Jazz Dance Legend: Luigi

Photo by Josef Astor

Photo by Josef Astor

“To dance, put your hand on your heart and listen to the sound of your soul.”

– Eugene Louis “Luigi” Faccuito


The world lost a beloved legend April 7, when Eugene Louis “Luigi” Faccuito passed away from cancer at age 90. The man labeled by the New York Times as “the father of American jazz dancing”  left behind a technique that took the dance world by storm – and a story that is sure to inspire dancers everywhere.

Born to Italian immigrant parents in Steubenville, Ohio in 1925, Luigi got his start singing and dancing on street corners. It started as a way to earn money for his family after his father died in a car accident in 1930. Luigi went on to win amateur contests, was named the lead singer of the regional Bernie Davis Orchestra, and became a touring vaudeville performer – all before the age of 20. After serving in the Navy in World War II, Luigi’s performance career continued on to Hollywood, where he studied dance on the G.I. Bill.

The dancer’s steadily rising career came to a halt soon after his move to Hollywood in 1946. Luigi, then 21, was thrown from the passenger seat of a car that skidded and hit a telephone pole on a rainy Los Angeles street. Luigi hit the pavement head first and didn’t wake from a coma until two months later.

The right side of his body and the left side of his face now paralyzed, Luigi sought to defeat doctors’ predictions that he would never walk – let alone dance – again. Three years passed as Luigi created a process of stretching, breathing and movement that gradually led him to be able to stand at the barre and, eventually, move completely on his own. As he went on to perform in the chorus of some Hollywood films, his stretching regimen caught the eye of other performers – and the Luigi technique took off.

Luigi in class by Milton Oleaga

Luigi in class by Milton Oleaga

In addition to receiving numerous awards and establishing a long  list of credits in Hollywood and on Broadway, Luigi established dance schools in both Los Angeles and New York. His students included everyone from the beginning dancer to dance icons such as Liza Minnelli, Alvin Ailey and Twyla Tharp, to name a few. Whether seeking beginner classes, exercise, rehabilitation or professional training, dancer after dancer was impacted by the man said to have created the first codified jazz technique – and his legacy is sure to live on for years to come.

Interesting Facts:

  • Gene Kelly was one of Luigi’s mentors. Kelly gave Luigi his affectionate nickname while they were working on “On the Town” to avoid having two “Genes” on set.
  • Luigi’s technique wasn’t initially intended for jazz, but ballet.

“It was created for ballet because that’s what I was doing when I was performing in motion pictures in Hollywood. I found that in any ballet class I took, my body wasn’t ready to stand in fifth position. So I created a therapeutic warm-up that would prepare me for class,” Luigi told Dance Magazine in an interview. “I also created it because of my automobile accident, which left me partially paralyzed. I loved ballet’s barre exercises because they helped me correct my injuries. But when I left the barre, I was in trouble. My technique addresses how to stand up without the barre. It teaches the body how to support itself and how to use muscles evenly.”


Find Luigi’s Jazz Centre on Facebook

Visit the Luigi Jazz Centre website

Read more about Luigi

Leaps in the Dark: Agnes de Mille and the Road to Oklahoma

Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Oklahoma! debuted to instant success in 1943. In terms of dancing, it was a game change for Broadway musicals— its “Dream Ballet” contributed to the drama by advancing and enriching the plot. Previously, dance scenes in musicals had usually been “filler” unrelated to the story. The choreographer was Agnes de Mille and her road to Oklahoma! was many unconventional years in the making…

Dancers in the musical Oklahoma!

Oklahoma! 1943. Public Domain Image from Wikimedia Commons.

Early Inspiration

Anna Pavlova, the iconic Russian ballet dancer, was one of de Mille’s early dance inspirations. When de Mille was twelve, she saw the legend perform live and was forever changed. She later remarked that the experience “burned in a single afternoon a path over which I could never retrace my steps”. [1]

De Mille had desired to take dance lessons since the age of five, but was not allowed to until she was fourteen. Even then, she was not permitted to practice for more than forty-five minutes a day. Her parents were skeptical of the activity, believing it lacked intelligence and propriety.

De Mille understandably struggled with technique and famously admitted she was a “perfectly rotten dancer”. Furthermore, she received the dreaded verdict that her body type was not suited for the art form. She temporarily gave up lessons to attend UCLA and earn an English degree. But she in no way gave up on her dancing dreams.

