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Ailey/Fordham Students Dazzle at Annual Performance


Ailey/Fordham Students
Dazzle at Annual Performance

Since 1998, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, in partnership with Fordham, has offered a bachelor of fine arts degree in dance.
Photo by Chris Taggart

By Patrick Verel

Pope Auditorium was the scene of exquisite, exhilarating movement on March 11, as students in the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater/Fordham University BFA program staged its annual benefit performance.

The hour-long event followed a reception in the Center Gallery, where Robert R. Grimes, S.J., dean of Fordham College at Lincoln Center, reflected on the program’s first benefit performance in 2001.

He recalled that one of the student dancers burst into tears when she described what the program meant to her.

“Some have burst into tears because they say, ‘I want to dance, I want to dance,’ and then they come here and they say, ‘I don’t want to dance that much,’” Father Grimes said jokingly, “because it is a very, very rigorous program, and it’s absolutely astonishing, the energy and enthusiasm that these students put into it.”

He noted that $250,000 had been raised since the inception of the program, and thanked attendees for their generosity.

“One of the things we have discovered is that financial equity and talent seem to be inversely proportionate, so very often some of our very best dancers have very limited means,” he said.

To emphasize how valuable the scholarship fund is, Denise Jefferson, director of the Ailey School, talked about how the program found $2,000 to help a student pay for the spring semester of his freshman year.

By March of his senior year, that student was fielding offers from three ballet companies, and went on to join the Kansas City Ballet. Since then, three graduates have joined the professional Ailey company, and every year, four to eight BFA graduates join the ranks of the 12-member Ailey II.

“This program means a great deal to me personally, because I think dancers are very smart. They’re wonderful time managers,” Jefferson said. “They are ephemeral in some ways and very grounded and rooted in other ways, and for them to be able to exercise their intellect the way they exercise their bodies, makes them double, triple, quadruple threats.”

After the performance, Daniel Harder, a senior from Maryland, reflected on how four years of rigorous dance classes, rehearsals and performances, paired with regular class work, taught him how to master time management.

“It takes hard work and a lot of discipline to do what we do, and this program instills that,” he said. “If you don’t come in with the skills of being focused and learning to multitask and learning to do a lot of other things at the same time, you either step up to the challenge or you fall behind.”

Harder plans to audition for the Ailey company on April 27, but he is also open to working on Broadway and in other dance companies in New York and Europe.

“Ailey and Fordham have exposed me to so much over these past four years, from having that one goal of wanting to do Ailey, it’s grown into so many goals now,” he said.

Lara Wilson, a senior from Michigan who has been juggling a major in performance, a minor in women’s studies and a choreography independent study, noted that the seniors have been performing the final number of the show, Pyrokineses, on tour for last few months. As far as she knew, this was the last in a long line of performances, making it even more special.

“We got together before the show to give ourselves a pep talk about it and come together and feed off each other’s energy, which we don’t always do, because everyone has their own pre-show ritual,” she said.

Joseph M. McShane, S.J., president of Fordham, said the partnership brought a great deal of life and liveliness to the campuses.

“When we watch the students move, not just dance, we watch them move and weave their magic with their fellow students, it brings us great delight. It also reminds us that beauty is the foundation of joy for us all, and that’s what Ailey is all about,” Father McShane said.

“I’d like to think that Fordham is dancing always with Ailey, and learning grace from that dance.”

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