Step Family: Interview with Alvin Ailey dancers

By Kelly Apter

Ailey dancers

Leaving home can bring excitement and fear in equal measure. Whether it’s to start university, get married or just strike out on your own, we often build surrogate ‘families’ to replace the ones we leave behind. Ailey 2 is one such family – home to twelve young dancers finding their feet, both in the world of dance and life itself.

Having been chosen from hundreds of hopefuls, the dancers in Ailey 2 know they’ve got something special. They also know that the company’s reputation is hard-won. But adjusting to such a challenging rehearsal and touring schedule can be hard for a young dancer, which is why peer support is so important.

“I was 17 when I joined, and a lot of the other dancers were older than me,” recalls Kirven Boyd, who danced with Ailey 2 from 2002-2004. “But I learned from them all and worked my butt off.” The hard work paid off, and after two years, Boyd moved up into the main Ailey company, where he’s been dancing ever since. For him, knowing he was surrounded by like-minded people made the transition from home life to company life that much smoother.

“It was scary being in that situation,” he says, “I’d just graduated from high school, and in all my 17 years I’d never been away from my family for such a long time. It was a very big change, but I felt blessed to be with people who loved dancing and Ailey as much as I do.”

It’s not only their fellow dancers that the performers in Ailey 2 turn to, however, but their superiors. Artistic director, Sylvia Waters and Associate Artistic Director, Troy Powell are like surrogate parents to the young dancers. Demetia Hopkins, who moved up from Ailey 2 to the main company in May 2010, remembers how supportive they were.

“Because there are so few of us we were all very close to one another and Miss Waters and Mr Powell really did nurture us,” she says. “They were there for us whenever we needed them, and we knew we could go to them for anything.”

A current dancer with Ailey 2, 22-year-old Fana Tesfagiorgis concurs. “It definitely feels like a family situation, especially while we’re on tour,” she says. “We are each others ‘go to’ people, and all our off time is still spent together.”

While friendship is clearly important among the dancers, they also impact on each other professionally. “I admire watching the others dance,” says Tesfagiorgis, “whether it’s a solo or just a section I’m not in. I’ll watch from the wings and learn so much about them. There’s very much a sense of family in that we support one another, everyone is watching you while you’re performing and thinking ‘go go!’”

One thing which unites all these talented young dancers is the desire to graduate from Ailey 2 up into the main company. Yet while they are all, in a sense, rivals for the coveted positions in Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, the team spirit prevails.

“We all want the same thing,” says Tesfagiorgis. “So we kind of push each other. There’s a competitiveness but it’s of a different kind – it’s not that we don’t want the other person to get it – but we know that whoever does go on to the main Ailey company deserves it.”

See also:
Tour(s): Alvin Ailey 2: 2011, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater 2005, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater 2010, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater – 2007