Agnes and Martha

After graduation, she started a journey into choreography. She moved to New York and began a lifelong friendship with modern dance pioneer Martha Graham. She also devised her own solo concerts – creating dances, arranging the music, and designing the costumes. Most of these were pantomime/dance character sketches. One of the characters she portrayed was a cowgirl who, many years later, would be the inspiration for the heroine of her first major choreographic success. These early performances received favorable reviews from critics, but proved a financial loss.

After New York, she went to London where she studied dance under Marie Rambert and trained alongside British choreographer Antony Tudor. In 1937, she performed in Tudor’s premiere of Dark Elegies, a ballet about a rural European community mourning the loss of their children. Tudor’s works have been described as “psychological dance dramas” and they impacted de Mille’s own style of choreography.

Dark Elegies Excerpt (Full work: https://vimeo.com/104872233)

Rodeo (roh-DAY-oh)

Then, in 1940, at age 35, de Mille was offered a job to choreograph for a newly-formed company in New York called Ballet Theatre- later known as American Ballet Theatre. But she did not have have a significant breakthrough until Rodeo- a work commissioned by the touring company Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo in 1942 as a patriotic homage to America in the midst of World War II.

For Rodeo, de Mille created a romantic, Cinderella-like story about a cowgirl whose “fairy godmother” is her own preserving, can-do spirit. At first, the cowgirl desperately tries to attract the attention of the local cowboys by meticulously imitating them- even down to her choice of clothing. When this fails, she cries a bit, then changes strategy by giving herself a makeover and going to a hoedown. She not only gains a suitor, but immediately becomes the belle of the ball.

Rodeo’s choreography incorporates square dancing, tap, modern dance, and naturalistic gestures based on  movements such as horseback riding and roping. The ballet was a hit. On opening night, there were twenty-two curtain calls and de Mille, who danced the role of the cowgirl herself, received an all-American bouquet of corn wrapped in red, white, and blue ribbons.

Rodeo Excerpt


It was de Mille’s success with Rodeo that led to her being hired to choreograph Oklahoma!

The musical’s seminal dance sequence “The Dream Ballet” or “Laurey Makes Up Her Mind”, explores the female lead’s tension of deciding between two suitors: the good-hearted Curly and the sinister-yet-intriguing Jud. It begins with a joyous, romantic pas de deux by Laurey and Curly, followed by preparations for their intended wedding. But the dream quickly turns into nightmare when Laurey arrives at the church to discover that her groom is actually Jud. She then encounters Jud’s true nature as she comes face-to-face with his seedy saloon associates and witnesses him kill Curly in a fight. This vision, of course, reveals that Jud, the initially exciting “bad boy”, would be a terrible match for her.

“The Dream Ballet” is an accumulation of de Mille’s diverse influences: ballet, modern dance, Tudor’s “psychological dance drama”, and her experience with incorporating American folk themes into choreography. The New York Times pronounced “The Dream Ballet” a “first-rate work of art” and declared that it achieved what “many a somber problem play” failed to convey “after several hours of grim dialogue”.

“The Dream Ballet” from the 1955 film version of Oklahoma!

Ironically, the rave reviews of Oklahoma! inspired serious doubts in de Mille. She felt she had produced far better choreography in other works. She became conflicted about her artistic judgment. In her turmoil, she turned to Martha Graham. Graham’s advice was to just continue creating and not to get bogged down by weighing her opinions against the critics. She explained:

There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open.

De Mille did indeed “keep the channel open” and experienced many more successes- and failures- in her creative life. In words that have become oft-quoted in the dance community, she summarized the necessary sense of daring and its accompanying insecurities that are inherent in the artistic path, “The artist never entirely knows. We guess. We may be wrong, but we take leap after leap in the dark.”

What inspires you to “leap in the dark”? How do you “keep the channel open” during doubt?


[1] On Wings of Joy by Trudy Garfunkel, 1994, p. 148

Backstage With Baryshnikov and Makarova

Thirty years ago, author Cherie Magnus and her son performed as supernumeraries (the “extras” of the ballet world) in American Ballet Theatre’s Romeo and Juliet. In the following essay, originally written as a chapter in her unpublished, “Coffee Shop Dreams,” she recounts the experience for an engaging behind-the-scenes look at ballet and its legendary stars.

