Unleash Your Self Expression With Ailey Extension’s New Summer Program

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Photo: Mercedes Vizcaino

Memorial Day weekend is upon us and with summer just around the corner, I’ve become inspired to search for more meaningful experiences rather than my usual, yet beloved, fitness-goals-saboteurs: BBQs and happy-hours. What’s a New York City libations and foodie adventurer to do?  Explore Ailey Extension’s upcoming dance schedule to not just stay in shape – mentally and physically – but also have a blast in the process.

I recently participated in Ailey Extension’s dynamic fitness class event catering to all fitness levels. First, I took Hip-Hop Cardio, a class designed for beginners with no former dance experience. It’s goal: to up your cardio game by at least 100, challenge your coordination, and assault your sweat glands into submission. Sound extreme? Not really. The class will make you feel energized and emboldened. Thoughts of joining Beyoncé’s dance troupe will cross your mind. It doesn’t hurt that the instructor, Matthew Johnson Harris, is a big fan of the acclaimed pop star and features her music throughout his classes. DSMC chatted with Matthew to learn more about his love of dance.

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Matthew Johnson Harris, Photo: Courtesy of Ailey Extension

DSMC: What inspired you to become a dance instructor? 

Matthew Johnson Harris: I have struggled with anxiety and depression in the past. Moving activates endorphins that can literally make you feel happier. Dance and fitness are a natural antidepressant and I love to share that joy with the world.

DSMC: You are a multi-hyphenated force. What are you most passionate about, dancing, teaching or activism?

Matthew Johnson Harris: Activism is at the center of everything I do. Outside of volunteering and fundraising for multiple organizations – I’ve been teaching a free class every Friday in Harlem to promote health and fitness. We should use all of our gifts to inspire change.

Check out the Harlem hospital class here: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=QwTwTBOmq_0

DSMC: What’s the one piece of advice you offer novices to dance? And, when did you start collaborating with the Ailey Extension?

Matthew Johnson Harris: There is no way you can mess up. Give whatever your best effort is and just keep moving.  I created the Hip-Hop Cardio Class for Ailey Extension in March and it’s been the greatest experience.

My second favorite class of the day to exceed my expectations: Beginner Hip-Hop with Jonathan Lee. While Mathew’s interpretation of Hip-Hop was a little more relaxed and liberal with the movements, Jonathan was very precise with his dance steps. We’re talking focused choreography here! He had a Bob Fosse-esque quality to him that the class gravitated to and obediently mimicked his instructions. At the end of the class, I felt as if I really mastered some modern Hip-Hop moves and was ready for a dance-off . Okay, perhaps I was getting ahead of myself, but Jonathan has the capacity to get his students to push themselves and reach choreographic bliss. DSMC chatted with Jonathan to get the scoop on his motivation for dance.

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Jonathan Lee, Photo: Courtesy of Ailey Extension

DSMC: What are your earliest memories of wanting to become a choreographer and what inspired you

Jonathan Lee: My earliest memories of wanting to become a choreographer began early in my training. Whenever my teachers allowed me to freestyle, I was able to put my stamp of movement into the piece. Also working with some great choreographers that inspired me as well.

DSMC: Where do you see the evolution of dance going in the next few years?

Jonathan Lee: In my opinion, dance will evolve to become more of a fusion of various styles. I believe a dancer will need to be more versatile in many styles rather than just proficient in just one style.

DSMC: What piece of advice would you give students new to dance and or choreography?

Jonathan Lee: My advice to young dancers would be to really hone your craft. Always be open to new things because dance is evolving. To train in various styles and techniques, learn from many teachers. To young choreographers, I would say: what do you have to say with your movement? Make sure your choreography makes a statement.

DSMC: How long have you been an Ailey Extension dance instructor?

Jonathan Lee: I am one of the original instructors at the Extension. I’ve been there since the Extension began 14 years ago.

What was next on my dance agenda? Afro’Dance with instructor Angel Kaba. When Angel turned on the music everyone in the class was instantly transported to the electric and carefree sounds from The Congo, Ivory Coast, and Angola. With a mixture of African influences and street dance, this class challenges students to loosen their hips and move the rest of their bodies to the flow of the thumping beats. The cultural, social and free-spirited vibes of the class is contagious and dance students at any level will enjoy it tremendously. DSMC spoke to Angel, who now calls New York home, about her dance career.

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Angel Kaba, Photo: Courtesy of Angel Kaba

DSMC: What or whom inspired you to become a dance instructor?

