnson III ‘79, Field Period
Aviles, Arthur, "Arthur Avilés '87 (BardCorps)" (2023). BardCorps -- All Oral Histories. 83.