Alvin Ailey


Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater

Ebony Bowen, Editor-In-Chief

Alvin Ailey was born on January 5, 1931 and was an African-American choreographer and activist who founded the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and the Ailey School in New York City. He is credited with popularizing modern dance and revolutionizing African-American participation in 20th-century concert dance.

Growing up in Los Angeles, Ailey did not become serious about dance until 1949 when his school friend, Carmen De Lavallade, introduced him to the Hollywood studio of Lester Horton, who would prove to be Ailey’s major influence, becoming a mentor and giving him both a technique and a foundation with which to grow artistically. Horton’s school taught a wide range of dance styles and techniques, including classical ballet, jazz, and Native American dance. Alvin quickly fell in love with dance. Horton’s school was also the first multi-racial dance school in the United States.

In 1969, a decade after founding Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Ailey founded the Alvin Ailey American Dance Center, which was later named the Ailey School in 1999. Beginning in Brooklyn with 125 students, co-directors Alvin Ailey and Pearl Lang aimed to provide access to arts and dance to under-resourced communities.

While Ailey maintained a largely closeted persona with regard to his sexual orientation, his sexuality did come through in his works. In Ballets like Quintet (1968), Flowers (1971), and The Mooche (1974), Ailey used grandiose and lavish costumes and set designs that displayed campy excess which was, at the time, prevalent and appreciated by some gay audiences.

His company gained the nickname “Cultural Ambassador to the World” because of its extensive international touring. Ailey’s choreographic masterpiece Revelations is believed to be the best known and most often seen modern dance performance. In 1977, Ailey was awarded the Spingarn Medal from the NAACP. He received the Kennedy Center Honors in 1988. Alvin Ailey died on December 1, 1989.  In 2014, President Barack Obama selected Ailey to be a posthumous recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom.