Skip to main content

The Ailey Extension

As we gear up for Mother’s Day, we decided to check in with a few of our instructors to hear about their motherhood experiences. Learn how their mothers influenced them and bring your mother or child to take our Mother’s Day Kukuwa class with us on Sunday, May 14th at 10am.


Winston Dynamit Brown began dancing as a child in Kansas City, MO, the same city Mr. Ailey called home. Winston saw dance as a doorway to a brighter future and credits his mother for showing him that door. 

“My mother is both the catalyst for why and how I was exposed to dance. But she also served as my biggest and unwavering support system,” he shared.

Winston’s mother enrolled him in classes at the same dance company she trained at as a child, Smiths Sisters Dance Studio. He also participated in AileyCamp, Ailey’s free summer program for underserved youth. As he continued his dance training, Winston was awarded scholarships to train at professionally summer intensives such as Jacob’s Pillow, and earned a BFA from the University of Missouri Kansas City. He has danced for Deeply Rooted Productions, The Metropolitan Opera, Pilobolus, and Kyle Abraham/A.I.M., to name a few. Recently, he became an instructor at AileyExtension.

Though Winston’s mother still lives in Missouri and hasn’t had the opportunity to take his Extension classes, she has attended his open class at Kansas City Friends of Alvin Ailey. However, this mother and son team have been dancing together for years. 

“Being from KC where line dancing and two-stepping (both social dances) in my city, both were huge parts of my family gatherings. My favorite social dancer and partner besides my wife is my mom,” Winston exclaimed. 

 “She understands musicality and is the most sensitive and aware partner that. It makes reading and sending signals to her effortless. [My mom is] easily one of my favorite dance partners and I've danced with some amazing humans.”

Winston maintains that he would not be where he is today, an established dancer with national credits, had it not been for his mother. 

“She has been my champion always. She encouraged effort and never shyed away from failure, saying that's where the growth and exposure to self occurs. ‘Always go for that NEW YOU,’ is what she would say.”



Dance was not a natural career choice for Deborah Wingert. Her parents were both academic teachers but as an avid reader as a child, Deborah discovered that dance allowed her to bring stories to life. Her mother took her to a performance of the Pennsylvania Youth Ballet in Carlyse, Pennsylvania and Deborah was hooked. After the performance, her mother enrolled her in classes and began taking them herself.

“My mom loved taking classes,” Deborah shared openly and continued. “She was always so proud of me.”

With the permission of her mother, Deborah excelled quickly and came to New York City as the age of 14 to train professionally at The School of American Ballet on scholarship and was invited to join the New York City Ballet just two years later, where she danced well into her career. 

“My mother gave me the opportunity to come to New York at a young age. Because of that, I am who I am now. I teach all over the world, stage ballets for the Balanchine Trust, as well as being an instructor at Ailey Extension and Manhattan Youth Ballet.” 

As Deborah remembered the invaluable experiences her mother provided her with, she boasted of her daughter’s success. Following her mother’s footsteps, Deborah enrolled her daughter, Ava Arkin, in ballet classes as a child. However, Ava found her joy in musical theater.

“My daughter is going to the Boston Conservatory Musical Theater program this summer. She’s the only girl from the Professional Performing Arts School program to ever get into the program. What a great experience!”

As Deborah’s daughter prepares for university, she is bridging the family artistic and academic gap with her degree choices. Ava plans to live both the dreams of her grandmother and mother together.

Previously, Deborah and her daughter danced together at a Mother’s Day luncheon. They often spend time together by attending dance and Broadway performances. Ava has even taken her mom’s Extension classes and brought her friends along. 

“I’m so grateful to be a mother -  that I have a daughter who I have such a fantastic connection with,” Deborah said.

All of our students are stars in their own right but some spend every bit of their free time with us. They've taken hundreds of classes, several workshops, and have even danced on stage at the Ailey Citigroup Theater. But which of these thousands of students stand out above the rest? 

As 2016 comes to an end, the final numbers are in... join us as we celebrate the top students!

#1. SHARON MACK, 32 Years Old 

Lawyer Sharon Mack has been taking Extension classes since 2009. She started dancing here with Afro-Cuban dance legend Pupy Insua. “He first introduced to me to African-based dance, and I became attached to the spirit of it. When Pupy passed away, I was searching for something to fill that absence.”

