5 Ways Alvin Ailey Changed My Thoughts On Dance

This semester, I decided to take a course called 20th Century Dance History. Why? Well that's something people proceeded to ask me multiple times. With good reason. It wasn't a requirement for my degree and I didn't need any extra credits. I didn't have some secret desire to be a ballerina when I was growing up nor was I some dance fangirl. I'm not even a good dancer, I'm more a fall-down-and-break-a-stair kind of girl. Before this class, I associated dance more with crappy basements where guys think grabbing you is an acceptable way to say hello. In the end, I took the class and managed to enjoy it. It didn't drastically change my perception of dance- afterall, watching youtube clips and reading articles can only get you so far. But the class did inspire me to do something that I'd never done before- go to an actual, professionial dance performance. And wow, Alvin Ailey was a badass. The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater pushed the boundaries of what I thought dance was suppose to be and what it could be. Here's what the company taught me about what a professional dance troupe can and doesn't have to do:

 

1) Dance Can Be More Than The Nutracker

Before this performance, I was expecting something expected. The same old, same old. I thought there would be tutus and young white girls with bowes in their hair. There wasn't. I thought I'd be the only college woman in a sea of older couples and families. I wasn't. 

2) Dance Doesn't Need Music 

Before Alvin Ailey, I always thought of dance as a reaction to music. People hear a song and they dance. While music could stand alone, I never thought dance could. Yet, there were times in the performance where no music played. At times, powerful speeches by strong figures like MLK took the place of music. Other times, all that filled the silence was the beating of the dancer's feet. And you know what? They didn't need any music.

 

3) Dance Doesn't Need A Plot

For the first 1/3 of the dance concert, there were three separate and seemingly unrelated dances. If that didn't confuse me enough, after those dances the curtain went down. "Are they done already?" I asked my friend as I got ready to leave. It wasn't done and I slowly realized there wouldn't be a typical story arch in this dance performance. It surprised me. But it also meant I got to see a wider range of the dancers talent and made me respect the dance for the movement and not the storyline.

 

4) Dance Can Be Political

During certain pieces, the cadence of Martin Luther King Jr was all the music the company need. Yes, it was an innovative way of formulating a dance. But it was more than that. It made me think in a way no politics class could ever do. It said things that I think most people struggle to put into words. These dances were particularly poignant in today's current political climate. "This performing arts community plays a crucial social role, using the beauty and humanity of the African-American heritage and other cultures to unite people of all races, ages and backgrounds," the company says on their about page.

 

5) Dance Can Still Push The Limits

So, turns out, Alvin Ailey was kind of a badass. First of all, he's credited with revolutionizing African-American involvement in modern dance. Ailey's dance "Relevelations" is the most often watched modern dance. Thats some big shoes to fill. And yet, they've more than filled it.

Photos curtesy of Robert Torres, house photographer at Celebrity Series of Boston