Niles Ford (1959–2012)

February 8, 2012



Niles Ford was a force of nature. Whenever he performed his powerful solo in Merián Soto and Pepón Osorio’s Historias, it was as if time stood still. His courageous portrait of a slave fighting for his life was unforgettable. A mercurial mover, he transformed the abstract, percussive choreography into an exquisite affirmation of himself that went straight into viewers hearts. That solo won him a “Bessie” in performance in 1993. Click here to see a clip of his dancing.

Niles was solid in his 6 ‘ frame and soft in approaching his dancing. He attacked the movement forcefully through the space and then smiled as if the world around was his. Niles’ smile was infectious; it lit up the room. In his 1994 duet with James Adlesic, two men struggled against one another, making gender and race differences painfully real. As they smacked their bodies against one another, with both anger and trust, their real-life connection was obvious.

Niles Ford earned a BFA from the University of the Arts in Philadelphia, where he was born, and an MFA from New York University’s Dance Program. He continued to take the late Marjorie Mussman’s ballet class at the Mark Morris Dance Center.

During his 30-plus years in the dance world, he performed with many companies including Boston Ballet, Bill T. Jones, Ronald K. Brown, Gabri Christa’s dance-on-film project Savonetta, and Rod Rodgers. He collaborated with many artists including Marlyse Yearby in Brown Butterfly, a tribute to Mohammed Ali. His A Dream Deferred, performed at P.S. 122 in 2003, paid tribute to Rod Rodgers. His collaboration with choreographer Nathan Trice, In Search of the Invisible People, presented by Dixon Place in 2008 and 2010, was about the urban dance club culture of the 1970s and 80s that impacted contemporary dance. His company, Urban Dance Collective, was invited to teach and perform at the Open Look Festival in St. Petersburg in 2009 and 2010.

Niles and I were both parents with kids at P.S. 261 in Brooklyn. Everyone there loved Niles, and he knew every kid’s name. When we created an arts program for the first graders, he used to walk down the hallways with children entangled in his legs, not letting him go. They were proud to have Niles as their dance teacher. At pick-up time, he and I would argue passionately about dance—always about dance and dancing—our kids pulling us in opposite directions, begging us to go home. When we performed an improvised duet for 200 young students in the auditorium, he was so focused and present that what had originally been planned as a fun, promotional moment for our arts program turned into a great improvisation moment for two people who had never improvised together before.

Niles died from a heart attack on January 14 in Brooklyn. The last dance he choreographed received a moving and beautiful performance at the Irondale Center in Brooklyn as part of the FLICfest on January 27, followed by a celebration of his life. Now that he is no longer with us, the ones who were lucky to have known him will forever miss his great, mischievous smile.

Patricia Hoffbauer


Photo by Julie Lemberger.