Jewel and Jani Jeppe
IBEJI ESSENCE: TWICE BORN A BLESSING — IT JUST IS
The Yoruba and Akan of West Africa regard the birth of twins as a blessing to the communal home. After establishing careers on the Strip as dancers in Aladdin’s “Abracadabra,” Stardust’s “Enter The Night,” and the Luxor’s “Winds of the Gods,” Jani and Jewel Jeppe have become creative and strategic forces in the community as performing arts coordinator at the West Las Vegas Library Theatre and cultural activities specialist at the West Las Vegas Arts Center.
When my sister and I started working professionally, one of the gigs we got was the Ronald Reagan inauguration. They had youth from all over the country come to Washington and work on the ceremony, and the producer of the event was Robert Jani. The stature of this producer-director, very tall, native-indigenous and the way he unified everyone, made an impression on me. The name Jani stuck and that’s what I took for myself — someone who creates, makes alliances, gets people on board to create things. So, that’s what I called myself as I started my journey as a professional artist. My sister and I started dance very late, 17, in high school. There was this woman; her name was Dolores Vanison-Blakely. It’s funny the connection with Las Vegas. She was a dancer who danced on Broadway, and she was working as a physical education teacher in our high school in New York. She informed us she had an afterschool program. We went. Little did we know when we started taking dance class professionally, and made our way out to Las Vegas, there was another woman — Laverne Ligon — who was a cousin of Dolores Blakely. Small world. Two individuals were doing the same thing. Cousins. And they were both creating vehicles to work with youth and to create for themselves. One in New York, one in Las Vegas. So, we come full circle in working in shows along the Las Vegas Strip, now venturing into the community. We came here first in 1988. It was a show at the Aladdin hotel, “Abracadabra,” that brought a large black cast from New York, somewhat similar to “Jubilee!” Then we went on to other shows at the Stardust and at the Luxor. One of the last shows we did here was “Enter the Night” at the Stardust and opening the Luxor with “Winds of the Gods,” an Egyptian-type narrative show. Many performers work on the Strip and live their lives. Unless they’re doing company work outside of their commercial gig, they’re not venturing into the community to see what’s going on and lending themselves to the community. That’s what we started to do. We connected with Gwen Walker; she had a building right here in this community, an African-American museum. We would go find Afro-centric things; so, here’s the arts center and here’s the library and Sam’s bookstore, Native Son. That’s how we made the connection in the community when we were working professionally. It just lent itself. In life and in work you always have to transition to another facet. There began our transition from working dancers to now working on the creative administrative end of creating programming. And we are really blessed to be a part of it. Humbled to be a part of it. Play your part. Stop worrying about everybody else, be who you say you are. Then when you have opportunities, know the opportunity is there because you prepared for it. [If] somebody doesn’t cast you, cast yourself. In essence, life and people will try to shift you into defining your identity by putting parameters on you. No matter how similar we are, we still are different. You just have to look for it. And it’s really not important how different we are to establish self. In terms of our working together or sharing our lives together, it just is, and will be until it changes.