Seeing myself in the Alvin Ailey dancers

When I was about seven years old, my mom took me to see Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. The company had come to Philadelphia to perform. At this point, I had been taking dance classes for four years and I loved it. I loved learning new ballet and jazz steps and I loved performing on stage.

I sat down in an orchestra seat in a beautiful theater next to my mom and brother. As I flipped through a program, I saw faces with skin that looked like mine and some names that were uncommon like mine. The lights dimmed, the curtain rose and the dancers appeared. I was captivated by their movements and fell in love with the songs and dances. I had dreams of being a professional dancer and I had just found a space full of people who looked like me doing what I dreamed of doing. That was my black joy moment. I was proud that I could see myself in them and happy to discover their world of beautiful black bodies.

Camera icon michael bryant / Staff Photographer

After the performance, my mom bought me a large red t-shirt with a patch that said “Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater” on a circular patch over the heart. For the next 10 years, I kept that shirt in my rotation of outfits for dance classes. I wore holes in the arms and frayed the edges. And I still wore it.

It is now a family tradition to see Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater every December in New York City. I have a shelf full of programs.