Compton students channel their inner dance through Alvin Ailey

A Partnership with The Music Center and Alvin Ailey Arts in Education introduces Compton Unified School District students to dance

Alvin Ailey Arts in Education & Community Programs instructor Theara Ward goes through a routine for students at Davis Middle School in Compton in March. Photo by Dennis J. Freeman

Compton-The excitement of Compton students taking part in a week-long workshop of dance and the arts recently set up by The Music Center and the Alvin Ailey Arts in Education & Community Programs was not limited to the youths invited to take part in the program.

The adults in the room were just as giddy as the students were at having the opportunity for The Music Center, Alvin Ailey Arts in Education & Community Programs, and Compton Unified School District provide professional development in dance to the young pupils.

Students from Davis Middle School in Compton participates in an Alvin Ailey Arts in Education & Community Programs workshop in March. Photo by Dennis J. Freeman

“We’re really focused on the arts,” said Jeff Harris, director of community partnerships at Compton Unified School District. “It’s an opportunity for our superintendent and for our board. Having the opportunity for these students to get this type of training at this level from Alvin Ailey is absolutely amazing. The arts isn’t really just an add-on to the curriculum.it should be part of the curriculum. They’re just not getting the chance to get up and move and understanding dance moves, they’re getting English learning arts instruction, too…these opportunities, which some people might think is part enrichment, is really at the core of the curriculum.”

Students from Walton Elementary School, Davis Middle School, and Bunche Middle School got their fill of learning dance routines and being introduced to understanding the choreography movement of Duke Ellington’s Night Creature: An Imaginative Journey Through Dance and Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater’s signature piece Revelations.

Alvin Ailey Arts in Education & Community Programs instructor Theara Ward shows off her dance skills to students at Davis Middle School in Compton in March. Photo by Dennis J. Freeman

For LaKeyshua Washington, principal at Davis Middle School, this was a terrific experience for her students.

“We have a group of girls that take a dance class through our enrichment and so for them to take dance instructions once a week from group and then to be able to come in and to work with the professionals from Alvin Ailey, for me it’s exciting,” Washington said. “But I think for them it’s even more exciting because they can connect the dance to professional dance and performances. To have Alvin Ailey, which is an American icon as far as dance is concerned, it’s so overwhelming for me and my staff and the kids.”

The connection Washington is hoping her students will get is how dance can effectively translate past and present experiences through the creative means of the arts. Washington said that the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, which performed April 3-7 at The Music Center’s Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, manages to invoke raw emotions to go along with those experiences-good and bad.

L-R: Theara Ward, Alvin Ailey Arts in Education & Community Programs instructor; Keith Wyffels, associate vice president of education at The Music Center; Jeff Harris, director of community partnerships at Compton Unified School District. Photo by Dennis J. Freeman

“It invokes emotion,” said Washington. “It makes you think about the history of blacks in this country. It makes you think about the fundamental experiences of all human beings. I love dance. I do African dance and Chicago Stepping, so for me, it’s even a more personal connection to that.”

Eternity Thomas, a seventh-grade student at Davis Middle School, was able to find that connection, even though dance would not have been an avenue for her to explore. Thomas said she was encouraged to take part in the dance workshop for her Girls Club instructor. She’s glad she took that advice.

“I had tons of fun,” Thomas said. “I’m the type of person do a lot of different things. I tried it out, even though I normally suck at dancing. The dance instructions are amazing, and I’m not as terrible I normally am.”

Students from Davis Middle School in Compton participates in an Alvin Ailey Arts in Education & Community Programs workshop in March. Photo by Dennis J. Freeman

Besides its outreach to Compton students, The Music Center serves more than 14,000 students at 85 schools within Los Angeles County, said Keith Wyffels, associate vice president of education at The Music Center. The Music Center is also incorporating educators in the fold as well, providing training for at least 1, 200 teachers in the arts (dance, theatre, music, and visual arts).

“Our partnership with Compton Unified (School District) is pretty new,” Wyffels said. “The last year or so, we’ve really been trying to lay the foundation for it and trying to find the best way to partner. In speaking with Jeff Harris and looking at the opportunities, and when the Ailey residency came up, it seemed like a perfect opportunity to engage with Compton Unified.”

“When I presented the Ailey residency, Jeff and the district were over the moon about it.” Wyffels continued. “Typically, we do two schools, up to two schools, and if they want to throw a third school in that, we will accommodate that. We’ll make that happen. It’s a great for the kids to engage in dance and learning through the arts-here at their schools in Compton, but also The Music Center for the actual performance.”

Dennis J. Freeman
About Dennis J. Freeman 1373 Articles
Dennis is a news and sports photojournalist. Dennis has covered and written on issues such as civil rights, education, politics, and social justice. His work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Daily Breeze, Daily Press, Los Angeles Wave, Los Angeles Sentinel, and other media outlets. Dennis is currently the editor and publisher of News4usonline. He covers the NFL, NBA, Major League Baseball, and NCAA. Dennis is an alum and graduate of Howard University.

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