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Dance

Leah Esemuede ’24: Alvin Ailey 2023 Professional Division 5-Week Summer Intensive

Project Date:
Project Date: Summer 2023

Taught by Anna Lederfeind, Rhea Rodrick, and Ronald Alexander, I left each ballet class with new information, confidence, and love for ballet. The happiness these teachers brought to my day drove me to attend extra ballet classes through Ailey Extension.

Established in 1969 by Alvin Ailey, The Ailey School opened its doors under the philosophy that dance is for everyone. In keeping with this mission, the school offers a wide variety of classes and programs for dancers of all ages and experience levels. Students at these varying levels participate in a curriculum of ballet, Horton, and Graham-based modem, amongst a variety of other disciplines. From June 26 to July 28, 2023, I had the opportunity to be one of these students at The Ailey School’s 5-Week Professional Division Summer Intensive.

While my classes began at noon every day, my days began at 8 am with a quick trip to the Bronx to visit my grandmother and my aunt. Amongst the bustle of the city and the intensity of this summer program, these short morning trips became a grounding force in my life with homemade meals and familial love. By 10 am, I was on my way to The Joan Weill Center for Dance, the home of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Ailey II, and The Ailey School.

Prior to beginning this program, I set a standard for myself to always arrive at least 30 minutes early to class, leaving time to warm up and prepare for the day. Foam rolling, TheraBand exercises, and a one-minute plank all comprised my daily routine and warm-up for ballet, my first class each day. Personally, ballet has always been difficult for me. It wasn’t until my sophomore year of high school that I wasn’t the only Black dancer at the barre and even then, my body and abilities were often berated rather than celebrated. Once I began dancing at Duke, I finally received instruction on how to dance with the body I have, an idea so radical yet simple. Training at The Ailey School, the instruction I received was no different. Taught by Anna Lederfeind, Rhea Rodrick, and Ronald Alexander, I left each ballet class with new information, confidence, and love for ballet. The happiness these teachers brought to my day drove me to attend extra ballet classes through Ailey Extension. An extra Sunday morning class with Anna Lederfeind became essential and a highlight of my week. During the week, ballet was followed by Horton or Graham taught by Freddie Moore and Kathryn MacLellan, and the day ended with an elective class or Jazz repertoire taught by Hollie Wright.

At the Ailey School’s 5-Week Professional Division Summer Intensive, I had several first experiences: my first Horton and Graham classes, my first Birria Tacos, and my first exposure to dancer and choreographer Talley Beatty. Through Hollie Wright’s Jazz repertoire, I had the opportunity to explore Beatty’s work and legacy, which continues to be influential and present in today’s popular media.

As a historical landmark within the history of dance, and specifically Black Dance, The Ailey School was the perfect place for me to explore figures such as Beatty and the legacies they left behind. Plastered with artworks and photographs of past and present company members and administrators, The Joan Weill Center for Dance’s wall reminded me each day of those who came before me, paving the way for myself and all Black dancers to find a place on stage. Their knowledge and work became a part of my own dance lineage and allowed me to finish these 5 weeks better than I arrived. I left New York and The Ailey School with renewed confidence and excitement for the future having developed new skills and understanding of the people whose legacies support me.