Sharon continued taking classes here and her interest in West African dance grew quickly. Now she’s been training in this genre for over five years. “Dancing is a wonderful way to end a stressful day. It allows me to reset my mind, enjoy time with friends, and take care of my health,” she explained. “It has become a lifestyle that I’m very happy in. It’s also a community.”   

Sharon takes Maguette Camara’s class most often and feels there's always more to learn. “Just when I start thinking I know what I’m doing, there’s something new to figure out.  He has an amazing ability to give a good class to everyone in the room, no matter how diverse the ability levels are.” 

Though Sharon is devoted to Maguette, she makes time to learn from other Extension instructors as well. “I’ve also greatly enjoyed Vado Diomande and Yah' Ya Kamate’s classes. They are incredible, dynamic dancers who are very kind teachers and great at breaking down complex steps. Their classes are extremely fun and have great energy.” 

Among her best memories at the Extension are the times when she has performed in the World Dance Performance Showcase. Check her out on stage in the photo above.

#2. VASA NESTOROVIC, 32 Years Old

While recovering from a neck injury, someone at the physical therapist’s office mistook Vasa for a dancer. That incident sparked a light in the former model and he found himself at the Ailey Studios taking class.

“I took Intro to Ballet with Dawn Hillen, and I instantly fell in love with this (for me) completely new and magical dance technique. Shortly after that, I was introduced to my male ballet teachers Finis Jhung and Peter Brandenhoff, and it is thanks to the inspiration and wisdom I get from these outstanding teachers that I continue to take classes at Ailey Extension.”

Vasa took ballroom dancing as a child but hadn’t taken any classes consistently until ballet at the Extension. “With ballet teacher Finis Jhung’s absolute beginner class, I basically learned everything I had to know about the dynamic of movement,” he explained. “Every class I take with Finis, I know I'll be in the company of the most gracious and beautiful dances,” Vasa said referencing his classmates Mayumi and Ari. “I look up to these dancers - they give me strength and courage to continue my education.” 

And Vasa plans on taking Extension classes non-stop. “Someone smart said that if you do a routine, let’s say like a particular dance move, and you repeat that movement with your undivided focus and devotion for at least 1,000 times - you will master that movement. I believe in this idea and am proving it correct." 

#3. ELAINE GEORGES, in her 30s at heart

Elaine Georges, an administrative director in the performing arts world, has been dancing at Ailey Extension for more than 10 years. 

“Dance is the way I communicate the best. My body naturally responds to tonality and rhythms, and I was fortunate so many talented teachers are found at Ailey Extension,” she said. “I also am thrilled every day I walk through the Ailey doors and know that I am surrounded by people who share the same passion as I do.”

“Though I always loved dance and studied as a young child, being 250 pounds when I was a teenager halted any dreams of pursuing a career in dance. (Maybe talent too?),” Elaine contemplated. She studied music at university but her passion for dance never left her heart. “I saw a small segment on TV featuring the National Ballet of Senegal and it inspired me to continue my dance journey. I am forever grateful that the universe sent me that sign. It was also the way in which I finally started to lose weight.”

Elaine swears that she doesn’t have a favorite instructor at the Extension and prefers to take a range of techniques to keep her dance schedule interesting. “Currently, I take Ailey Barre with Sarita Allen; Zumba Fitness and Horton with Karen Arceneaux; and Intermediate Samba/Afro-Brazilian dance with Quenia Ribeiro. I am also thankful to have been taught by both Maguette Camara and Babacar M'Baye.”

In summer of 2016, Elaine took her Ailey Extension dance career to the next level. “I got to work with legends of dance: Matthew Rushing; Renee Robinson; company members from Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and Ailey II; and some of the most talented students from The Ailey School. I'm still amazed I got to breathe the same air as these special people and it will always inspire me to continue in our special world of dance.”

#4. SUSAN FOX, 67 Years Old

Dr. Susan Fox first discovered Ailey in the early 1970s while attending a performance on a date. “I got rid of him, but Ailey touched my soul, brain, and feet, and I have been there with all of you ever since.” 