Angel Kaba: My mother was a traditional Caribbean dancer from Martinique (French West Indies). She moved to Europe, Luxembourg specifically to be a professional dancer. When she had me, she brought me to concerts with her. My first concert was “KASSAV.” I ended up going on stage and dancing with the band. I was 4 years old. So my mother decided to find a dance class for me and I started dancing ballet at the age of 6. Teaching came pretty early in my life. At 16 I was teaching Hip-Hop for kids in my neighborhood. I love helping people feel happy and good about themselves. Music is also a big part of my inspiration. I always say: I don’t do choreography, I make people dance!

DSMC: You mentioned growing up in Belgium, what influences did you grow up with there?

Angel Kaba: Belgium colonized Congo (formerly Zaire). There is a lot of Congolese in Belgium. Even though I didn’t grow up with my father, who is Congolese, I was still surrounded by my culture a lot, music, food, hairstyle, fashion and gossip. Belgium is a small country with a lot of talent, very interesting! We speak basically 4 languages: French, Dutch, English and German. Brussels, where I was born, is very well situated in Europe, so I had access to a lot of cities like Paris, Amsterdam, London, Madrid, Prague…. I traveled a lot and that opened my mind and heart.

Belgium is my country, but my roots are from Africa. I learned everything I know from Belgium especially dance, theater and music. Belgium taught me and New York made me. In Belgium I was able to understand who I was. In the U.S. I learned how to be free by being myself.

DSMC: How long have you been an Ailey Extension instructor and what piece of advice do you give aspiring dance students?

Angel Kaba: Very interesting question. I knew of Alvin Ailey since I was I child, my mother told me about him and his legacy. It was in 2012, when I met my mentor Robin Dunn, and got the experience – taking classes and performing with the Ailey Extension community. I became an official Ailey Extension instructor as of May 2019! I started to teach my Afro’ Dance class, just a few weeks ago!

To my students, I would say something like: Hello, and welcome to my world. I’m Angel Kaba, and I help you express yourself through movement and music. Yes, that’s right; I teach you dance moves through rhythmic and afro-dance choreographies but most importantly, I help you express your deepest self without using a word. I help you go deep into your soul to find the light that only you have. I strongly believe that everybody is great at something and I also believe that dancing is a vehicle to tap into that gift. And I would add, beginners are more than welcome with my French accent, Let’s dance!! Voilà!

I’ve been going to the Ailey Extension for a over a year now, and every time I try their new roster of classes I become more motivated to stick to my fitness goals – and guess what, I suspect you will to if you sign up. Each of these instructors have different teaching methods, yet will inspire you to dance like you’re up for your next audition. Check them out!

This summer Ailey Extension promises to get New Yorkers moving with the return of NYC Dance Week, June 13 – June 22, not to be left behind, The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater’s Lincoln Center engagement will run from June 12 – June 16. The annual citywide festival offers over 25 free dance and fitness classes for adults of all experience levels. To view Ailey Extension’s complete NYC Dance schedule, visit www.aileyextension.com/nycdanceweek. New students must present a downloadable NYC Dance Week voucher for all classes at The Ailey Studios, available here.

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New York City Center Celebrates Its 75th Anniversary With Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater – Captivating And Nostalgic!

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Photo: Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in Paul Taylor’s Piazzolla Caldera. Photo by Paul Kolnik

The holiday season is upon us and if you’re in search of cultural entertainment that will revitalize you – mentally and spiritually – Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater’s 60th Anniversary performances is just what you need. I recently attended the New York City Center’s 75th birthday celebration program featuring Alvin Ailey’s presentation of Piazzolla Caldera, The Golden Section, and Revelations. What a night of magical and transcendent dancing from the company’s members, and tribute to the choreographers that made these acts possible throughout the years at the revered New York City Center. The evening began with an homage to the New York City Center’s historic residency (Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater is their principal dance company) in New York’s cultural scene. Stage and film stars reminisced about the significance of this cultural landmark followed by an introduction from Alvin Ailey’s Artistic Director, Robert Battle.

The first act, Piazzolla Caldera, by critically acclaimed choreographer, Paul Taylor, fuses sensuality and the beautiful rhythms of traditional tango with four distinct dance numbers. The dancers role-play fiery confrontations between working class men and women, moving gracefully in a dimly lit club background to set the mood. Duets and trios of dancers interpreting lost loves and predatory conquests round out this act. The melodies emanating from the conventional accordion synonymous with Argentinean tango have never been sultrier.

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Photo: Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater’s Jacqueline Green and Danica Paulos in Twyla Tharp’s The Golden Section. Photo by Paul Kolnik

Remembering one of my favorite revolutionary and experimental new wave bands from the 80s, The Talking Heads, I would have never imagined their songs interpreted to modern dance ballet. Yet, it happened. Listening to David Byrne’s voice electric voice wafting through the theater and witnessing the dancers move to his words was exhilarating. Premiering in the Broadway production of The Catherine Wheel in 1981 by Tony Award winning choreographer, Twyla Tharp, The Golden Section pushes the physicality of dancers with aero-dynamic like movements and superhuman leaps. Truly breathtaking to see. Although over 37 years-old, the production withstands the test of time and has an enchanting futuristic appeal.