“Bodies, Monks and Mourners, On Stage!”

(Backstage call for Act III “Romeo and   Juliet”)

I’m in an elaborate costume on stage in front of 6,000 people, there is a full orchestra playing Prokovief in the pit, my teenaged son, dressed as a Renaissance servant, is standing next to Natalia Makarova, and Mikhail Baryshnikov is watching from the wings. Am I dreaming? No, I’m a ballet mother and a Supernumerary for American Ballet Theatre’s “Romeo and Juliet,” choreographed by Kenneth MacMillan.

The Shrine Auditorium, cavernous, ornate, rarely used except for the Academy Awards, was ABT’s usual home when in L.A. While the company proper was off at a gala fete and fundraiser at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel, a motley crew of thirty men and women hoping to make the Super cut lined up for appraisal in the Shrine’s freezing rehearsal hall on a cold Sunday in March, 1985.

We were all types, sizes and ages, not just the “tall, ballet type” advertised for on the bullet board at my son Jason’s ballet school. We took off our jackets and sweaters and lined up according to height in front of a seated panel of three, just like years ago when I auditioned as a dancer.

I had dressed for warmth and comfort not beauty, and I felt strangely vulnerable, fat and naked in the lineup. I’m too old for this, I thought. Immediately I was asked to step forward along with two other middle-aged women. They’re eliminating me at once because I’m not right, not what they want, I thought. The old insecurity and fear of rejection was lurking close to the surface.

1985 ABT SupernumerariesBut it was just that we three had been pre-selected to be “Market Ladies” because of our height. At first I was disappointed that I was not to be an “Elegant Lady” (due to my bust size–the first time 36A was ever too large!) Our roles were determined by what costumes we fit, nothing more.

Market Ladies wore different multi-layered costumes weighing perhaps twenty pounds each. Underneath was a full-length heavy petticoat with a ruffle. Then, in my case, a dress of heavy beige upholstery-like fabric with slit sleeves and lacing up the front and back, plus a long tunic of another beige fabric laced up the front and sides. My headdress, of faded-looking beige and violet muslin, had an Arabic flair and a wimple fastening under the chin. Each of us wore similar but differently detailed costumes. Jason was cast as a Green Litter Bearer for the ball in Act I, and a monk in the Capulet tomb in Act III.

Since there was only one professional union dresser, it was necessary for us Supers to help each other in and out of the difficult hooks and laces–no zippers! We formed a costume daisy-chain before and after each act with the dresser at the end. In this way we got our laborious changes down quickly, and I got an amusing snapshot of eight people concentrating hard on lacing each other up.

When the Supers arrived for our first rehearsal, the company class was just winding up. Dancers familiar to us from photographs and the stage looked like typical ballet students in their colorful and eccentric rehearsal clothes. But a sight unfamiliar in a ballet studio was the several animals stationed around the outside of the practice floor, tethered to the barres with leashes.

At that time, there were about twelve dogs and eight cats that traveled with the dancers, and the dogs usually attend class and rehearsals with their owners. There’s even a dog walk-on in “Giselle” and “Swan Lake, so often the larger animals get a chance to be on stage. In the meantime, the pets add love, comfort, and companionship to the dancers’ life on the road. There were so many animals backstage (they were always polite and well-behaved) that a dog and a large bag came to mean “dancer” to the fans at the stage door.

Market women -1985 ABT Supernumeraries

Opening night there was a black-tie reception after the performance in the rehearsal hall for the Friends of ABT–those who contributed substantially. All during dress rehearsal and the performance afterwards, the caterers were setting up. Topiary trees with fairy lights surrounded white tables topped with Cinzano umbrellas around a small dance floor. Festive tents covered the bar areas and the disc jockey’s equipment, which included Italian popular songs for the Romeo & Juliet theme.

There were white flower carts filled with fruits and cheeses, an Italian ice pushcart dispensing zabaglione, chocolate-hazelnut, and wild-blueberry ices in little paper cups, and a long buffet of hot and cold pasta dishes. The preparations went on for hours before and during the performance, and as we hurried back and forth between dressing rooms and the stage, we Supers eyed the food and drink being set out. After the second act the lighted Italian fountain was turned on and we were ready to run over and stick a paper cup under it, hoping it was champagne.