Susan began taking classes at Ailey's former building, when Mr. Ailey was still alive – before Ailey Extension was created in 2005.

She was in medical school at Columbia College of Physicians and Surgeons, and while she’d studied ballet as a child, decided to try some new dance techniques with one of her medical school friends. “I knew I could only go to Alvin Ailey and we ended up in Nat Horne’s jazz class in 1977. Mr. Ailey would often walk through our second floor studio with Judith Jamison, and scan the room with encouraging (sometimes discouraging) looks! I was even there that hot steaming night in July 1977, when NYC had the blackout.”  

Susan completed school, got married and raised children, all while opening her own practice. Unfortunately, she lost her husband along the way. “I faced a brand new empty apartment with a full-service gym. There was no way I could face a treadmill, and I remembered Ailey.” 

She turned to the Extension, at the new Ailey building, with her 22-year-old ballerina daughter Kelly. She took Zumba Fitness and was hooked. “I loved it SO much, that I went back - I bought a 10-class card. A mistake during registration accidentally landed her in Quenia Ribeiro’s Beginner Samba/Afro-Brazilian class which I loved even more. “I would have never faced going across the floor without such a fateful coincidence, and wonderful welcoming Quenia.” 

Susan has had a knee replacement which hasn’t slowed her down a bit. “Beyond being transported to my dream of being a dancer, the friends I have met at Ailey Extension have given me a sense of community I cannot imagine living without.  No matter my day, my mood, the occasional gloom of NYC survival, the minute I walk through the revolving glass door and hear the music, see the faces inside the lobby, I am transformed, and for at least 90 minutes, I AM A DANCER!” 

Interviews conducted and article written by PennyMaria Jackson.


The holiday season often makes us nostalgic for warm times shared with family and loved ones. With the abundance of holiday well wishes, we often revel in the sweet moments life has given us throughout the year and life overall. 

This month, we’re taking a look back with instructors who have longtime Ailey family affiliations. They open their hearts and share some of their most memorable and significant Ailey moments with us.

To begin the conversation, we asked them what Alvin Ailey meant to them.

“It represents strength, beauty, power, love, self-confidence,” says Karen Arceneaux. “When I think of the name Alvin Ailey, I think of dreams and how they really do come true.”

“Alvin Ailey [is] my home in New York. Since I moved here six years ago, it has always been a special place,” explained Italian native Riccardo Battaglia.

“To me Ailey represents family,” shares Michael Snipe. “I feel at home here at Ailey. There is just something so warm and welcoming about the atmosphere.”

Sarita Allen remembers Mr. Ailey himself. “Teacher, mentor, father figure, and eventually friend are the first images that come to mind when I think of Alvin Ailey,” Sarita recalls. “He knew my family was on the West Coast and I was here alone, so he made me part of the Ailey family.”

Read on as the instructors share moving memories and significant experiences.

Sarita Allen

Ailey Barre and Pilates Instructor 
Graduate of The Ailey School 
Former Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater Company Member

Alvin was developing a new performance opportunity for young dancers called the Alvin Ailey Repertory Ensemble (now Ailey II). He asked me to join the Ensemble and I became one the original members of the group. It took less than a year to make the transition from the Ensemble to the main Ailey company and that first season at City Center was pure magic. I danced with company veterans Sara Yarborough, Estelle Spurlock, and Judith Jamison, which showed me how much [Mr. Ailey] believed in me.  

Of course there were experiences that have become career highlights. We were warned not to travel to Israel because of the constant threat of terrorist bombings and violence, but Alvin said, “That is precisely why we must go.” Dancing 'Fix Me, Jesus' under a full moon at King David's Wall in Jerusalem felt extremely empowering. Long before the 2008 U.S. Congressional resolution designating the Company as “a vital American cultural ambassador to the world,” we understood we had the unique opportunity to share the African-American cultural experience and the American modern dance heritage with the rest of the world. 

When Lisa Johnson-Willingham asked me to design, develop, and implement Ailey Barre, I couldn’t wait to get started. Lisa has been a tireless advocate for Ailey Extension, developing new programs and exploring new avenues to share the Ailey legacy.  The class has become a labor of love and I’m proud it continues to have a positive impact the public. It has been very gratifying making Alvin’s joy of dance accessible to even more people.  Ailey Extension helps keep an important part of Alvin’s vision alive.

