Alvin Ailey’s Politics in the Art of Dance Introduction Alvin Ailey is a dancer and choreographer who is famous for his works that highlight the distinct African American culture. It was the artist in him that gave the inspiration to open himself to the application of styles that were not within the bounds of traditional dance…
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Ailey was most popular as one of the first few African Americans who dared revolutionize their dance styles, which ultimately led to his contribution to modern American dance. It is in this respect though that he was able to subtly express for the first time his political convictions. At the height of his success as a choreographer, when he was recognized no longer just for his art but also for how he used it to advance his political cause, Ailey was awarded the Spingarn Medal. Renowned composer-conductor Leonard DePaur, his presentation of the award, mentioned that Ailey “would confound and confuse America's critics by refusing to conform to their pre-conceptions of what a black choreographer must be” (NAACP 1977, p. 100). With this distinction, it is clear that Ailey had been able to infuse his politics in the development of his choreography and in the performance of his dance. Through his art, he was able to challenge stereotyping that was brought about by racism and bigotry. This paper seeks to explain the bases why Ailey incorporated his political activism into the art form that he specializes in and how this has contributed to America’s struggle against racism. I. ...
Aside from the treatment that they receive from the whites because of their race, Ailey and his mother also suffered due to their constant lack of income. Ailey’s family was basically working class and his mother picked cotton and occasionally did domestic chores for the more affluent white families (Cardwell 2006, p.38). This childhood of want and inequality had influenced the development of Ailey’s political views early on. However, it took time before this actually was brought out into the open through his choreography. Prompted by his keen interest in dance, Ailey went to undergo formal training in dance with the tutelage of Lester Horton, who was recognized then as the principal promoter of the modern dance in Los Angeles. In the 1940’s, it was in Los Angeles and New York only that African Americans could train alongside with the whites. It was also during this period that Ailey was able to come across other African America dance artists who trained under Horton. When Horton died though, Ailey took over the company. As a result, he achieved a freer hand in determining the styles and contents of every dance production that the company came up with. During these particular times though, it was clear that Ailey was more concerned with the rapid development of his artistic talents in dance, as well as the continuous improvement of his dancer’s talents. However, by 1958, when the struggle for the civil rights of African Americans reached its peak, Ailey also began to show his political inclinations. The most glaring examples of these are Blue Suite and Revelations, which “focused on the experience of African Americans” (Foulkes 2002, p. 180). Both dance productions highlighted the uniqueness of the
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