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5 Historic Ailey Tours

Posted January 3, 2023

For over six decades, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater has performed and taught workshops and masterclasses in 71 countries and on six continents, reinforcing Mr. Ailey’s vision that dance is meant to be shared. Designated as “a vital American cultural ambassador to the world,” by the United States Congress, the Company continues to deliver its message across the globe.

From Australia to South Africa, here are five of Ailey’s most historic tours.

Australia & the East Asia (1962)

Ailey company performs in Malaysia 1962/Ailey Archives

As part of John F. Kennedy’s “President’s Special International Program for Cultural Presentations,” the Ailey Company launched its first international tour in Australia on February 3, 1962. After leaping onto the stage at the Palace Theater in Sydney, the dancers performed throughout the rest of the country and then traveled to Malaysia, South Vietnam, Indonesia, Philippines, Hong Kong, and Japan over a three-month period. The repertory featured some of Alvin Ailey’s earliest works, including Been Here And Gone, Gillespiana, Hermit Songs, and Revelations.

Europe (1964)

Mr. Ailey dreamed of turning Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater into a repertory company that featured other choreographers he admired, so his first European tour included works by Joyce Trisler, Louis Johnson, Lester Horton, Paul Sanasardo, and Anna Sokolov. On September 7, 1964, the Company began a three-week engagement at the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées in Paris, followed by a six-week residency with London’s Shaftesbury Theatre. Along the way, the performers on tour taught master classes for other dancers.

Africa (1967)

Alvin Ailey in Africa, 1967.

A year after participating in the month-long Inaugural Negro Arts Festival in Dakar, Senegal, the Ailey dancers embarked on a two-and-a-half month, ten-country tour of Africa for the U.S. State Department, becoming the first American modern dance company to tour the continent. They performed on modern stages and in private gardens throughout Ghana, Senegal, Kenya, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, as well as in rural community centers and movie houses. Mr. Ailey extended specially-priced performances and the Company offered lecture-demonstrations about dance to African students.

China (1985)

Alvin Ailey Poster in China 1985

With newly established diplomatic relations between the U.S. and the People's Republic of China, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater became the first modern dance company to tour the country in 1985. Launching a 10-city itinerary the Company abided by China’s stringent “morality” rules and presented Alvin Ailey’s Night Creature, Cry, Memoria, and Revelations, along with choreographer Billy Wilson’s Concerto in F. They also gave master classes and lecture-demonstrations to shy but eager students at the Beijing Dance Academy.

South Africa (1997)

Judith Jamison in South Africa 1985

Under the guidance of Judith Jamison, who served as the Company’s Artistic Director from 1989–2011, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater embarked on its historic residency in South Africa, following the lifting of an international cultural boycott. The repertory included seldom-seen pieces such as Ulysses Dove’s Vespers and George Faison’s Suite Otis. In 2015 the Ailey dancers returned to South Africa to perform and teach dance to students of all ages and levels, a life-changing experience documented in Ailey in Africa.


See Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater on tour.

View the Tour Calendar

Photo credits: Alvin Ailey with women and children of the Makonde Tribe in Africa,1967, photo courtesy of the Ailey Archives. Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater Malaysia poster (1962), photo courtesy of the Ailey Archives. Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater Africa poster (1967), photo courtesy of the Ailey Archives. Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Hong Kong poster (1986), photo courtesy of the Ailey Archives. Judith Jamison teaching in South Africa (1997), photo courtesy of the Ailey Archives.