A love letter to Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater

From a dancer’s outstretched body, a tip of a hat, and the twirl of an umbrella, to how fabrics flow with every bend and bow, each act is its own happening and affirmation

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A love letter to Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater

Photograph by Paul Kolnik

My tutu was a little too tight when I attempted to plié as gracefully as a seven-year-old could at the Forest Heights, Maryland, recreation center in the 1970s. That was the extent of my ballet training, but I never lost my fascination with dance. For more than a decade, I just never saw any dancers whose skin was brown like mine.

My first ticket stub says April 30, 1988.

I’d graduated from Morgan State University just under a year prior, and I splurged on a ticket to an Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater performance at Baltimore’s Lyric opera house. I’ll admit that, at the time, I was more in awe of the costumes and music than the significance of a Black dance company or the ingenious creativity of Alvin Ailey, who founded the company to express the universality of Black culture through dance.

Since then, I’ve moved to Atlanta and have taken up frequent pilgrimages to the performances, now presented every February at the Fox Theatre in Midtown. It didn’t take me long to realize that people of all ages and hues prepared for the Ailey tour like an annual rite of passage. Tickets often have to be secured months before. I’ve likened performances to family reunions. I don’t know everyone’s names, but there is surely a connection: the love of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. From a dancer’s outstretched body, a tip of a hat, and the twirl of an umbrella, to how fabrics flow with every bend and bow, each act is its own happening and affirmation—as if to say, Everything’s going to be all right.

Then, toward the end of the evening, there’s a moment—a stillness, a hush, a low hum. The stage’s darkness is warmed slowly by luminous brown skin, revealing nine dancers poised in formation with arms outstretched. It is a signal of the end—but feels more like how dawn breaks. Although Alvin Ailey’s repertory has changed throughout the years as different artistic directors like Judith Jamison and Robert Battle took turns interpreting Ailey’s visions, there has always been one constant, choreographed by Ailey himself. The unchanging, final act: the revelation of Revelations.

Dancers unified with graceful power—a welcoming in, of sorts, to all who are willing to embrace every movement set to spirituals, blues, and hums. And along with them, I smile, I stand, I sway. Sometimes I feel a tear, then another. It means so much more to me than to be entertained. The production is a visual and spiritual reminder to treasure life’s moments as dancers move to meaningful lyrics: My soul is glad / My soul is free / I’m going home / I’m going home to live with Thee.

The hope of hopefulness.

February in Atlanta? I’ll continue to gift myself and others with the Alvin Ailey experience as a reminder that all is well. Oh, rocka my soul . . .

This article appears in our February 2023 issue.

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