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Celebrating 50 years of the Ailey School

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African American choreographer Alvin Ailey founded The Alvin Ailey Dance Center, now called the Ailey School, in 1969.

Eleven years had passed since he launched the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater with a critically-acclaimed performance at the 92nd Street Y in New York City. The company would fulfill his vision to celebrate Black culture through dance, and give rise to masterpieces such as Ailey’s Revelations, which still thrills audiences today with its emotive choreography set to blues and church spirituals.

After touring in the mid ‘60s, Ailey started the Ailey School in Brooklyn. Now located in Manhattan, the school offers dance training to students between ages 3 and twenty-five.

“It’s such a privilege to continue to build a pathway that Mr. Ailey started for us so many years ago,” student Hannah Richardson said in an interview with ABC 7 News. 

The Ailey School has trained 75 percent of the dancers in the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, with remaining alumni enjoying successful careers in dance companies and productions worldwide. 

“He could see almost the future in dance, and what he did, he did with such heart and honesty and love that it still is alive today,” said Tracy Inman, who co-directs the Ailey School with Melanie Person.

A native Texan, Alvin Ailey was born in 1931 and lived in poverty before moving to Los Angeles at the early age of twelve. Ailey studied languages and athletics before he was inspired to take up dance. He studied with Lester Horton and then joined the Lester Horton Dance Theater, among the first in the U.S. dedicated to modern dance.  Horton was also an early advocate for the racial integration of dance companies. By 1958, Ailey had performed on Broadway, trained with Martha Graham, and formed his first multicultural modern dance ensemble.Of the school, and Ailey’s legacy, Inman said, ”I hope people will still recognize and appreciate all that we are, all that we have been, and all that we can be as we move forward.”

Cassandra Etienne is a freelance reporter and video journalist based in New Jersey. Her multimedia and documentary projects reflect an interest in cultural reporting, and in covering social issues such as civil rights, women's health, and education and healthcare reforms.