When You Gotta Dance: 10-Day Ailey Challenge
With the holidays upon us, it's easy to revel in the spirit of the season at the expense of our health. The search for a fun and feasible way to maintain those resolutions to be happier and healthier in the new year is certainly a worthwhile one.
In honor of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater's 60th Anniversary Celebration, happening now through December 30th at New York City Center, the corresponding dance school, The Ailey Extension, is offering a variety of deals for those wanting to move into 2019 with grace:
The Ailey Extension's Ticket to Dance promotion gives first-time students a chance to try a dance or fitness class for FREE with proof of an Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater performance ticket (offer expires after 60 days). Returning students receive a free class with the purchase of a 10-class card. Hold on to your ticket stubs!
In celebration of the 60th Anniversary, Ailey Extension students of 60 years or older can purchase a 5-class card for only $60 when they purchase at the Ailey Extension desk. Regular packages and prices are here (drop-in options are also available!)
Last month I had the privilege to sample three excellent Ailey Extension classes: BellydanceBURN, All Styles Vogue, and DanceFit. You can find the review here. The 10-Day Ailey Challenge was born of the desire to offer the public a more comprehensive take on the classes offered (and to see if I could handle a daily dosage of dance in my schedule!)
Day 1: Limón
This beginner level class (many classes at the extension are geared toward beginners, if they promote any level at all) is usually taught by Becky Brown but it was helmed by a substitute the day that I attended. A diverse range of bodies was present, dispelling my notions that the class would be full of lithe, modern dance enthusiasts. The class consisted of moving in place and across the floor with a blend of variations based on ballet and Limón signatures. The class wasn't too difficult but having a foundation in ballet will certainly help with the more ballet-centric combinations. However, according to one student, the class is different in every session so this class seems great for those who want a solid introduction to Limón's style and enjoy variety.
Day 2: Ailey Barre
This funky fitness class was definitely one of my favorites, particularly because of the incredible live drumming AND piano playing courtesy of William Catanzaro. Taught by former AAADT starlet, Sarita Allen, Ailey Barre introduces AAADT repertory moves to the world of ballet-based fitness. This enriched the session with a more lyrical, earthy, and soulful vibe than what's found in other barre classes while still offering the typical trappings from resistance bands to the literal barre. Those seeking a sleek form of body toning while not being totally confined to the classical vocabulary will find a home in this class.
Day 3: Masala Bhangra Workout ™
Sarina Jain's trademark workout was taught by a young woman named Chloé (Sarina is on maternity leave) who consistently built on one choreographed piece throughout the class. Rooted in Bollywood and folkloric Bhangra vocabulary-enthusiastic hops and kicks, grand hip and arm movements, and occasional hip hop-inspired swagger-this class is great for those who want a high-energy workout to upbeat pop music from a different part of the world. Bonus if you have a knack for picking up choreography quickly.
Day 4: Afro-Cuban Folkloric
La Mora's Afro-Cuban dance class was packed, which is a testament to its popularity. The downside of that popularity was that one could barely see the teacher (or hear her over the live music) who only showed the moves a few times at most, before indicating that her front line of dancers were the examples to follow as they did the moves across the floor. La Mora spoke a bit about the spiritual and cultural root of the moves, which is a great way to endow students with a sense of context that makes the moves more easily understood. Still, this class is probably best if you're already pretty confident in Afro-Cuban, or other dances from the West African diaspora, or if you're a beginner looking for a challenge. Adjusting to see the teacher or the front lines will be your key to success when the class is very busy. Otherwise you may miss something.
Day 5: Hip Hop
Hope Easterbrook was subbing for Antonio Jefferson the day I took Hip Hop (she also has her own beginner class.) She walked the class through a fun choreographed piece that was easy enough for the students with the least experience in dance without feeling like a dilution or imitation of a style. If you want a good introduction to street-style Hip Hop, this class is for you.
Day 6: Zumba ®
I'm not usually a fan of Zumba classes. However, after sampling Karen Arceneaux's Dance Fit class I decided to give it one more chance. Ailey's Zumba class was packed and we spent a majority of the time dancing in place, facing the mirrors, which made the fairly simple Latin, hip hop, and other cardio moves even easier to follow. I particularly enjoyed that many of the elder women felt free to let loose in the class, adding their own flair to many of the moves. If getting your blood pumping to great music is your goal, this class welcomes all ages.
Day 7: Beginner Samba/Afro Brazilian
The ever-popular Samba class at Ailey happens multiple times a week with teacher Quenia Ribeiro. After a warm-up focused on activating the core, she proceeded to lead the class through two different choreographies: an upright, quick-footed Carnivale style with lots of the recognizable "samba step" thrown in; and a torso and hip heavy folkloric style more reminiscent of Samba's West African roots. Both choreographies were broken down and repeated several times in order to cater to the various levels in the class. Another class that features live, authentic drumming, anyone wanting to get a more comprehensive understanding of a Latin dance (i.e. a class that isn't limited to a ballroom style) is encouraged to study with Quenia.
Day 8: Intro to Ballet
Anna Lederfeind's quirky sense of humor takes the edge off what is otherwise a fairly traditional ballet class. Still, she focused on alignment and proper technique in every dance sequence. She, or her key students, could always be seen (occasionally she left her position at the front of the class to help a student), so there was always a clear example to follow if one forgot the steps. Even with barre support, you will definitely feel your muscles working in this class while getting a good sense of ballet basics. The teacher's charming attitude makes for an inviting atmosphere.
Day 9: Horton
Take absolute beginner Horton with Terri Wright if you truly want an absolute beginner class. The sequences are broken down very well but the trade off is, at times, you may be doing more waiting and listening than moving. You will absolutely get to experience signature Horton moves, which embraced the lines of the limbs and the orbital revolutions of the hips and core equally. This isn't the class for those wanting to sweat and dance a lot but the class is perfect for those wanting to pace themselves as they build strength and expand their modern dance vocabulary.
Day 10: Salsa
This is a great class for learning the basics of partner dancing. Fitgi Saint-Louis, of the Baila Society, taught variations of the "Salsa Step" as well as other building-block footwork as the class faced the mirrors. Then the class got to try the moves with a partner, rotating to a new partner every time the choreography was expanded. This class is a great choice for those who want to gain a strong foundation in Salsa basics and interact directly with other students.
Even in 10 classes, I wasn't able to experience all that the Ailey Extension has to offer. Classes are available seven days a week and they are open to dancers of all levels and backgrounds. Learn more about the multitude of the incredible options you can enjoy at the Ailey Extension here.