Lisa Johnson-Willingham

Lisa Johnson-Willingham
Please Credit Photo: Lisa Johnson-Willingham. Photo by Andrew Eccles

Lisa Johnson-Willingham became director of Ailey Extension in 2011, expanding Alvin Ailey’s vision that dance is for everybody through innovative and accessible dance programs for students of all ages, levels, and backgrounds. Under her leadership, the program has continued to thrive since its inception in 2005, attracting over 83,000 new students; creating annual workshops like Ailey Experience, Voices and Visions, and World Dance Celebration; and hosting premiere guest artists like Les Twins, Yanis Marshall, and Pretty BIG Movement.

For five years (1994-1999), Ms. Johnson-Willingham was a member of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater under the artistic direction of Judith Jamison. Throughout her career, she also danced with Cleo Parker Robinson Dance Ensemble, New World Dance Company, Donald Byrd/The Group, Joel Hall Dance Company, Deeply Rooted Productions, Footprints, and Cerqua/Rivera Art Experience.

During her time with the Ailey Company, Ms. Johnson-Willingham was invited by Judith Jamison to choreograph for Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater during its 40th Anniversary Season – a piece entitled Restricted (1998). While living in Chicago, she choreographed for many prominent dance companies, theater productions, and musicals at the Goodman Theater, Steppenwolf Theater, Chicago Dramatist, and Congo Square Theater Company.

Ms. Johnson-Willingham leadership experience in the arts includes a decade-long position as Director of AileyCamp Chicago, heading dance programs at the Dance Conservatory of Chicago High School for the Arts and Whitney Young Magnet High School, and teaching positions at Columbia College, Olive Harvey College, and Joffrey Ballet Academy of Dance.

Throughout her 24-year history with Ailey, she has been passionate about mentoring aspiring dancers, such as Ailey II dancer Martell Ruffin and Ailey dancer Solomon Dumas – who attended AileyCamp Chicago during her tenure and in 2016 became the first former AileyCamper to earn a role as member of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater.

A Washington, D.C. native, Ms. Johnson-Willingham attended the Duke Ellington School of the Arts and is a graduate of University of the Arts in Philadelphia. She currently lives in New Jersey with her two children, Quincy and Noah.

Featured News Releases

Lisa Johnson-Willingham Named as New Director of The Ailey Extension

The Ailey Organization announced that Lisa Johnson-Willingham, a former dancer with Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, has been named Director of The Ailey Extension. During her 18-year history with Ailey, Johnson-Willingham’s roles have transcended the stage to also include leadership positions as choreographer, teacher and educational program Director.

Featured Press Coverage

Playbill - Step From The Stage To The Studio

A professional dancer's body is a finely tuned instrument of movement and expression. And there are no more impeccably calibrated, eloquent "instruments" than those who make up the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater.

AM New York - Dance For The People At The Ailey Extension

AM New York - Dance For The People At The Ailey Extension

All nonprofit organizations have a difficult time in these profit-ravenous times, but the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater has a hidden weapon: its thriving Ailey Extension program, which offers classes in more than 30 different dance techniques to the public in about 80 classes a week.