Lisa Johnson-Willingham

Extension Director
Former AileyCamp Chicago Director
Former Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater company member

As the Director of the Extension program, I get to encounter instructors, students, and musicians from all over the world coming together at the Ailey studios to share the universal language of dance. This program personifies Mr. Ailey’s mission to make dance accessible to all people and that dance speaks to everyone. The Extension program allows our Ailey enthusiasts additional experiences beyond the theater which creates a deeper connection with the human spirt.

Mr. Ailey’s commitment to education has been a life-time contribution in arts in education programs around the world. In 1989, a few months before his death, Alvin Ailey created AileyCamp, using the power of dance to enrich and positively impact the lives of children in under-served communities. As a former AileyCamp Director for 10 years, I have witnessed Mr. Ailey’s legacy inspire thousands of children throughout the world to develop self-respect, confidence, and become dreamers while fostering the joy of dance. Today, there are 10 AileyCamps across the nation using Ailey dancers, students, and musicians together as a family making a difference in people’s lives.

Alvin Ailey represents the authenticity of the human spirt that lives inside of all of us. Mr. Ailey was a choreographer who celebrated individuality and taught his dancers to never give up until you have tried all possible ways. He was a game changer in the dance world that opened doors for millions of dancers of color to tell their story and reach unbelievable dreams.

Michael Snipe

Horton Instructor
Former Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater company member

The curriculum at the school was so diverse. I'm so well rounded because I trained there and they continue to turn out some of the most diverse dancers in the world. I still very close with almost everyone I trained with with at Ailey. The dance world is so small. I am also part of the generation that's making dance. Most of my friends have their own companies. 

Historically, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater is the beacon of American modern dance. It's one of the most well-known and traveled dance companies in the world. Their message reaches to all people. The dancers they hire are relate-able. It just seemed like the perfect fit.

Karen Arceneaux

Horton and Zumba Instructor
Graduate of The Ailey School

From student, to school administrator, to! I'm forever grateful to Mr. Ailey for following his dream. Because of him, I am living my dream. In all I do in my classes, be it Horton, Zumba, or a performance workshop, my goal is to continue to inspire as I have been inspired.

Making lifelong friendships... I met Jennifer Fyall while studying at the school. In addition to taking classes together, we worked in the office. We graduated from the Certificate Program and then became professionals, Jennifer continuing her work in the marketing department and I in the School. So many years have passed and our friendship/sister-ship has just gotten stronger. If it weren't for me moving to NY from Louisiana to continue my dance training, I would not have been blessed with such an amazing “sister/friend.”

Riccardo Battaglia

Contemporary Instructor
Former Ailey II Company Member

It's so hard to pick one! I have so many great memories from my experience as a student and company member. But the one that comes to my mind right now is when, with Ailey II, I got to perform Revelations in Italy, in front of all my family. 

My experience with the Ailey organization is 360 degrees. I've grown so much as a dancer and as a human being. Starting from the training, dancing all those different techniques and meeting people and cultures from all around the world. Then joining Ailey II, working with different choreographers of every style, traveling all these countries, challenging yourself everyday. Also, getting to dance Revelations, Mr. Ailey's masterpiece, a ballet with so much history. Ailey trained me, shaped me and helped me becoming who I am now.

Interviews conducted and article written by PennyMaria Jackson.


International performing artists Mangue Sylla and Nimatoulaye Camara bring Guinea, West Africa to Ailey.


“It’s beautiful when we play together,” drummer Mangue Sylla said, referring to dancer Nimatoulaye Camara. “The drum speaks with the dancer.” 

Ailey Extension offers a wide variety of West African dance classes at our New York studios. However, we only offer two authentic Guinean experiences. There’s a weekly dance class with Nima and a monthly Djembe & West African drumming workshop with Mangue. This duo has played together for decades and still often perform and teach classes together.

Mangue started playing as a child and believes his ancestors bestowed the gift of drum upon him to share with others. He has performed and taught in Japan, China, Mexico, Jamaica, Germany, France, and more.

