Yesterday would have been Alvin Ailey’s 79th Birthday. I just wanted to mark it.

Alvin Ailey born 5 January 1931 (d. 1989)

Alvin Ailey, Jr. was an African American modern dancer and choreographer who founded the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater on 92nd Street in New York City.

Born into poverty in Rogers, Texas, Alvin Ailey moved to Los Angeles at the age of twelve and was introduced to dance by performances of the Katherine Dunham Dance Company and the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo. His formal training in dance began with an introduction to Lester Horton’s classes by his friend, Carmen de Lavallade. It was with Horton, the founder of the first racially integrated dance company in the US, that Ailey embarked on his professional dance career. After Horton’s death in 1953, Ailey became the director of the Lester Horton Dance Theater and began to choreograph his own works.

In 1954, he and his friend Carmen de Lavallade were invited to New York to dance in the Broadway show, House of Flowers by Truman Capote. In New York, Ailey studied with many outstanding dance artists, including Martha Graham, Doris Humphrey and Charles Weidman and took acting classes with Stella Adler. The versatile Ailey won a number of acting roles, continued to choreograph and performed as a dancer.

In 1958, Ailey founded his own company, the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. Ailey had a vision of creating a company dedicated to the preservation and enrichment of the American modern dance heritage and the uniqueness of black cultural expression. In 1960, he choreographed Revelations, the classic masterpiece of American modern dance based on the religious heritage of his youth.

When Ailey began creating dance, he drew upon his ‘blood memories’ of Texas, the blues, spirituals, and gospel as inspiration. He concentrated on ballets that used blues, folk songs, and gospel to celebrate the southern Black Experience in America.

Although he created 79 ballets over his lifetime, Alvin Ailey maintained that his company was not exclusively a repository for his own work. Today, the company continues Ailey’s mission by presenting important works of the past and commissioning new ones to add to the repertoire. In all, more than 200 works by over 70 choreographers have been performed by the Company.

Alvin Ailey died from AIDS in 1989 at the age of 58.

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