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Mon, 01.05.1931

Alvin Ailey, Modern Dance Leader born

Alvin Ailey

Alvin Ailey was born on this date in 1931. He was a Black dancer, choreographer, and founding director of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater.

Initially from Rogers, Texas, Ailey enrolled in UCLA and became involved with the Lester Horton Dance Theater in 1949. In 1954, he moved to New York City, where he appeared in a number of stage productions, gaining fame for the strength and grace of his performances. Four years later, Ailey formed his own company, which performed the works of noted choreographers and his creations, often inspired by African American heritage.

His works include techniques of modern dance, jazz dance, ballet, and ethnic dance. Many of these are based on African American spirituals, expressing universal themes of faith and humanity. Ailey choreographed for several companies besides his own, including the American Ballet Theatre, Paris Opera Ballet, and Joffrey Ballet. The company's honors include the Dance Magazine Award, 1975; The Capezio Award, 1979; the Samuel H. Scripps American Dance Festival Award, 1987; and Kennedy Center Honors, 1988.

Alvin Ailey received honorary doctorates from Princeton University, Bard College, and Adelphi University. In 1979, he was awarded the Spingarn Medal of the NAACP. He racially integrated his formerly all-Black dance company in 1963 after encountering reverse racism.

To Become a Dancer


Encyclopedia of African American Culture and History
Volume 1, ISBN #0-02-897345-3, Pg 175
Jack Salzman, David Lionel Smith, Cornel West

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