Alvin Ailey, Founder

Alvin Ailey was born on January 5, 1931 in Rogers, Texas. His experiences of life in the rural South would later inspire some of his most memorable works. At age 12, he moved with his mother to Los Angeles, where he was introduced to dance by performances of the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo and the Katherine Dunham Dance Company. His formal dance training began with an introduction to Lester Horton’s classes by his friend, Carmen de Lavallade.  Horton, the founder of one of the first racially-integrated dance companies in the United States, became a mentor for Mr. Ailey as he embarked on his professional career. After Horton’s death in 1953, Mr. Ailey became director of the Lester Horton Dance Theater and began to choreograph his own works. In the 1950s and 60s, Mr. Ailey performed in four Broadway shows including House of Flowers and Jamaica. Mr. Ailey studied dance with Martha Graham, Doris Humphrey, Charles Weidman, Hanya Holm, and Karel Shook and also took acting classes with Stella Adler.
 
In 1958, he founded Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater to carry out his vision of a company dedicated to enriching the American modern dance heritage and preserving the uniqueness of the African-American cultural experience. He established the Alvin Ailey American Dance Center (now The Ailey School) in 1969 and formed the Alvin Ailey Repertory Ensemble (now Ailey II) in 1974. Mr. Ailey was a pioneer of programs promoting arts in education, particularly those benefiting underserved communities. Throughout his lifetime, he was awarded numerous honorary doctoral degrees, NAACP’s Spingarn Award, the United Nations Peace Medal, the Dance Magazine Award, the Capezio Award, and the Samuel H. Scripps American Dance Festival Award. In 1988, he received the Kennedy Center Honor in recognition of his extraordinary contribution to American culture. When Mr. Ailey died on December 1, 1989, The New York Times said of him, “you didn’t need to have known [him] personally to have been touched by his humanity, enthusiasm and exuberance and his courageous stand for multi-racial brotherhood.”
 

Featured News Releases

Ailey All Access Premieres Special Cry Film Adaptation on Mother's Day In Conjunction With The 50th Anniversary Of The Beloved Work

New York, NY – April 30, 2021 – The Ailey organization is furthering the pioneering vision of its founder by “bringing dance back to the people” and lifting spirits through Ailey All Access, a series of online offerings including streaming of free performance broadcasts, Ailey Extension dance and fitness classes, and more. In a joyful nod to the 50th anniversary of Alvin Ailey’s beloved work, Cry, viewers will be treated to a new film adaptation of Jacqueline Green interpreting the extraordinary solo premiering on a Mother’s Day Matinee, on Sunday, May 9 at 3pm EDT. Created as a birthday present for Alvin Ailey’s mother Mrs. Lula Cooper, Cry debuted May 4, 1971 and is dedicated to “all Black women everywhere – especially our mothers.”

Ailey Extension Online Jumps Into The New Year With New Ways To Join In The Dance

New York – January 5, 2021– Ailey Extension is stepping into 2021 with a range of inspiring new ways for students to dive into the world of dance. Throughout January the program’s “real classes for real people” will introduce two new weekly wellness classes; bring back the popular Kids & Teens Online Dance Series; and host a workshop led by Artistic Director Emerita Judith Jamison, in honor of our founder Alvin Ailey just days after what would have been his 90th birthday. Each new offering adds to the booming selection of online options available for dancers of all ages and experience levels.

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater Presents Ailey Forward - First-Ever Virtual Season Celebrating Six Decades Of Revelations December 2 - 31, 2020

New York – November 10, 2020 – This holiday season, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater will continue a tradition of uplifting and uniting audiences across the globe with a free virtual engagement celebrating six decades of Revelations, thanks to the generous support of Bank of America. Nine special presentations extending from December 2 – 31 will each be available online for a one-week period and open to all. Ailey’s extraordinary dancers will elevate a legacy of innovation and excellence in artistry with a reimagined season featuring premieres by Ailey’s Resident Choreographer Jamar Roberts; and Associate Artistic Director Matthew Rushing, in partnership with Company member and Assistant to the Rehearsal Director Clifton Brown, and former Company member Yusha-Marie Sorzano; a variety of other distinct programs; and a series of BattleTalk conversations, moderated by Artistic Director Robert Battle.

Featured Press Coverage

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New York Post - Giant Leaps: New Alvin Ailey Doc Celebrates Dance Legend’s Greatness

At the beginning of “Ailey” – the documentary about iconic choreographer Alvin Ailey, which opens in New York today – greatness recognizes greatness when Cicely Tyson calls him the “Pied Piper of modern dance” at his 1988 Kennedy Center Honors induction. And for this master of movement – who founded the internationally renowned Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater company in New York in 1958 – it was all about brining black people to the traditionally white world of dance.

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The New York Times - The Man Behind The Dances

Too often, the idea of Alvin Ailey is reduced to a single dance: “Revelations.” His 1960 exploration of the Black experience remains a masterpiece, but it also overshadows the person who made it. How can an artist grow after such early success? Who was Alvin Ailey the man? In “Ailey,” the director Jamila Wignot layers images, video and – most important – voiceovers from Alvin Ailey to create a portrait that feels as poetic and nuanced as choreography itself.