In honor of Black History Month, I would like to celebrate Alvin Ailey. Mr. Ailey’s contributions to the art of modern dance are as historic as his contributions to civil rights in America.
Alvin Ailey Jr. was born in rural Texas in 1931, during the height of the Depression. When he was 14 years old, he experienced theater for the first time, seeing concert dance on the stage of the Los Angeles Philharmonic Auditorium. You can only imagine the impression that experience had on him, for only a decade later, he founded the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater.
Ailey’s vision of this dance company was that it would be dedicated to enriching the heritage of modern dance in America and would preserve the uniqueness of the African American cultural experience. In 1960, Ailey’s most famous work, Revelations, was performed at the 92nd Street Y, a cultural center on the Upper East Side of Manhattan in New York City. This piece is still performed today. Take a look at this breathtaking example of RevelationsHERE, performed at the Lincoln Center on December 6, 2020.
Alvin Ailey’s talent as a choreographer will stand the test of time, and his dedication to promoting art education in underserved communities undoubtedly changed the lives of more young artists than we can count.
Ailey’s influence at CA
Our own Colorado Academy dancers have been influenced by the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. In the beginning of the pandemic, CA dance instructor Melissa Zaremba invited her students to create “Dancer Diaries,” a concept created by the famous dance company. While quarantined and doing remote learning, the dancers were asked to use this time for introspection. They were invited to write reflective journal entries and then create and record a dance in response, while speaking their own words.
Ms. Zaremba says of the experience, “Ailey’s dance company modeled a very fruitful way to artistically engage while in an isolating pandemic. It gave students an outlet of expression, while introducing how to present their craft in a new way, through video.” In the true spirit of Ailey, our artists pushed themselves out of their comfort zones.
Alvin Ailey choreographed like a sculptor sculpts. He once said, “Dance is about creating something where there was nothing before. Choreographers start with an empty space, a body or two, and we carve into the space.” This is a concept that has always guided my philosophy as an art educator. Our job as educators is to instill artists with the mindset that they can and will create something out of nothing and, as a result, change the world.
Ailey passed away in 1989. We must remember how impactful one artistic experience can have on a child. Alvin Ailey watched dancers on a stage at the age of fourteen, and it transformed his life. As a result, he transformed our culture.