The final act of the night was Revelations, created and choreographed by Alvin Ailey at the age of 29 in 1960. Inspired by Alvin Ailey’s childhood memories of church service in his hometown of Texas and the works of James Baldwin and Langston Hughes, laid the foundation for Ailey’s signature work of art. I’ve been fortunate to see Revelations more than once and as you listen to the songs you’re powerless to the grasp of the emotional ride you embark upon with feelings of sorrow, grief, lament, joy, hope and triumph; a tribute to the African-American cultural experience, its message is universal and speaks to the resiliency of the human spirit.

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Photo: Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in Alvin Ailey’s Revelations. Photo by Christopher Duggan

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater’s repertoire of performances never disappoints and pushes the boundaries of creative expression every season. Whether it’s modern dance or traditional ballet, there is something for everyone this holiday season. Don’t miss out on these upcoming spectacular performances now running through December 30th. Click here, for Alvin Ailey’s American Dance Theater schedule.

Piazzolla Caldera: Choreography by Paul Taylor; Restaged by Richard Chen See; Music by: Astor Piazzolla, Jerzy Peterburshsky; Set, Décor, and Costumes by: Santo Loquasto; Lighting by: Jennifer Tipton; Song: “El sol sueño” Performed by: The Company,  Song: “Concierto para quintet” by: Jacqueline Green, Belen Pereyra, Yannick Lebrun; Song: “Celos” Performed by: Daniel Harder, Michael Francis, McBride, Ghrai DeVore, Jamar Roberts; Song: “Escualo” Performed by: The Company
The Golden Section: Choreography by Twyla Tharp; Restaged by Shelley Washington; Music: David Byrne; Set, Décor, and Costumes by Santo Loquasto; Lighting by Jennifer Tipton; Performed by: Samantha Figgins, Jacqueline Harris, Jacqueline Green, Danica Paulos, Sarah Daley-Perdomo, Constance Stamatiou, Solomon Dumas, Clifton Brown, Chalvar Monteiro, Venard J. Gilmore, Michael Jackson Jr., Michael Francis McBride, Jeroboam Bozeman
REVELATIONS: Choreography by Alvin Ailey; Music: Traditional; Décor and Costumes by Ves Harper; Costumes for “Rocka My Soul” redesigned by Barbara Forbes; Lighting Design by Nicola Cernovitch; Song: “Buked” Performed by: Hope Boykin, Megan Jakel, Jessica Pinkett, Yazzmeen Laidler, Courtney Celeste Spears, Khalia Campbell, Solomon Dumas, Jamar Roberts, Riccardo Battaglia Song: “Daniel” Performed by:  Daniel Harder, Hope Boykin, Fana Tesfagiorgis, Song: “Fix Me” Performed by: Sarah Daley-Perdomo, Jamar Roberts, Song: “Processional” Performed by: Kanji Segawa, Megan Jakel, Solomon Dumas, Riccardo Battaglia, Song: “Water” Performed by: Jacqueline Green, Vernard J. Gilmore, Khalia Campbell, Song: “Ready” Performed by: Clifton Brown, Song: “Sinner Man” Performed by: Michael Jackson, Jr., Yannick Lebrun, Solomon Dumas, Songs:  “The Day is Past and Gone,” “You May Run On” and “Rocka My Soul,” Performed by The Company.

Ailey Extension Honors Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater 60th Anniversary – With Exhilarating Classes To Meet Your Holiday Fitness Goals

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Photo: Courtesy of Karen Arceneaux’s Instagram @kaep247, Students and Instructors at the Ailey Extension

If you’re like me and need to some inspiration to try a new fitness routine; look no further. The Ailey Extension has you covered. On a recent November evening I was invited to a press-only dance and fitness class event at the Ailey Extension studio in Manhattan. They promoted the most popular classes on their holiday schedule: BellydanceBURN – a mix of interconnected spine, chest, hips, and shoulders movement designed to make you become one with the music. All Styles Vogue – teaches students the fundamentals of Vogue Dancing, as well as current trends with special emphasis on its rich history, and classic Runway. The class begins with a funky contemporary jazz warm-up, targeting core muscle strength, grace, clean lines, balance and control. The third and most exhilarating class I took, was DanceFit. I’m not impartial to this class and I’ll tell you why. Created and developed by instructor, Karen Arceneaux – this is my 4th time taking DanceFit. It’s a high-intensity training, full-body workout that will push your muscles to the limit and beyond. I was introduced to DanceFit over the summer for Ailey’s NYC Dance Week. For this DanceFit class sampling, students received a 15-minute teaser. The class is normally 60-minutes of dance-based training with a mix of cardio and strength training to sculpt the entire body. Karen keeps the momentum going throughout the whole class with intermittent pauses to let you catch your breath. Thanks! Karen.

