Skip to main content

Denise Jefferson

Director, The Ailey School

Denise Jefferson (1944-2010) was born in Chicago, Illinois, where she began her ballet studies with Edna L. McRae. She attended Wheaton College in Norton, MA, graduating with a B.A. in French; she then earned her M.A. in French from New York University. She was awarded a scholarship to the Martha Graham Center of Contemporary Dance and began her professional career with the Pearl Lang Dance Company one year later. In 1974, Ms. Jefferson joined the faculty of The Ailey School and was appointed its Director in 1984, a position she held until her passing in 2010.  

For the National Association of Schools of Dance, she was President, Vice-President, Secretary, a member of the Board of Directors, Chairperson of the Commission on Accreditation and Dance Chairperson of ACCPAS. She was also a panelist for the Dance Program and a former Appeals Panel member of the New York State Council on the Arts. Ms. Jefferson was the Vice-Chairperson of the International Association for Blacks in Dance and a former President of the Emergency Fund for Student Dancers. She was an adjudicator and a master teacher for the ARTS program sponsored by the National Foundation for Advancement in the Arts. She served on the Boards of Directors for the Elisa Monte Dance Company and Career Transitions for Dancers, as well as on the Board of Trustees of Wheaton College. She was also a member of the Advisory Boards of the Professional Children’s School and the University of Oklahoma’s Dance Department. Ms. Jefferson served as an evaluator of professional dance academies and college and university dance departments in the US and abroad and as an adjudicator at international dance competitions. She taught at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, Benedict College, University of Illinois (Chicago), Sarah Lawrence College, London Contemporary Dance School, National Dance Theatre of Bermuda, Rudra Béjart and the International Summer Academy in Cologne, Germany. Ms. Jefferson was awarded honorary Doctorates of Fine Arts from Wheaton College and Tufts University.