Ailey Dancers. Photo by Andrew Eccles, Courtesy Ailey

Ailey Dancers Unite—And Boycott Their Own Gala

Everything was not business as usual at Tuesday's Kennedy Center gala for Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. The party was missing an integral piece of the annual celebration: the dancers themselves.

The news was shared online yesterday via the Washington Post, which reports that the dancers are in the middle of renegotiating a three-year contract with their union, the American Guild of Musical Artists.


After their performance, rather than schmoozing with donors, the dancers left the building. Their absence didn't stop the celebration, although donors had paid $1,000 (minimum) to dine and bump shoulders with the world-renowned Ailey dancers.

In concert with the gala boycott, #ArtistofAiley has begun to catch on via Instagram. The company's AGMA dancers and stage managers started their own account, artistsofailey. Additional hashtags associated with display of unity have included #UnionStrong, #ReachingfortheStandard, #LovingWhatWeDo and #AGMA.

It's rumored that the Ailey dancers are demanding a discussion that could increase what they see as substandard wages and benefits. Officially, a press release from AGMA said negotiations began in December for a new collective bargaining agreement to replace the current one, which expires May 31.

Leonard Egert, national executive director of AGMA, writes in the release, "It is very concerning that Ailey's artists, predominately African-American dancers, earn much less than dancers at comparable companies with similar or even smaller budgets."

You can't help but note that this is taking place during Black History Month.

According to recent tax filings, the Alvin Ailey Dance Foundation, Inc—America's fourth largest dance company in terms of budget—has over $178 million in net assets, slightly over $13 million in contributed revenue (fundraising events, grants, and gifts) and sells over $20 million worth of tickets and merchandise yearly.

Griff Braun, AGMA's New York dance executive, added in the press release, "These artists put on more performances than any other major dance company in the United States—175 to 200 per year—with only one-third to one-half the number of dancers at other companies."

Artistic director Robert Battle made no official comment to the Washington Post about the boycott, but did say, "We will get through it, because there's a reason that the Alvin Ailey dance company has withstood the test of time. We're a big family, and sometimes we just need to talk, you know what I'm saying?"

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Brandt in Giselle. Rosalie O'Connor, Courtesy ABT

Skylar Brandt's Taste in Music Is as Delightful as Her Dancing

American Ballet Theatre soloist Skylar Brandt's dancing is clean, precise and streamlined. It's surprising, then, to learn that her taste in music is "all over the place," she says. (Even more surprising is that Brandt, who has an Instagram following of over 80k, is "in the dark ages" when it comes to her music, and was buying individual songs on iTunes up until a year ago, when her family intervened with an Apple Music plan.)

Though what she's listening to at any given time can vary dramatically, the through-line for Brandt is nostalgia: songs that take her back, whether to childhood, a favorite movie or a piece she's recently performed. Brandt told us about her eclectic taste, and made us a playlist that will keep you guessing:

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Ailey II artistic director Troy Powell teaching an Ailey Workshop at NYCDA. Courtesy NYCDA

NYCDA Is Redefining the Convention Scene Through Life-Changing Opportunities

Back in 2011 when Joe Lanteri first approached Katie Langan, chair of Marymount Manhattan College's dance department, about getting involved with New York City Dance Alliance, she was skeptical about the convention/competition world.

"But I was pleasantly surprised by the enormity of talent that was there," she says. "His goal was to start scholarship opportunities, and I said okay, I'm in."

Today, it's fair to say that Lanteri has far surpassed his goal of creating scholarship opportunities. But NYCDA has done so much more, bridging the gap between the convention world and the professional world by forging a wealth of partnerships with dance institutions from Marymount to The Ailey School to Complexions Contemporary Ballet and many more. There's a reason these companies and schools—some of whom otherwise may not see themselves as aligned with the convention/competition world—keep deepening their relationships with NYCDA.

Now, college scholarships are just one of many ways NYCDA has gone beyond the typical weekend-long convention experience and created life-changing opportunities for students. We rounded up some of the most notable ones:

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Courtesy The Joyce

Dance Magazine Chairman's Award Honoree: Linda Shelton

In an industry that has been clamoring for more female leadership, Linda Shelton, executive director of New York City's The Joyce Theater Foundation since 1993, has been setting an example for decades. As a former general manager of The Joffrey Ballet, U.S. tour manager for the Bolshoi Ballet, National Endowment for the Arts panelist, Dance/NYC board member and Benois de la Danse judge, as well as a current Dance/USA board member, Shelton has served as a global leader in dance. In her tenure at The Joyce, she has not only increased the venue's commissioned programming, but also started presenting beyond The Joyce's walls in locations such as Lincoln Center.

What brought you to The Joyce?

That was many years ago, but it's still the same today: It's a belief in and passion for the mission of the theater, which is to support dance in all of its forms and varieties—every kind of dance that you could imagine.

Diversity is so important in dance leadership today. How do you approach this at The Joyce?

Darren Walker said something interesting at a Dance/NYC Symposium, which was that The Joyce is a disruptor. It was nice to hear in that context, because we don't think of it as something new. We didn't have to change our mission statement to be more diverse. We've been doing this since day one.

Is drawing in new audiences and maintaining longtime supporters ever in conflict?

Of course. I call it the blessing and the curse of our mission. We do present more experimental companies that may attract a younger audience. But it's very tricky. You're not going to tell your long-term audience, "Don't come and see this because you're not going to like the music." We've had people walk out of the theater before, but it's a response. It's important to spark those conversations.

What experimenting have you done?

We've tried a "pay what you decide" ticket the past couple of seasons with some of our more adventurous programming. You would reserve your seat for a dollar and after seeing the show pay what you decide is right for you.

Do you have advice for other dance presenters?

Find opportunities to sit with colleagues from around the country. At Dance/USA there's a presenters' council where we come together and talk about what we're putting in our seasons and what we're passionate about. Maybe there are enough presenters to collaborate and make it possible to bring a company to New York or to do a tour around the country.

Also, remember what it's all about: making that connection between what's onstage and the audience. If we can do that, despite every visa issue and missed flight and injury and changed program and whatever else comes our way, then we should feel good about the job we're doing.

To purchase tickets to the Dance Magazine Awards or become a sponsor, visit dancemediafoundation.org.

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