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Alvin Ailey

Born Jan. 5, 1931, to a single mother in Rogers, Texas, Alvin Ailey has long been hailed as one of the most inspiring dancers and choreographers of his generation. Throughout his career, he was dedicated to expanding the tradition of modern dance in America. As an African-American, Ailey believed it was extremely important that the black cultural experience inherent in modern dance be acknowledged and cultivated by other choreographers, dancers and patrons.

He began his studies with famed choreographer Lester Horton’s company, the Lester Horton Dance Theater. Ailey eventually took over as director in 1953. As director, he began choreographing his own dances steeped in several dance disciplines, including ballet, modern and jazz dance. Many of his pieces were influenced by the African-American spiritual tradition. One of his best known works, Revelations, was based in his own experiences growing up black in the South and the “religious heritage of his youth” [source: ABT].

Ailey began his own company several years after moving from California to New York to dance on Broadway in Truman Capote’s House of Flowers. His company, the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater performed for the first time in public on March 30, 1958, at the 92nd Street YM-YWHA in New York City. Ailey often referred to the subsequent series of dance venues around the country as the “station wagon tours” [source: Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater].

By the time he died in 1989, Alvin Ailey had worked with some of the biggest names in American dance, including Martha Graham. He choreographed more than 79 ballets over the course of his influential career. His company received numerous awards, including the Kennedy Center Honors in 1988. In recognition of his amazing contributions to the world of dance, Ailey was inducted into the National Museum of Dance and Hall of Fame in 1992. Ailey’s legend as a dancer and choreographer lives on. His pieces have graced the stages of some of the most venerable dance companies, such as the American Ballet Theater, Dance Theater of Harlem and Paris Opera Ballet.

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