Featured Artist during Black History Month

February 24, 2023
Ms. Dana Crigler, Ballet Teacher

Alvin Ailey Jr. (January 5, 1931 – December 1, 1989) was an American dancer, director, choreographer, and activist who founded the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater (AAADT). He created AAADT and its affiliated Alvin Ailey American Dance Center (later Ailey School) as havens for nurturing Black artists and expressing the universality of the African-American experience through dance.

Born in Rogers, Texas, at the height of the Great Depression in the violently racist and segregated south, during his youth Ailey was barred from interacting with mainstream society.  As an escape, Ailey found refuge in the church, sneaking out at night to watch adults dance, and in writing a journal, a practice that he maintained his entire life. Ailey studied a wide range of dance styles and techniques — from ballet to Native American inspired movement studies — at Horton’s school, which was one of the first racially integrated dance schools in the United States.[13][14] Though Horton became his mentor,[15] Ailey did not commit to dancing full-time; instead he pursued academic courses, studying romance languages and writing at UCLA.[16][17] He continued these studies at San Francisco State in 1951. Living in San Francisco, he met Maya Angelou, then known as Marguerite Johnson,[18] with whom he formed a nightclub act called “Al and Rita.”[19] Eventually, he returned to study dance with Horton in Los Angeles.[20]

In 1958 Ailey founded the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater to present his vision of honoring Black culture through dance. The company had its debut at the 92nd Street Y. The performance included Ailey’s first masterpiece, Blues Suite, which followed men and women as they caroused and cavorted over the course of an evening while blues music played in the background until church bells began to ring, signalling a return to mundane life.

Though AAADT was formed to celebrate African American culture and to provide performances for black dancers, who were frequently denied opportunities due to racist mores of the time, Ailey proudly employed artists based solely on artistic talent and integrity, regardless of their background.[35] In addition to his work as artistic director and choreographer with AADT, Ailey also choreographed ballets for other companies including American Ballet Theatre,[36] Joffrey Ballet, Royal Danish Ballet,[37] and The Metropolitan Opera. For American Ballet Theater, he created The River (1970), one of several choreographies he set to the jazz music of Duke Ellington.[38]