Knowing that some people might be nervous about taking his workshop, Mangue explained that no experience is necessary.

“Everyone has rhythm and music," he said. Your heart starts beating when you are in your mother.”

The djembe drum has the power to lift your spirit, according to Mangue. In his workshop, he’ll help you to find your rhythm and communicate with other people. He wants students to leave with a profound since of positivity. 

“Drumming makes you forget the bad in life - it changes you. In Africa, we call it the magic drum.”

Perhaps that sense of magic is what lured Ailey legend Judith Jamison to try it. “Wow! I was so happy to see her in my class. It made me proud to teach her to play drums.”

Let Mangue teach you a rhythm or two in his drumming workshop. In addition to having a new experience connecting with the drums and other students, you might just meet a legend.



A celebrity in her own right, Nima has been compared to Michael Jackson, and has been invited to dance at an endless number of performances and special events. Nima started dancing at 10-years-old and could barely concentrate on her school work after taking up the art form seriously. 

“I told my mom, when I’m sitting in class, I’m thinking about dance.” Her mother supported her interest in dance and now Nima is a world class dancer who has performed in several countries, including Japan and Australia, to name a few. 

In Guinea, she was a principal dancer for Les Ballets African and National Ballet of Guinea. More recently, she has performed with WOFA (a company named for the Guinean Sousou word which means “let’s get together”).

For Nima, it’s all about the drums - the nature of call and response that is such a staple of African culture. “You ask me a question; I give you an answer.” 

However, Nima asserts that Guinean culture is different and shouldn’t be lumped together with other West African dance genres. “It’s like a language. Everyone doesn’t speak the same.” There are more specific movements that you won’t find in any other class at Ailey. So give this dance class a try. It might be easier than learning a new language.

In her Sunday class at 5pm, she’ll teach you to dance with a joyous spirit to the rhythm of Mangue’s djembe drums

Interviews conducted by and blog article written by PennyMaria Jackson.


Irini Res, Ailey Extension yoga instructor, has survived cancer, twice. In 1995, Irini was in her 40s when she received a diagnosis of stage 2B breast cancer. The prognosis was devastating as the cancer had started to spread to vital organs and required invasive treatments. She was given a 40% chance for survival.

“If it wasn’t for my yoga and my dance,” Irini explained “I couldn’t have made it. I worked hard to pull myself together and get my mind in the right place. Yoga and ballet put me back on track.”

“In 2005, I felt it again,” Irini shared. When she told a doctor at a follow up appointment, he suggested it was only scar tissue. Listening to her intuition, she got a second opinion and her dark suspicions were confirmed.

Irini strengthened her focus on movement and continued with yoga and ballet. “It was the only thing I could do. You have no control over anything but yourself.” Irini explained how she endured more chemo therapy which was nearly unbearable.

Today, treatments are less harsh. “We’re going to see an end to this, we will. It will become a memory.” However, breast cancer is still very much a threat today. And that is what this annual initiative is all about.

“Don’t ignore the symptoms, if you’re tired and you’re tired for too long, your body is fighting against something. […] Just check it out. Don’t be afraid.” Irini encourages women to know their bodies and be proactive. She is a pillar of support for her students who are enduring this brave battle. “You too can survive!”

While non-impact classes may be easiest for women and men being treated for breast cancer, Irini suggests that people find any class that works for them.

“Don’t withdraw, get out there and be the warrior” she says referencing a yoga pose. Irini also created modified positions for her yoga classes for students of any age, experience, and energy level. “Give your body and organs the space to thrive ‒ that’s going to keep you strong.”

At 66, our Ailey yoga guru Irini is here to show people the light. “Movement allows you to empower yourself. If you are able to get through the class, whether it’s Zumba, ballet, or yoga, you can find balance. That is your power fight off this horrible illness.”

Irini teaches Power Hour Yoga on Wednesdays at 8pm and Power Ashtanga Yoga on Sundays at 5pm.

Interviews conducted by and blog article written by PennyMaria Jackson.



hen the Ailey Extension says ‘Real Classes For Real People,’ they mean it,” exclaimed Joe Laino, 49, who is a partner in life and dance with George Junco, 55. “There are people from all walks of life, all body types, ages, and all levels of experience. It is an amazing and judgment-free space.”

