In our July issue's History: Lesson Plan, we learn about Alvin Ailey, who founded what would become one of the world's most famous modern dance companies. From its earliest days, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater performed dances that reflected the African-American cultural experience to concert dance audiences.

Jacqueline Green in Alvin Ailey's Cry

Check out excerpts from Ailey's 1971 masterpiece Cry. In this piece, dedicated to Black women everywhere, a woman in a long white skirt expresses anguish, strength and joy through sharp gestures, suspended balances on one leg, spinal undulations and spinning. Cry was created on Judith Jamison, who performed with the company, 1965–80, and was handpicked by Ailey to succeed him as artistic director.

Photo by Paul Kolnik, courtesy of AAADT

For more on Ailey, subscribe to Dance Teacher and receive the July issue.

Former Ailey principal Nasha Thomas-Schmitt with Newark AileyCampers

Though Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater enjoys super-star status as a company, its leaders know great dance often grows from humble beginnings. As part of the organization’s Arts in Education department, AileyCamp is designed to serve inner-city middle-school students nationwide. This summer, the oldest AileyCamp location, Kansas City, Missouri, celebrates 25 years of vital dance outreach. Other locations—from Miami to Newark—adhere to the same principles that have guided Kansas City for the past quarter-century.

Children must apply for the tuition-free summer camp, though dance experience is not a prerequisite. The most important attribute for students is the desire to learn and grow. Former Ailey dancer and director of the Berkeley/Oakland AileyCamp David W. McCauley says, “[Alvin Ailey] gently reminded us of our responsibility to give our very best. Remember who you are, imagine who you wish to be, and give it your all!” He adds, “Mr. Ailey always said to his dancers, ‘You are all gods and goddesses!’” AileyCamp presents similarly supportive “daily affirmations,” or resolutions of love and encouragement, ceremoniously recited by a different camper each day.

The day camp offers classes in ballet, jazz, Horton technique, and West African dance, as well as workshops that foster self-expression and personal development. The program also provides counseling in nutrition, conflict resolution, sexual responsibility, and substance abuse prevention. Dancers participate in a culminating public performance at the end of the six-week session.

Photo by Joe Epstein,

Having to learn a large chunk of new material in a short amount of time isn't a new conundrum for dancers, but that doesn't make it any less stressful. Elisa Clark, who has previously danced for Lar Lubovitch and Mark Morris, recently joined Ailey—just in time for the company's performances this weekend at Lincoln Center. Luckily, she's learned from Lubovitch that the best way to solidify choreography is to make the movement her own.

"Two years ago I was learning a piece that Lar had created on someone else, and there was a lot of intricate partnering. Every time we'd try something and it wouldn't work, I would say, 'Sorry, sorry' to my partner. Lar came over to me and said, 'Elisa, I don't want you to apologize anymore, because every time you do, your whole body says it, too.' That's when I realized how much of a connection there is between the physical and the mental in dance. Lar invited me to take the time to decide how I wanted to execute every step."

Clark will perform with AAADT July 15-16, at New York City's David H. Koch Theater at Lincoln Center.

Photo courtesy of Elisa Clark

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