MARCH 30, 1958
When Alvin Ailey and other young, modern Black dancers performed at New York City’s 92nd Street Y, it was meant to be a one-night event. Instead, the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater company introduced the world to the discovery of what Black dancing could be, performing for audiences in 71 countries, including kings and queens.
Ailey grew up in Texas, “glued to my mother’s hip. Sloshing through the terrain. Branches slashing against a child’s body. Going from one place to another. Looking for a place to be. My mother off working in the fields. I used to pick cotton.”
In 1960, Ailey debuted Revelations, regarded as a masterpiece. Through his dances, he sought to show “dark deep things, beautiful things inside me that I’d always been trying to get out.” And when his friend, fellow choreographer Joyce Trisler died, he created a dance to honor her —a dance that illustrated both loneliness and celebration.
“I couldn’t cry,” he later confessed, “until I saw this piece.”
In 1988, he received Kennedy Center Honors, with legendary broadcaster Walter Cronkite introducing him as “a choreographer who helped free Blacks from the cage of tap-dancing.”
Dying of AIDS, Ailey passed on his company to Judith Jamison, who said, “Alvin breathed in and never breathed out.” She continued: “We are his breath out.”
A 2021 documentary details his journey, and the Ailey school remains the largest place in New York City dedicated to training dancers.