The word went around that the cast was invited to the party and that the Supers were considered part of the cast! This was an unexpected perk to our $10 per performance with free parking, and one we enthusiastically appreciated; by that time we had been in the Shrine for ten hours.

Jason dashed over and grabbed a glass of champagne, and began a conversation with the late principal dancer Patrick Bissell. (“Loved your double cabrioles last night in “Raymonda!”)

But I didn’t know what to do: on the one hand, I love gala parties like this under normal conditions; on the other, I was dressed in a red corduroy jumpsuit and sneakers, not the latest word among the sequin-and-fur set now streaming through the doors from the auditorium.

On the one hand, many of the company dancers were wearing warm-up clothes; On the other, obviously I was not a skinny young company ballet dancer. But I was hungry, thirsty and excited, and so I sidled over and got some champagne (Italian, too, I supposed) and tried to look natural.

I got a plate of pasta and retreated from the glittering garden back over to a circle of metal folding chairs near the Supers’ makeshift dressing rooms, where several Supers were sitting like happy outcasts. Occasionally some of the regal people seated at the white tables inside the circle of lighted ficus trees would turn their heads and glance in our direction, not actually seeing us at all.

Most of the guests were looking for celebrities, of course, and Baryshnikov was there at one of the umbrella tables, as were most of the company dancers.

One of the little boys playing pages ran around asking the dancers to sign his program. Even Jason felt too much a part of the adult world, of the dance world, to ask, though he too would like the souvenirs. Asking for autographs definitely divides the pros from the amateurs. There’s them and then there’s us, and for the duration of “Romeo and Juliet” the illusion of being part of American Ballet Theatre was worth more than autographs of the stars.

People were raving about the Italian ices, and so Jason grabbed me and pulled me over to join the short line in front of the cart. Behind us stood two tall, black-tied men, who assumed we were ABT members and politely asked us questions as if we knew the inside stuff. We ate our ices and faded into the background, and eventually out the stage door into the cold night, trailing stardust and fatigue.

After a few performances we felt like true professional company members as we hurried to sign in, put on our makeup, and prepared to wear our heavy, uncomfortable costumes. It was difficult even to walk in those outfits, and we Market Ladies didn’t mind at all when we were ordered to remove them immediately upon exiting the stage and to put them on again right before Act II. We were not allowed to sit down in them or eat, drink or smoke in them. I wondered about going to the bathroom, but knew it would be impossible to lift those heavy skirts anyway. Luckily the subject never came up for me.

By this time we had learned to quickly dress into our street clothes after coming offstage and sneak into the box right next to the wings. You could only see half of the stage from there, but it was better than standing in the wings where we were in the way. The large orchestra rendering Prokofiev’s powerful score sounded fuller and more immediate from the audience, too.

While onstage, the Supers were to react to the events taking place and join in with the company at certain times, acting and interacting. We Market Ladies had fun mixing with the company on stage, walking around acting naturally, participating in the action first hand. Some of us treated the dancers by sprinkling candy in our market baskets among the plastic products. I put M&M’s in with my grapes.

We didn’t have to feign fear in Act I when the Capulets and the Montagues whipped out their swords and set about killing each other. The stage was crowded with people and the large set, and each performance of the fight got more wild. Twenty men thrusted and parried with real swords (with tiny rubber tips), jumping from landings, leaping through doorways. It was different every time, but always skilled and exciting, and the supers didn’t always know where to stand to get out of their way. As the bodies piled up, the “dead” Capulets and Montagues made jokes and funny faces to those onstage who could see them. They seemed to have a wonderful time.

Nor did I have to pretend sorrow and horror in Act II at the death of Tybalt. I was moved to tears every time Lady Capulet (Georgina Parkinson) rushed down the stairs to Tybalt’s body and seized the sword in a frenzy to attack the remorseful Romeo. Then, convulsed with grief, she sank agonizingly to the floor and rocked the dead Tybalt in her arms to the wailing of French horns, trombones, trumpets and the pounding of the tympani. It was incredibly powerful, indelible. (She always gave him a friendly pat after the curtain fell.)

The last performance was danced by Natalia Makarova and the house was packed, 6,000 people. I couldn’t believe she could be better than the other Juliets I saw, but she was. When she died in the tomb to that poignant minor theme, the audience was on their third Kleenex. Even Martin Bernheimer, the Los Angeles Times’ Critic Terrible at the time, praised her performance, saying that “Makarova IS Juliet!”

