Lisa Johnson-Willingham

Director

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

Ailey Extension And AREA Atlanta Join Forces To Host Classes Led By Stars Of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater During First-Ever Virtual Ailey Experience Destination Dance Atlanta Workshop Series

(New York) January 27, 2021 – For the first time in the five-year history of its collaboration, Ailey Extension and AREA Atlanta are coming together to make the multi-day Ailey Experience Destination Dance Atlanta event into a virtual affair. This year’s participants are in for a unique treat, as the workshops will be taught by current Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater Company members. The three-day weekend experience immerses greater Atlanta residents in the spirit of Ailey with classes in Horton, contemporary, and West African techniques, while introducing dancers to the exciting world of choreography, creativity, and fun in a non-competitive environment. These classes and the preceding panel discussion allow participants to learn the rich history of Ailey’s signature style and how he changed the perception of American modern dance.

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater Invites Viewers To Enjoy Family Programs During Ailey Forward - First-Ever Virtual Season Celebrating Six Decades Of Revelations

New York – December 4, 2020 – Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater invites families around the world to gather for special family programming during Ailey Forward – the Company’s first-ever virtual holiday season. Led by Artistic Director Robert Battle, Ailey’s extraordinary dancers will elevate a legacy of artistic innovation and excellence while celebrating six decades of Alvin Ailey’s timeless Revelations. Nine presentations through the holidays, each available free online for a week, carry on the tradition of uplifting audiences and making dance accessible to all with engaging family-friendly programs and interactive experiences to uplift and unite across generations.

Ailey All Access Moves Forward With Free Performances By Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Ailey II And Special Class Series Marking 15 Years Of Ailey Extension

New York, NY - April 2, 2020 - The Ailey organization continues to share the Ailey spirit with people wherever they are during this challenging time through Ailey All Access – free online streaming series featuring performances of full length works from the repertory, Ailey Extension dance classes, and original short films created by the Ailey dancers, and other especially created content.

Featured Press Coverage

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New York Magazine "The Cut" - In Her Shoes: The Dance Director Who Loves A Bright Suit

As the director of Alvin Ailey’s public dance and fitness center, Ailey Extension, Lisa Johnson-Willingham is literally on the move, constantly. On any given day she could be teaching a master class to students, taking a dance class herself, meeting with clients about potential partnerships, or all of the above. Add to that two teenage children, and Johnson- Willingham has a packed schedule that takes her from parent-teacher conferences to red-carpet appearances. To ensure she’s always appropriately dressed, her desk doesn’t just house extra shoes, but also workout clothes and the occasional camisole for after-hours events.