Recently, we were given the opportunity to experience Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater at the Joan Weill Center for Dance on West 55th Street firsthand. This building is the largest building dedicated to dance in New York City.
We also got to meet with Sydney Baldwin, who is the public relations associate. She was a dancer her whole life but also loved communications. This is her dream job to combine both things that she is so passionate about. She took us for a tour around the building, showed us where all the dancers dance, and told us about the history and present time of Alvin Ailey.
Alvin Ailey was an African-American dancer born in 1931. In 1958, he opened a dance theater company and was the first African-American dancer to do this. He wanted to see a dance studio that was available for all people to dance no matter who they were. He wanted people of all cultures, races, genders, shapes, ages and sizes to be able to dance together. Ailey died in 1989, but his dance company still follows the same mission. Some people go to Alvin Ailey Studios to practice for auditions, some belong to the company and perform all over the world, and some go to become students. Many people of all ages go to the studio to just have fun and exercise. Ailey and his company of great dancers became very famous in the late 1970s and 1980s.
Sydney brought us into a dance studio that overlooked Manhattan with giant windows and mirrors. In there we practiced Alvin Ailey’s famous pose. She also answered many of our questions about the building, Alvin Ailey himself and the studio. We asked her where the dancers live. Sydney said all over New York City, New Jersey and Long Island.
We asked her if the dancers dance all the time. She said that the dancers who work for the company go on national and international tours for about 20 weeks a year and have a little bit of time off in between. On the weekends the dancers of all ages run around the building from classes to studio. She reminded us that all people can take classes at Alvin Ailey and not just professional dancers. You can even have a birthday party there if you want.
After we toured the building with Sydney, we got to actually dance. We took part in a Mambo Kids class taught by professional dancer Katherine Jimenez. At first, we were a little shy but then we jumped right in. The dance moves we learned were the uptown, downtown, Suzie Q, and Cuba, to name a few. It was easy for us to pick up until we saw moves we didn’t know. Each step had a number, though. Katherine broke it down for us, slow at first but then faster. Then she put on music, and we had to dance even faster to keep up with the beat and the pace.
We think kids should take Katherine’s Mambo Moves 4 Kids class because even if you might think you are not a good dancer, this class will inspire you and help you never give up! One reason is that Katherine gives you a lot of compliments while you are dancing. That helped us to feel comfortable and confident to keep trying. There were two different levels of dancers in the group: kids who have been to the class before and first-timers. We also think this is a great class for boys, because sometimes boys don’t dance as much as girls. This would be a good starting class for boys to try because there are a lot of fast-moving dances and exercises.
After class we were able to dance with Katherine one more time by ourselves and then interview her. We asked her if she prefers to dance solo or in a group. She said she enjoys both because even if she gets stage fright or if she makes a mistake no one will know, and she just keeps on dancing when she is solo. However, when Katherine dances in a group, she has so many other friends and dancers to help keep her calm, and they work together to help each other. We also asked Katherine what her favorite dance move was and type of dance she likes best. She said she loves doing the shimmy and also mambo. She was the first dancer to bring mambo classes to Alvin Ailey Studios, and now they have it many times a week for all age groups.
Another question we asked Katherine was what she does when she gets stage fright. She said she sits by herself and listens to music and reminds herself of why she loves dancing. She said a lot of dancers take deep breaths and talk to the other dancers before the performance. Also to prepare for the performances, Katherine said, all the dancers take a class together to get ready.
We really enjoyed our day and experiences at Alvin Ailey. We think that kids, families, and everyone should go and experience the awesome programs and dance classes they have to offer, from not only the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, but Ailey II, The Ailey School, Ailey Arts in Education & Community Programs, and the Ailey Extension. They have so many awesome programs to choose for all different kinds of dancers and people.
You should join a class — it is so worth it. In January, Alvin Ailey has Latin Moves classes available for you to experience.
Lauren Shea Buckridge, John Ferraro and Laticia Robinson’s students, Grant Avenue Elementary School, Bronx