Market women - 1985 ABT SupernumerariesFourteen-year-old Autumn, Jason’s ballet classmate who was playing an Elegant Lady super, pressed a beaded bracelet she had made into Makarova’s hands in the wings after the many curtain calls. Overcome by emotion from the performance, Autumn couldn’t stop her tears. We were all aware that Makarova, at 44, was nearing retirement by her own admission and that we may not see this Juliet again.

In seven performances with seven different casts, including six Romeos and six Juliets, we saw seven different ballets. The choreography was the same and was always danced at a high technical level. But this proved to us the importance of acting, personality, drama, interpretation beyond technique. When Danilo Radojivic’s Mercutio felt his wound in his death scene, I actually “saw” blood on his hand, and I was six feet away from him!

It was “our” last performance, the next ABT “Romeo and Juliet” would be danced in Detroit. Supers were frantically snapping instamatics on the “Cinderella” set which was being assembled near our dressing rooms, as that was the next full-length ballet planned for Los Angeles. We all wanted to see how we looked (no full-length mirrors in the ladies’ dressing room, no mirror at all in the men’s) and to record our moment of glory for scrapbook posterity.

As each costume came off after a scene, it was packed away, and by the end of the ballet, nothing remained of “Romeo and Juliet” in the dressing rooms but huge labeled and sealed cardboard boxes ready for loading onto the trucks.

Most of the supers were anxious to see Superstar Himself, Mikhail Baryshnikov, and since he wasn’t dancing at all during this Los Angeles season, we at first wondered if we would. But we did see him, several times in fact, the first week. (What a shock to see my fifteen-year-old son Jason tower a good three inches over this bigger-than-life man!) Misha was there opening night, the next night for the party, and the night Makarova danced.

That night, during Act III, Jason and the other Supers playing monks were waiting in the wings for their cue, many still transfixed from watching Makarova. The monks were to enter the Capulet Tomb carrying huge lighted candlesticks. Seven monks on the right, eight on the left (the last one being the disguised Romeo sneaking into the tomb), circle the biers and exit up long flights of stairs on each side.

From my seat in the box, I saw the eight left-hand monks enter, but only three right-hand monks–Jason’s side. It looked strange and off-balance, and Romeo’s significance as an extra monk was lost. Jason and three other monks were waiting in the wings for their cue as they had the previous nights, but somehow missed it tonight. Suddenly they saw the lighted candles of the rest of the monks moving across the stage, too late for them to catch up.

“Great, that’s just great!” uttered sarcastically in a Russian accent caused Jason to look to his left and see the great Baryshnikov himself watching this blunder from the wings. Pulling his cowl down over his head, Jason slunk away in shame to take off his robe and to remain anonymous!

Afterwards, Baryshnikov was hounded for autographs inside the stage door by audience members who had found their way backstage. Jason and I made our way through the crowd with our shoulder bags as people stared at us, hoping we were somebody. By the time we got into our cars and were slowly inching by the stage door on Exposition Blvd., we were just in time to see Baryshnikov gleefully carrying a cello case quickly through the crowd that was not on the lookout for a musician. He nearly made a successful escape until the crowd as one body recognized him and took off after him into the parking lot like a swarm of bees. That was the last we, too, saw of the legendary artist during our ABT season. And for this whole two-week wonderful adventure, we had to say a most enthusiastic, Great, just super!



Cherie-MagnusWith degrees in English, Dance, and Library Science from UCLA, Cherie Magnus has published many articles in professional journals and magazines. She was the dance critic for the Cerritos News in Orange County, California before moving to Buenos Aires where she taught tango for ten years. Now back at home in Los Angeles, she has published two memoirs: The Church of Tango, and Arabesque: Dancing on the Edge in Los Angeles.


Read more on Facebook: facebook.com/thechurchoftangofacebook.com/arabesquememoir, and on her blog: www.mirasolpress.com

Royals Who Crave a Ballet Buzz

Ballet was born out of the royal court pageants of the Renaissance. In those days, it was primarily entertainment performed by nobility for nobility. Kings and queens even took roles in the lavish productions.

Ballet eventually shifted to the realm of professional theater and the aristocracy took on the role of patrons and audience members.

