49 Days of Dance to Honor Orlando

Posted June 29, 2016

Today is my 10th day, and each evening I go home after class and I find one of the individuals, I read about them and try to learn about them, and then I think about them. This is a person who went to Pulse to dance.”

Mary Suk, dancer, choreographer, and teaching artist, is taking an Ailey Extension class each day in honor of each individual who lost their life in the Orlando, Florida tragedy on June 12, 2016 when a lone gunman launched an attack on a night club.  49 people passed away that day.

“It’s hard to think about those people not being alive anymore and the kind of hole that leaves in each of their family’s lives, their community’s lives. We’re all so interconnected. But it’s very easy to move on to the next thing. There needs to be some time spent. And so each night is a reflection or meditation of each person.”

An Extension student for about two years, Mary explained that she’d previously wondered if anyone had ever taken all of the technique and fitness classes offered at the Ailey Extension. She recently considered taking each class as part of a fundraiser or health challenge, but never found the right time. However, once the Orlando tragedy occurred, she knew she couldn’t wait any longer.

“What can be done to honor the individuals? I hate calling them victims. Their deaths shouldn’t define them, their lives should define them. If I dedicate a day to each of these individuals who lost their lives," Mary said contemplatively, “that I can do.”

But with so many ways to show support to those lost in Orlando and their families, why did Mary choose dancing at the Ailey Extension? Mary explained that she grew up dancing in Pennsylvania, and that her parents nurtured her love of the arts by bringing her into the city for new experiences. Always dedicated to supporting her community, she considered becoming a physician while an undergraduate but loved dance too much. Mary moved to New York City and earned a Masters in Dance and Dance Education at Teachers College at Columbia University and began a career in arts administration, ultimately working at The School of American Ballet.

Although she was still very much involved in the dance world, she wasn’t as fulfilled. “I missed my tribe -- I needed to go back.” She decided then that there are many ways to serve the community and became a teaching artist. Community is exactly what she found at the Ailey Extension. “It’s fabulous! You see people of different backgrounds and experiences and they all come here to be part of this.”

What can be done to honor the individuals? I hate calling them victims. Their deaths shouldn’t define them, their lives should define them.

“Every time I walk through Ailey’s doors, I feel welcomed, I feel at home, I feel excited. For me, it’s a place of joy!” Those very emotions are what inspired Mary to dance for Orlando. “The LGBTQ+ community has experienced so much discrimination and violence when they, like anybody else, just want to be seen as human beings, and to be allowed the full range of expression of that  to love, and to be treated with respect. Part of that is being able to go out and play, to dance, and have fun.”

By sharing her story, Mary hopes to be an inspiration to her community. “I’d love people to get out, to move, to dance, and not to feel self-conscious about it. It is so much part of who we are as human beings.” Mary made it clear that her dancing tribute isn’t about her, but about the individuals who lost their lives and the community we all belong to. For her, dance is healing. “It’s just my way to beat back the darkness.”

Most importantly, Mary hopes that others will remember the people we lost in Orlando and actively reach out to individuals who might be struggling. As she said, “a community starts with two people.”

Interviews conducted and article written by PennyMaria Jackson.


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