Posted Sept. 10, 2008 – Abdur-Rahim Jackson, a performer with the famed Alvin Ailey dance troupe, says that security officers at the Israeli airport forced him to dance to prove who he was before allowing him into the country.
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Israel’s security forces, which are notoriously strict, reacted to his Muslim name, Jackson told The Associated Press. He described the situation as degrading and embarrassing. The officers even suggested he change his name, he said.
“To be greeted like this because of my name, it took me back a little bit,” said Jackson, who is Black.
The Harlem-based Alvin Ailey Dance Theater, which Congress designated a “vital American cultural ambassador to the world” earlier this year, made Israel its first stop on a six-nation tour. The tour is part of the troupe’s 50th anniversary celebration.
Jackson said that when his plane arrived at Israel’s international airport he was singled out and taken to a room where he was questioned about the origins of his name. Jackson said that when he told them he was a performer, they told him to dance.
“I stood up. I asked what type of dance?” he told AP. “He said, “Just do anything.’ I just moved around.” Shortly afterward, a woman officer made him do a jig all over again. “The only time I’m really expected to dance is when I’m performing,” he said.
Jackson got his name from his father, a convert to Islam, he told AP. Jackson is not religious. In fact, he’s engaged to a Jewish woman, who is in the troupe and has relatives in Israel. He said that Israeli officials and U.S. dignitaries have apologized profusely since the unfortunate episode, and he has gotten over it.
“We’re only here to bring positive light to our lives and the people here,” he said, calling the group’s multicultural appeal “an amazing bind you can’t touch, you can only experience.”