But, that doesn’t mean that nobles lost their passion for the art. Here are some famous ballet fans with royal titles…


Queen Victoria (1819-1901)

Portrait of Young Queen Victoria

The Young Queen Victoria by Franz Xaver Winterhalter. Wikimedia Commons Public Domain Image.

Victoria loved watching ballet as a girl. She attended the theater up to three times a week and saw the Romantic Era rivals Marie Taglioni and Fanny Essler dance in London. Marie Taglioni was Victoria’s favorite dancer. After watching her perform in La Sylphide, the young royal wrote, “She danced quite beautifully, quite as if she flew in the air, so gracefully and lightly”. Victoria also saw Marie’s brother, Paul Taglioni, dance onstage. She declared that he was “the most splendid man-dancer I ever saw”. [1]

Victoria herself made ballet costumes for her collection of miniature dolls. She also drew and painted pictures of ballet dancers. She was a lifelong amateur artist and her ballet pictures have been preserved.


Grace Kelly, Princess Grace of Monaco (1929–1982)

The movie-star-turned-princess took ballet lessons as a child and dreamed of becoming a ballerina, but ultimately dedicated her herself to acting. Yet, as dance critic Laura Jacobs points out, “She never, however, lost her ballet posture or a dancer’s awareness of her limbs in space.”

As Princess of Monaco, Grace narrated the Academy Award-nominated film “The Children of Theater Street” a documentary about the ballet students of the Kirov Academy in Russia. Monaco’s Monte Carlo Ballet School was renamed the Princess Grace Academy of Classical Dance in her honor. She said her hope was, “to develop a small dance company from the school that would tour Europe and the United States.”

Three years after Princess Grace’s death, her daughter, Princess Caroline (who also took ballet lessons as a child), established Monaco’s national ballet company, Les Ballets de Monte Carlo.


Princess Diana (1961– 1997)

John Travolta dancing with Princess Diana

John Travolta and Princess Diana. Wikimedia Commons Public Domain Image.

“My love of my life is dancing, things like tap, modern, ballet and jazz,” wrote 17-year-old Lady Diana Spencer. But she went on to add, “watching me dance is like watching an elephant, so no-one does!” Diana studied ballet in her youth and dreamed of joining the Royal Ballet. But, at that time, her height of 5’10 would have prevented a ballet career regardless of her ability.

Still, she never lost her interest in ballet or dancing in general. As Princess of Wales, she did get to dance on the stage of the Royal Opera House, the home of the Royal Ballet. In a private performance, she danced a contemporary piece to Billy Joel’s “Uptown Girl” with former Royal Ballet dancer, Wayne Sleep.

Princess Diana was also a patron of the London City Ballet and English National Ballet. She enjoyed attending performances, observing company rehearsals, and conversing with dancers.

On the tenth anniversary of Diana’s death, The English National Ballet performed an excerpt of Swan Lake at her memorial concert.


Queen Margrethe II (born 1940)

The reigning queen of Denmark (and great-great granddaughter of England’s Queen Victoria) is in her 70s and has been taking weekly ballet classes for over 30 years.

The queen also designs costumes and sets for ballet productions in her country. “I’d always loved the theater, especially ballet,” she said in 2012 interview. She went on to explain:

“I had been doing a little bit [of designing] in a completely amateur way, for amateur performance […] And then I was asked, more than twenty years ago, whether I would consider doing the scenery and the costumes for a ballet at the Royal Ballet here in Copenhagen, which I agreed to do. And that was…well…that certainly was quite mad. But it was very, very exciting.”

Within the last two years, Queen Margrethe’s designs have been featured in productions of The Nutcracker and The Steadfast Tin Soldier at Tivoli Gardens in Denmark.



“Princess Victoria was stagestuck. She is perhaps the first little girl on record, and certainly the most august, to have languished for the heroines of the boards with the intense identification described in such classics as Ballet Shoes. For London in the late 1820s and 1830s saw a flowering of romantic ballet […] Victoria was there [at the theater] sometimes as often as three times a week, sitting in her box after dinner […]

By the time she was fourteen, Victoria was in thrall to ballet. Over half her collection of dolls consists of dancers in different roles […] she and [her governess] Lehzen together made a troupe from tiny five-inch Dutch figurines, dressed them in miniature replicas of the costumes they had worn on stage, and arranged them in pairs according to their favourite ballet stories.”

