Three performers from the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater brought inspiration to the Henderson Upper School in Dorchester last Friday, introducing fifth grade children to a world of modern dance artistry rooted in the African-American experience.
Just an hour after the inauguration of President Donald Trump— and amidst a larger discussion of positive role-models across the country, the dancers took a break from their own vacation to serve as ambassadors of hope.
The dancers performed a piece inspired by Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. called “r-Evolution, Dream,” as well as Alvin Ailey’s “Revelations,” choreographed in the 1960s and set to the spiritual, “Rock My Soul/ Bosom of Abraham.”
“It goes beyond just being a dancer, and it goes beyond the steps — it’s about elevating people,” said Jeroboam Bozeman, a 26-year-old member of the Ailey Company who ran the lecture-demonstration.
The Henderson School is full inclusion, meaning that students from all abilities and disabilities learn together — and from one another. The school has grown over the years, adding a second campus after having had a waiting list of about 700 students. The Henderson now ranges from kindergarten to high school, building a pathway for Dorchester’s children.
“A lot of students may not have seen dance in their lives, or they haven’t had those resources,” he said. While some of the children had never been to the theater before, Bozeman said that, regardless, “we bring dance to them.”
Bozeman, who grew up in Brooklyn, NY, was selectively mute as a child, and would use American Sign Language as a form of communication. He eventually regained his voice, and nurtured his love for dance at the Brooklyn School of the Arts, the Philadelphia Dance Company, and the Spectrum Dance Theater in Seattle before finally joining the Ailey Company.
Cynthia Archibald, who teaches dance and drama at the Henderson School, co-teaches with her husband, a music teacher. “Believe it or not, we’re middle school sweethearts from Ohio,” said Archibald, who has been teaching in Dorchester for 22 years.
As a teacher, Archibald noted how dance lessons help with the self-esteem, poise, and confidence of her students. Grateful for the Alvin Ailey Company’s presence for the third year in a row, she said that their influence gives the children something to aspire to.
Archibald recounted teaching tap dance to the children, asking them to bring in an old pair of shoes and six quarters, to duck-tape as the heel. However, the quarters would tend to fall out and go missing, she said, calling this make-shift experience “poor-man’s tap shoes.”
The other Ailey Company members who performed at the Henderson School were Belen Pereyra, a Lawrence, MA native and an alumna of the Boston Arts Academy, and Solomon Dumas, who’s new to the company.
The dancers taught the students a quick routine, and encouraged them to freestyle and strike strong poses. The students had lots of questions for the performers, from “What’s a dance season?” to “Do you get nervous when you’re on stage or auditioning?”
When asked about what training you need to become a dancer, Bozeman mentioned that he is also getting a degree in psychology. Dumas used this opportunity to remind the students to “stay in school.”
The Alvin Ailey Company will perform at Boston’s Wang Theatre on April 27 to 30.