This past weekend, company members of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater came to perform at Centennial Hall and members of UA Dance and others from the community were lucky enough to get the chance to hear a lecture from company member Antonio Douthit. He gave us a brief history of the company and also shared the story of his amazing journey to Ailey.
Mr. Alvin Ailey was born in Rogers, Texas where he lived with his mother and brother. He later moved to Los Angeles and was introduced to his mentor Lester Horton. He trained there for a while before he went to New York City to join the musical House of Flowers. Soon after Ailey decided that he wanted to start a company because there was a limited amount of places where African-Americans could dance.
The company was officially started in 1958 and Ailey made his masterpiece “Revelations” only two years later in 1960. He died in 1989 and the company was led by Judith Jamison until lad year when it was taken over by Robert Battle. Douthit said is has been a very seamless transition and he is excited to have a male artistic director to look up to.
The company started this tour on February 1 in Canada and won’t go back home to New York until May. They then have some time off before continuing on their international tour.
“Sometimes I can’t believe I’ve been here for 8 years,” Douthit said, “because we pretty much spend 9 months out of the year on the road.”
Douthit, a St. Louis native, had a very unique start to his dancing career.
One day when he was 16 he was walking down the street with his friends and they heard a loud drumming noise coming from a dance studio. Douthit said they were being bad teenagers and decided to run into the studio and cause a ruckus in the back of the room. The teacher asked them to leave, but the boys insisted on staying so she put them in the back and said to follow along. After class, she said if the boys really wanted to dance they could come back the next day.
“The next day I went back by myself and I stayed forever,” Douthit said.
The teacher of the dance company called a local studio and was able to get Douthit a scholarship to study dance. He began training in jazz dance there and ballet at a different studio in St. Louis. During this time, he fell in love with ballet and was certain it was what he would do for the rest of his life.
Then sophomore year, one of his teachers recommended that he take a master class with Alvin Ailey. Thought he didn’t know much about modern, Douthit went anyways. During the class he was asked to demonstrate a combination across the floor and the company member teaching invited him to attend the performance that night. Douthit explained he didn’t have money to get a ticket, but she told him to meet at the stage door before the show and she would get him in.
Douthit remembers his mother telling him not to get his hopes up and that no one would be there to give him the ticket, but he was determined, so he put on his Sunday church suit and when to the show anyways. Lucky for him, she was there and got him a ticket to the show that changed his life forever.
“Oh my god! This is amazing,” he thought during the performance. “Ballet has nothing on this!” At that point Douthit said he knew that this was the place he needed to be.
After high school he got a job dancing with Dancers of Harlem for three years when his opportunity to dance with Alvin Ailey came knocking on his door.
In November 2003 there was an emergency audition for the company because one of the men had left to go on tour with Beyoncé. Seventy men showed up for the audition that day and Douthit got the job.
He said since he first started in the company the main things he has learned are maturity and patience.
“I learned from Miss Jamison that you might not get it today and you might not get it tomorrow, but when you get it you’ll be ready for it,” he said.
Douthit said he is always amazed by the impact the company has on the world. He said if they can touch one or two people with one performance and then another set of people come in and they can touch that one person and change them for the rest of their lives, then Mr. Ailey has done his job.
When he retires from the company, Douthit said he wants to go back to St. Louis and teach.
“So many people gave me different opportunities. People pushed me to dance and gave me shoes and clothes when my family couldn’t afford them so I want to go back to St. Louis and give back to my community the way they gave back to me.”
Click here to be linked to the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre’s Vimeo channel to see some of their different works.