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Photo: Courtesy of Janelle Issis’ Instagram @jbellyburn

The evening began with BellydanceBURN. Instructor Janelle Issis distributed colorful sarongs with chains, sparkles, and sequins to get your mind bellydance-ready and move to the sultry beats of the dance’s traditional music. Belly dancing is believed to date back to 6,000 years ago with origins in Turkey and Egypt. As the class progressively reached hip-swaying levels of 15 – everyone relished in the upbeat energy and sensuality of Janelle’s steps. Issis has been studying classic Egyptian bellydance since the age of 4. Featured, as the top 6th female finalist on “So You Think You Can Dance” Season 9 and debuting her first international T-Mobile commercial with artist, J. Balvin, is a testament to Janelle’s rising star. Apart from joining the Ailey Extension in 2018, she currently travels teaching with “Hollywood Dance Jamz” and “Showstoppers on Tour.” Her love for the art of choreography extends past bellydancing. Janelle has trained in multiple genres of dance including contemporary jazz, hip-hop, lyrical, Bollywood, modern, tap, salsa and more. Don’t Miss Janelle’s BellydanceBurn Schedule.

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Photo: Courtesy of the Ailey Extension

The second class to get students revved up was All Styles Vogue with Cesar Valentino. Out of all the classes, this had to be the most intimidating for me. Images of Madonna’s hit song, “Vogue” came to mind. I remembered as a teen being in awe of the elegance and enviable fluidity Madonna and her dancers exuded throughout the black and white video. How my friends and I would try to mimic their poses by rewinding and fast-fowarding our VCRs – to get the moves right. Cesar’s demeanor completely obliterated my voguing fears. He instilled a resolute confidence in the class –stripped away our shyness – with no turning back. Leading with skilled precision, Cesar and his students  sashayed across the studio and to learn the fundamentals of vogue dancing, and the elements of classic runway stances and walks. Cesar Valentino is a legend on his own. You wouldn’t be able to tell by his youthful appearance, but Cesar has 35 years of dancing under his belt. Caesar became a fixture in the vogue dance genre early – with the underground ballroom and club scene winning trophies for his performances. Valentino was featured in the cult classic vogue documentary Paris is Burning, Netflix original series Get Down, has appeared in music videos with Toni Braxton and Carmen Electra, and served as runway and performance coach for New York’s Olympus and Mercedes Benz Fashion Week. Apart from being the resident vogue expert at the Ailey extension, Cesar Valentino is a master craftsman and designer of one-a-kind garments, costumes and accessories. Check out his upcoming All Styles Vogue schedule.

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Photo: Courtesy of Kyle Froman, Karen Arceneaux

Last, but never least, was DanceFit. Karen Arceneaux combines cardio, strength training, her high-octane energy and dance-based training background. This final class of the evening was not meant to wind you down – but lift you up into the stratosphere! Karen’s choreography and teaching expertise is extensive and impressive. Receiving her B.F.A in Choreographic Design from the University of Louisiana-Lafayette (ULL) and Master of Arts Degree in Organizational Management from the University of Phoenix may have led you to believe that she wanted to pursue a career in academics. You would be wrong. She has choreographed performances for the Saint Paul’s Church annual Christmas concert in NY, ULL in Louisiana, collaborates with dancers from the Ailey/Fordham B.F.A program, and founded the Genesis Dance Company, LLC – she serves as the Artistic Director and has presented her work in New York, Connecticut, Michigan, and South Carolina. Besides being a celebrated choreographer, Karen is a certified personal trainer, weight loss specialist, and TRX Suspension Trainer. Part of the Ailey Extension for over 10 years, Karen’s mission is to be an inspiration to others. Click here for the upcoming DanceFit schedule. 

This year the Alvin Ailey American Dancer Theater is celebrating its 60th Anniversary. To commemorate this milestone, the company will be hosting an array of events, workshops, panels and performances for patrons to indulge in. From November 28th – December 30th, you can catch these holiday engagements featuring the world premiere of Ronald K. Brown’s The Call and Rennie Harris’ Lazarus. Contemporary workshops by Ailey Company dancer and choreographer, Jamar Roberts, plus Young New York Night, where patrons aged 21 – 30 can purchase tickets (any seat in the house) for $29. Free your mind of holiday stress and join the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater Company for these captivating performances. To learn more, click here.