As I rehearsed in New Haven this spring for Yale Dance Theater’s Inheriting Ailey, I keenly explored and proudly exalted my identity as a black woman. For over a decade I advanced from primer classes to a pre-professional ballet company member, for years I had studied movement passed down from mostly white bodies and performed by mostly white bodies. This year, I’ve had the thrill of studying movement as passed down from black bodies with Renee Robinson and Matthew Rushing of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater.
Alvin Ailey, an iconic African-American choreographer who founded the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in New York City, choreographed “House of the Rising Sun” (Blues Suite, 1958). In 1957, my grandfather graduated from Yale and stood with his fellows Elis as the only black graduate in his class. When my grandfather came to visit me during the 2013 Yale Family Weekend, he was amazed by the vibrancy of the Yale black community from the arts, to the fellowship, to academia. My father, who graduated from Yale in 1986, loves to relate his Yale years to his father’s and to mine, those of a member of the Class of 2016.
It’s been only a few years since I was one of two black ballerinas attending a summer intensive program in New York City. In my dance pursuits, I’ve often surveyed my peers and wondered, as Gia Kourlas’ 2007 NYT article surmised, “Where are all the Black Swans?” Before college, I studied ballet at the School of Ballet Chicago and attended summer intensives at the School of American Ballet in New York City and the Pacific Northwest Ballet in Seattle. In Chicago, I found comfort dancing across the stage from my younger sister. In New York and in Seattle, I found community in the mere presence of one other black student.
At Yale, I was amazed by the energy at the Afro-American Cultural Center (AACC). New Haven, Yale, and the AACC have all enriched my connection to heritage and culture. Life, as always, transcends academia or art as I and many others tragically heard the pain of black men and women whose lives have been touched by disproportionate police brutality and racial profiling. I exclaimed as my kindred shared stories of police brutality. A sad resonance of “black lives don’t matter” threatened to erode the progress made since my grandfather hustled to class at Yale almost 60 years past. With education, with inspiration, and with expression, I am proud to assert that Black Lives Matter.
Black Lives Matter in my studies as a philosophy major. Black Lives Matter with my aspirations to practice entertainment law. Black Lives Matter with my dancing in Yale Dance Theater’s Inheriting Ailey. Black bodies dance…Black Lives Matter.