#QueerHeroes Day 17.
Ailey was born in Texas in the middle of the Great Depression. He and his mother spent much of his childhood picking cotton and working as a domestic worker for white people. At night, he would sneak out to watch adults in nightclubs dance.
He moved to LA in high school and saw a concert dance performance at the Philarmonic Auditorium that ignited a new passion inside him.
He began studying dance in 1949 under the renowned Lester Horton at one of the first integrated dance schools in the country.
After moving to San Francisco to pursue academia, he began a nightclub act called “Al and Rita” with his friend Marguerite Johnson—a woman you know as Maya Angelou.
He began dancing with Lester Horton’s troupe but when Lester died suddenly, Ailey was the only one willing to take over as artistic director and head choreographer.
By 1958, he created his most influential legacy: The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. Ailey envisioned a troupe combining thousands of years of dance tradition to embody the commonality of the Black experience in America through movement.
The company toured the world to critical and audience acclaim and Alvin Ailey remains one of the most influential figures in modern dance.
He died of AIDS in 1989, but the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater is in it 62nd year.
It has its own state of the art building in Hell’s Kitchen, Manhattan where his legacy lives on in the movements of some of the most revelatory dancers the world has ever seen.