Troy Powell

How I teach Horton Technique

The Manhattan skyline is the perfect backdrop for Troy Powell’s Advanced Beginner Horton Technique class at Alvin Ailey studios. The parallel and perpendicular lines of skyscrapers and apartment towers seen from the windows of the fifth-floor studio mirror the shapes every student in the crowded room is striving for. Hinges lean back, flat backs reach forward, lateral tilts strive for length and arms extend with “elbows nice and lifted” and “energy out of the fingertips.” The exercises progress steadily in tempo from eight-count phrases to four counts to eventually two and sometimes one. With a knowing smile and elegant carriage, Powell calls out counts and encouragement for his difficult and continuous warm-up. He seems to feel the synchronicity of these two grids at his very core. “Horton would say that this is a very parallel technique,” he says. “Ailey put it in his choreography because of the beautiful shapes—like this view—and because it has dimension, form and life.”

Powell, a former dancer with Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and director of Ailey II, has developed a following among the adults of this Ailey Extension class. He attributes the popularity to the most obvious by-product of training in the Horton technique: strength building. “Physically, your body grows, you get stronger, whether you are a professional or just starting out,” he says. Lester Horton, Alvin Ailey’s mentor, developed the technique to realign the body and prepare it for any style of dance. The core muscles are constantly being engaged eccentrically as the torso moves away from the legs. Balances on one leg use all the stabilizing muscles surrounding the joints of the hip, knee and ankle. Dancers will want to give in to their flexibility when they move into extended lateral positions (some of which resemble an arabesque), but Powell insists that “the architecture of the technique demands energy from the fingertips to the toes to create long lines and right angles.”

He acknowledges the difficulty of getting the positions right, but cautions his students not to overanalyze it. As they struggle with rising up to demi-pointe at the end of a lateral balance, he is lighthearted. “It’s just a test, no big deal, don’t be dramatic,” he says. Powell offers such seemingly impossible challenges to help the dancers push themselves and gain confidence.

While the challenging physicality of the technique is certainly part of the draw, it is also hard not to observe the positive energy and morale Powell brings to the room. He is unflappable about latecomers rushing in from work. He asks foreign students where they hail from and invites a husband peering in the window to come into the room to observe. He even poses for a photo with the man’s wife mid-correction.

After working a long combination across the floor several times to the right, Powell asks the perspiring, out-of-breath dancers, “Should we try the other side? Of course! That wasn’t really a question.” Symmetry, after all, is just another reassuring part of the form. DT

Candice Thompson danced with the Milwaukee Ballet Company and is a writing fellow at Columbia University.


Troy Powell’s is an Ailey prodigy story. He was recruited through a kids’ program and brought to The Ailey School at age 9 as a scholarship student. In addition to studying and mastering Horton technique, he studied Graham technique at the school. After graduating from The High School of Performing Arts, he briefly joined Ailey II before moving into the main company. He danced in the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater for 10 years before becoming artistic director of Ailey II. During his time with the company, Revelations (he credits his many years of Horton with helping him conquer it), The Stack-Up and Suite Otis were among his favorite ballets to perform. While leading the second company and teaching in The Ailey School, Powell has also made time to choreograph concert and commercial dance for companies and programs such as Dallas Black Dance Theatre and “Sesame Street.”


Model: Shay Bland, 23, dancer with Ailey II


Photography by Kyle Froman

Teacher Voices

There were plenty of reasons why we were happy to bid 2020 a not-so-fond farewell, but for tap dancers, the end of such a difficult year was the final curtain on a decade in which the art form experienced remarkable growth.

Over the past 10 years, The School at Jacob's Pillow launched its first-ever tap programs; companies such as Dorrance Dance and Caleb Teicher & Company emerged and produced award-winning work; Operation Tap became an important voice in online tap education; the American Tap Dance Foundation established its new home in Greenwich Village; The Kennedy Center presented its first full-length tap concert; and so much more.

As the new year sees tap dance trying to maintain this positive momentum despite the ongoing restrictions of the pandemic, we invited several of the field's living legends to meet on Zoom and discuss how they perceive the current state of tap dance and tap education.

Keep reading... Show less
Teacher Voices
Getty Images

In 2001, young Chanel, a determined, ambitious, fiery, headstrong teenager, was about to begin her sophomore year at LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts, also known as the highly acclaimed "Fame" school. I was a great student, a promising young dancer and well-liked by my teachers and my peers. On paper, everything seemed in order. In reality, this picture-perfect image was fractured. There was a crack that I've attempted to hide, cover up and bury for nearly 20 years.

Keep reading... Show less
Health & Body
Getty Images

Though the #MeToo movement has spurred many dancers to come forward with their stories of sexual harassment and abuse, the dance world has yet to have a full reckoning on the subject. Few institutions have made true cultural changes, and many alleged predators continue to work in the industry.

As Chanel DaSilva's story shows, young dancers are particularly vulnerable to abuse because of the power differential between teacher and student. We spoke with eight experts in dance, education and psychology about steps that dance schools could take to protect their students from sexual abuse.

Keep reading... Show less

Get Dance Business Weekly in your inbox

Sign Up Used in accordance with our Privacy Policy.