From: Queen Victoria’s Sketchbook, Marina Warner, Chapter 2, pg. 47-48, Crown Publishers Inc. New York 1979

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater: Then and Now

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater performs "LIFT," a piece choreographed by Aszure Barton. It premiered at New York City Center in December 2013.  Photo by Paul Kolnik.

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater performs “LIFT,” a piece choreographed by Aszure Barton. It premiered at New York City Center in December 2013. Photo by Paul Kolnik.

Dance fads come and go as quickly as you can change costumes backstage or as often as your daughter needs new dance shoes. From the Charleston to Gangnam style and every dance floor craze in between, the spotlighted choreography or dancer of the moment can change as fast as you can say, “a-5, 6, 7, 8!”

It takes true strength, technique and boundless creativity for a dance form to withstand the test of time – in other words, all the qualities that have driven Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater (AAADT) from the 1950’s into the 21st century without missing so much as a beat.

I recently had the pleasure of seeing this world-renowned modern dance company in person. My jaw dropped when one dancer did the highest, most beautiful developpé – then proceeded to hold her leg there as she continued into a promenade. After every section, the crowd erupted with whistling and cheering that was louder than any applause I’d ever heard at that theater.

It is difficult to fathom this company doing anything besides gracing stages around the world and moving audiences of thousands on a regular basis.

Believe it or not, that was not always the case.

The company’s first performance in 1958 took place at the 92nd street Y, which was an established dance venue in New York City. Ailey referred to their early tours as “station wagon tours.” Mickey Bord, a friend of the company, transported the dancers.

AAADT’s success truly took off in 1960 with the debut of Ailey’s timeless piece, “Revelations.” Its mix of spiritual and gospel music was one of the first majorly successful tries a dance company had ever made to perform to sacred African American music.

AAADT has faced its own share of difficulties throughout the years, including financial hardships in 1970 that threatened to fold the company, as well as the untimely death of its creator in 1989. However, with the creation of The Dance Theater Foundation, Inc. to assist with financial needs and the appointment of Judith Jamison as Artistic Director following Ailey’s death, the company continued to push on to modern day.

Loretta Abbott and Alvin Ailey perform in "Revelations." The timeless piece is included in the Ailey repertoire to this day. Photo by Nicola Cernovitch.

Loretta Abbott and Alvin Ailey perform in “Revelations.” The timeless piece is included in the Ailey repertoire to this day. Photo by Nicola Cernovitch.

Today, the company resides at its very own theater, The Ailey Citigroup Theater, which broke ground in Manhattan in 2001. The Ailey Foundation now includes Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Ailey II, The Ailey School, and The Ailey Extension, which offers dance and fitness classes to the general public. Judith Jamison appointed current Artistic Director Robert Battle in 2011.

“Revelations” and other original Ailey works continue to be danced at their performances, as well as pieces by established choreographers of the past and present. In 2008, AAADT was even declared as “a vital American cultural ambassador to the world” in a US Congressional resolution.

Do you think of yourself as an Ailey aficionado?

Scan this list of unique facts and test your Ailey knowledge from past to present.

• Born in rural Texas, Alvin Ailey’s desire to dance didn’t truly come to life until after his relocation to Los Angeles, California, where he saw Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo and the Katherine Dunham Dance Company for the first time. He was 12 years old when he moved.

• The company began with seven dancers. That number has since quadrupled. My program from this year’s show listed 31 dancers, without counting rehearsal director Matthew Rushing, who was serving as a guest artist.

• The only time “Revelations” has been performed by anyone other than AAADT or Ailey II was in Mexico City, when Ballet Folklorico performed the piece in the opening ceremonies at the 1968 summer Olympics.

• AAADT became New York City Center’s first resident modern dance company in 1972. It continues to be the Center’s principal dance company.

• In addition to the company’s countless stage performances around the world, AAADT has performed in a wide variety of television programs, including Sesame Street, the Ellen Degeneres Show, the Oprah Winfrey show, Dancing with the Stars, and So You Think You Can Dance.

• A variety of products have been inspired by Alvin Ailey and his dance company, including stamps, greeting cards, and an Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater Barbie doll.

This information and much more can be found on Alvinailey.org and PBS.org.