Observations on the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater From a Dancing Non-Dancer

Illustration for article titled Observations on the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater From a Dancing Non-Dancer
Photo: Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in Rennie Harris’ Lazarus. Photo by Paul Kolnik.

I’ve always been a lover of dance. I am an avid consumer of dance, and an active participant in dance culture—I be dancing, y’all. To know me is to know that at one point or another, you will have to pull me off of a dance floor. In fact, a friend (who is a professional dancer) once referred to me as the “most dancing non-dancer” that she’d ever met. Take that, take that *said in Diddy voice.* I wear this badge with pride. Needless to say, I jumped at the opportunity to attend Alvin Ailey’s 2019 season at Lincoln Center.


The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater is an unequivocally black dance experience. Late founder and world-renowned choreographer Alvin Ailey will be the subject of a forthcoming Barry Jenkins film, and he has left an indelible mark on the world of dance. After 60 plus years, the dance company has maintained its integrity, offering audiences an awe-inspiring dance experience. Alas, the company’s Spring 2019 season featuring “Lazarus” and their signature “Revelations” has come and gone, but here are a few observations from a dancing non-dancer:

Dance can be social justice-themed.

Founder Alvin Ailey has always been about that social justice life. After all, part of his goal in founding the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater was to bring a bit of the African-American experience (the good, the bad, and the terribly unjust) to the masses. This was a revolutionary act.

Rennie Harris’ two-act ballet, “Lazarus” is an hourlong critique of blackness in America. The piece focuses on life, death and the release of Spirit. Through the language of dance, the Alvin Ailey Dance Theater tells a story of the life and times of black folks—spanning from before the Civil Rights Movement to today—from lynchings to the death of unarmed black men. With spoken word throughout the piece, including phrases like, “I’m a black man in a white world” and Nina Simone’s “Feeling Good,” there is no question that dance can critique our world and seek to make change.

Hol’ up—the folks at Ailey Milly Rock?!

I definitely saw a Milly Rock or two, on the Lincoln Center stage. And a Dab! Ayyyyeeee! Come, through Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater! “Lazarus,” the two-act ballet by Rennie Harris was latent with notes of hip-hop. I didn’t expect to see the Milly Rock, or a Dab or the samba on a Lincoln Center stage. Nor did I expect to be bouncing to house music. Expect the unexpected, I suppose? Yes, Ailey—give the children popular dance realness.

“Revelations” will forever be a masterpiece in American dance.

I’ve had the opportunity to see Alvin Ailey’s signature piece “Revelations,” several times. The dance hits. Every. Single. Time. The negro spirituals will take you to a place of deep remembrance, and perhaps deep sorrow. But through it all comes triumph. “Revelations” is a national treasure and should be protected at all costs.


The children are watching.

One of my favorite parts, if not my favorite part, of the 2019 Alvin Ailey season was seeing those who this work inspires. Lincoln Center was filled with onlookers: tourists, wannabe dancers, dance aficionados and a few aunties, of course. But a little black girl who sat a few rows away from me caught my attention. She was tall, wore glasses and her hair was pulled back into an afro puff. She wore a black shirt and jeans with a black tutu. The girl walked closely behind her mother during the intermission—perhaps she was a little shy. I thought, “If this little girl saw what I saw, how could she not be awed?”


My hope is that if the children see these dancers on the stage, then they will know (and believe) that with hard work, they too can become Alvin Ailey dancers performing on a stage at Lincoln Center.

Afro-Cuban woman that was born and branded in New York. When León isn't actually creating cool videos, she's thinking of cool videos that she can create.