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Lisa Johnson-Willingham


A native of Washington, DC, Lisa Johnson-Willingham became director of Ailey Extension in 2011, continuing Alvin Ailey’s vision that dance is for everybody through innovative and accessible dance programs for students of all ages, levels, and backgrounds. As Director of Ailey Extension, Ms. Johnson-Williams has created programs such as Ailey Experience Tour, Kids and Teens classes, Legacy Panels, the Horton Teacher Conference, along with Voices and Visions and World Dance Celebration performance workshops. She has broadened Ailey Extension’s audience beyond New York City by adding online classes that reach students from around the world. 

Before becoming Director, Ms. Johnson-Willingham attended the Duke Ellington School of the Arts and graduated from the University of the Arts in Philadelphia. She was a member of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, under the artistic direction of Judith Jamison. Throughout her career, she also performed with Cleo Parker Robinson Dance Ensemble, New World Dance Company, Donald Byrd/The Group, Joel Hall Dance Company, Deeply Rooted Productions, and Cerqua/Rivera Art Experience.  

During her time with Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Ms. Johnson-Willingham choreographed a new work titled Restricted (1998) during the Company’s 40th Anniversary Season. While living in Chicago, she choreographed for many prominent dance companies, theater productions, and musicals at the Goodman Theater, Steppenwolf Theater, Chicago Dramatist, and Congo Square Theater Company. 

Ms. Johnson-Willingham has been actively involved in the field of dance education and community engagement for many years, including a decade-long position as Director of AileyCamp Chicago, where she created the AileyCamp affirmations. As an educator, Ms. Johnson-Willingham was chosen to be the founding Dance Conservatory Head at The Chicago High School of the Arts. She has served as an artist-in-residence, a guest lecturer, and an adjunct faculty member at colleges and universities. 

Throughout her history with AILEY, she has been passionate about mentoring aspiring dancers by continuing to teach the rich history of Mr. Ailey’s signature style—the Horton technique—at masterclasses and dance workshops.