Digital Collections, Library Resources

Alvin Ailey & Fordham: Innovation in Collaboration

By Kindra Becker-Redd, Reference & Instruction Librarian, and Michael Magilligan, Business Reference Librarian

Dancers: Ailey/Fordham BFA Students. Choreographer: Natalie Lomonte. Piece: “Sentiments of the Shooting Stars.” Photograph by Nicole Tintle. Courtesy of The Ailey School.

As we transition from Black History Month to Women’s History Month, we want to highlight some of the incredible women and men who have contributed to the world of dance with a unique connection to Fordham. As the pandemic continues to affect us all, its impact on the arts cannot be understated, and we fully support the performing arts and artists who enrich our society and the Fordham community.

While Fordham has a long tradition of training and preparing performers for the stage, screen, and musical pits of Broadway, it’s a connection to an iconic dance company that sets it apart.

Pioneers of Dance

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. Image source: Wikimedia.

The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater (AAADT) melds elements of modern dance together to create work that is moving, invigorating, and astonishing. The company is known for portraying the African American experience, and the piece most often associated with the company is founder and choreographer Alvin Ailey’s Revelations, inspired by his “blood memories” of Texas, the blues, spirituals, and gospel, cementing his place as one of the twentieth century’s true pioneers of dance.

Born in 1931, Alvin Ailey grew up in the rural south, but eventually studied dance with Lester Horton in Los Angeles. He continued to study in New York with other master modern choreographers and technicians like Martha Graham, Chris Weidman, and Stella Adler. When he formed his own company in 1958, he wanted to enrich modern dance in America and preserve “the uniqueness of the African-American cultural experience.” He created a kind of dance hub where performing, education, and outreach all played vital roles.

Passing the Torch

Dance is for everybody. I believe that the dance came from the people and that it should always be delivered back to the people.

-Alvin Ailey

Following Ailey’s death in 1989, longtime Ailey principal dancer Judith Jamison took over directorship of AAADT. Ailey and Jamison met in 1965 when he offered her a spot in his company. On Jamison, Ailey would set some of his most well-renowned works, such as Cry. In a 2019 TEDTalk, Jamison talks about Ailey as the roots of AAADT while she, and other dancers, were its branches.

Under Jamison’s leadership, AAADT continued to tour the world. She oversaw the move into their new home on 9th Avenue and 55th Street, the Joan Weill Center for Dance, where AAADT, Ailey II, the Ailey School, and the Ailey Extension take classes and perform.

Choreographer Alvin Ailey (L) working with a dancer in the studio, 1980. Photo by Martha Swope. Source: New York Public Library.

In a unique partnership, Fordham University offers a BFA program with the Ailey School. The Ailey School trains dancers in technique, improv, and choreography all while dancers receive a liberal arts education in the heart of New York City. Many dancers often have to choose between pursuing higher education and a dance career, as Fordham Observer writer Tara Williams found out in her 2005 interview of Ailey/BFA dancer Molly Knochel.

Researching Dance & Performing Arts

Explore the following ebooks and databases to discover more about Black history in dance as well as the impact of dance on American culture.

Archival and Library Resources:
Revelations from a lifetime of dance | Judith Jamison and the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. Source: TED on YouTube.

Additional References

“Alvin Ailey.” Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, 5 Feb. 2010,

“Ailey, Alvin Jr.” The Columbia Encyclopedia, Paul Lagasse, and Columbia University, Columbia University Press, 8th edition, 2018. Credo Reference, Accessed 04 Mar. 2021.

“Judith Jamison (1943–).” African American Almanac, Lean’tin Bracks, Visible Ink Press, 1st edition, 2012. Credo Reference, Accessed 04 Mar. 2021.

Header image courtesy of The Ailey School.  Dancer: Lyric Anderson, BFA Class of 2017. Choreographer: Nicholas Villeneuve. Piece Title: The Soul’s Canvas. Photographer: Christopher Duggan.

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