INGLEWOOD — Matthew Rushing sees performing in the arts as a calling. The dance universe is where Rushing has exhibited his passion for the greater part of 25 years.
As rehearsal director and guest artist for the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, the Inglewood native is very good at what he does.
An elder statesman in the dance profession, Rushing has been compared to retired NFL star Peyton Manning because of his sustained success and longevity.
“I wish I had his bank account,” Rushing said in a phone interview. “I still am very honored to have that comparison, and I don’t take it lightly.”
Rushing’s work with the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater shouldn’t be taken for granted, either. During his tenure with Ailey, Rushing has put together several ballads and is now a voice behind the scenes.
“One of the roles that I am really starting to love is just being there for the dancers,” Rushing said. “The dancers in the (Alvin) Ailey Company are some of the hardest working dancers in the world. They take on a lot of responsibilities. They have a challenging repertoire, meaning they have different styles of ballet to perform, all in one evening.
“They may go from classical ballet to modern to jazz/dance to hip-hop, all within one evening. It takes a lot on the body, and when your body is stretched, emotions get stretched, they’re mentally stretched. So, I’m also there in that aspect, kind of like their cheerleader and kind of like their coach, rooting them on and letting them know that they can do it.”
Rushing had his own personal rooting section as he put his aspirations as a dancer into motion. His mother was his main cheerleader. Kashmir Blake became the coach who gave Rushing his dance lifeline as he immersed himself in the art.
“My mother did an amazing job of exposing me to the arts,” Rushing said. “She’s the one who enrolled me in my first after-school program and introduced me to the arts. That led me to another mentor … which led me to my first dance teacher, Kashmir Blake, who get me involved in the arts and introduced me to dance companies and training and all that stuff.
“I had all these people around me, directing me in the right direction. I went to Los Angeles County High School for the Arts. Once I got there, I was surrounded not only by mentors and teachers, but other people who were just as passionate about the arts as I was. That was another encouraging thing.”
Rushing not only mastered the rhythmic movement expressions that dance calls for, he excelled at it. The line of accolades he has received over his storied career is too long to list. Performance numbers in front of Presidents George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama, as well as being named a Presidential Scholar in the Arts awardee, has secured Rushing’s legacy in the dance world.
Every time he and the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater performs, Rushing adds a new layer to that chapter. The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater was in Southern California recently for four performances at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Orange County.
“What drew me to dance was, one, I was good at it, to be honest,” Rushing said. “It was a natural match. I didn’t have to work hard to access it and I enjoyed how I how felt when I was doing it. I felt, in a sense, empowered, even as a young person. I probably didn’t realize what that was or what it meant, but I felt a sense of power and belonging as a young person. So, that was the first initial attraction and then it grew once I started becoming a professional, it became even more intense. It was an idea of understanding of what I was meant to do on this earth like it went into purpose.”
Dance has become more than a way to make a living for Rushing, who joined the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in 1992. It is a way of life.
“As I look back at the beginning of my career, it was that moment that my heart opened that even now sustains me through the hard times,” said Rushing. “I have a relationship with the art of dance and that relationship has given me a strong foundation to persevere through hard times, challenging situations, and as a result, I’ve succeeded in a career.”
That same type of enthusiasm that Rushing sees in younger dancers can be muted, however, if they don’t do their homework and implement a plan to accompany those aspirations, he said.
“When I hear young people having this affinity for dance or the art, I think it’s important that, one, they know it is a true love; it is not some kind of hobby,” Rushing said. “It has to be something that they truly love and that they are willing to commit to. It’s going to take a lot of hard work and sacrifices.
“If they are there, if they are at a point where they say I love what I do or love the idea of their career in this, it’s hard to stop them at that point. That fuel and that fire will get them to do what they need to do.”
While he celebrates the desire expressed by some of these young dancers to rush into his line of profession, Rushing is quick to caution them not to go into the business without a plan.
“I would say to young people, if it’s something that you really want to do or you’re passionate about it, do the research,” Rushing said. “Don’t just go out there blindly and say I want to be a dancer, but you don’t know what kind of dancer you want to be, you don’t know what kind of company you’d want to be in because that all determines your path and what you’re pursuing. So along with that passion, you’ve got to get some wisdom.”