Alvin Ailey grew up in segregated Texas in the 1940s. “I grew up feeling like an outsider,” he said, “like someone who didn't matter."
An incident when he was only five - his mother was raped by a group of white men - also left him broken and scared. Only when he found the creative outlet of dance could he process his feelings.
His “outsider” status - he was also gay - informed his style. An opportunity to join Lester Horton’s modern dance academy, one of the first integrated dance troupes, gave an opportunity for him to express himself fully.
But his first few choreographed pieces, done in Horton’s style, were reviewed poorly. It wasn’t until he started choreographing his own work, which addressed sexism, racism, and alienation, that his career started to take off.
He eventually founded the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater (AAADT), and purposely made it more inclusive so other “outsiders” in the dance world - people of color, queer people, and those with diverse bodies - were featured.
The AAADT went on to become one of the most popular dance troupes in America.
Ailey created countless award-winning performances, and was even given a posthumous American Medal of Freedom by Barack Obama in 2014.
When we exclude the “outsiders” from our lives and our culture, we’re all done a disservice - as Alvin Ailey’s example shows!