The couple has been taking class at the Ailey Extens­ion since July 2014. They have demanding careers in psychotherapy and found dancing to be the perfect means to self-care. “Dancing nourishes both our minds and bodies,” Joe explained. “Emotionally, it provides a vehicle for self-expression and, physically, it strengthens us and helps to reduce feelings of stress and tension.”

They found their way to the Extension by happenstance. Joe’s endocrinologist had been nagging him to start exercising, and while Joe was diabetic and knew that he should, he was a hesitant patient. While attending a performance at the Ailey Citigroup Theater, the couple noticed an advertisement for a Zumba class at the Extension. Both of them had taken dance classes when they were younger… but that was over 25 years ago.

Joe considered trying Zumba but was uncertain. “I wasn’t sure if I could do it at this stage of my life with all the weight I had gained over the years,” he shared. However, George thought dancing at Ailey was completely out of the question. “That’s for professional dancers. We’ll look ridiculous,” George challenged. Joe defended his interest: “But the flyer says, ‘Real Classes For Real People,’ that’s us.” So Joe took his first Zumba class alone, but George was by his side the following week. Now they take up to six classes a week.

The Extension has been life-changing for them over the past two years. Their dancing lifestyle has helped them strengthen their self-confidence, expand their friendship network, and improve their health. Joe has lost over 40 pounds (and regulated his glucose levels) and George has lost over 100 pounds. George says,

“Dance has always been a passion for me and I lost touch with it. Ailey Extension has given it back to me. What a wonderful gift.”

Joe and George love dance so much that it’s difficult for them to choose favorite techniques or instructors. However, they are fans of Jose Ozuna (who teaches Danzatone and Zumba), hip-hop instructors Robin Dunn and Tweetboogie, and Kim Holmes from House dance class.  Joe explained these instructors “bring their staggering talents, incredible energy, and patience to each and every class. I’m not sure if they even know how much wisdom, history, and culture they impart in each class. They truly bring Mr. Ailey’s mission alive – bringing dance back to the people.”

The couple has encouraging words for anyone who wants to take class but is too nervous to try, especially men: “We were afraid once, too! Challenge yourself. Don’t let fear stop you. Once we walked in the door, we never left.”


Interviews conducted and article written by PennyMaria Jackson.


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.


Christopher Jackson was selected to join Ailey II in 2002 and then became a member of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in 2004. For Christopher, joining the Ailey company was a life-altering experience for many reasons—one of them being that he had never traveled abroad.

On his first day on the job, he packed his bags for Dresden, Germany and upon arriving, performed one of his most beloved ballets: Hymn, choreographed by Ailey’s Artistic Director Emerita Judith Jamison. “That was my first international city, first tour, first piece,” he explained. “I loved that it all happened like that. It was amazing.”

Christopher has always felt like a performer—even while dancing to hip-hop artist Heavy D in his living room at just five years old. He began his training at the age of 13 at a small studio in his hometown of Chicago and went on to study at Chicago Academy for the Arts for three years before making his way to New York City. His Chicago-based dance teachers had a tremendous impact on him and ever since, Christopher has felt compelled to pay it forward. “I really like giving back and working with kids,” he says. “I’ll always be a dancer, but teaching is in my blood.”

At the Ailey Extension, Christopher instructs adult contemporary jazz classes which explore modern and ballet techniques coupled with the dramatic flair and influences of jazz dance. It truly seems like a perfect gig for him, considering his personality. “Well, I’m a contemporary jazz boy for sure. I remember being in the Ailey company and Judith Jamison telling me to tone it down," he recalls and starts to laugh. “I‘m so theatrical in my face, so telling a story is a really huge part of my movement.”

His experience has taught him that when adults learn choreography or technique, the mind holds them back more than their physical ability. Children have less inhibitions and that kind of mental freedom is the mode that Christopher tries to find in every class. “I remember how my teachers approached my learning experience. I’ve walked away [from that experience] with my own approach; I have that tough love, but at the same time I’m very nurturing.” Even though teaching adults is somewhat of a new venture for him, he relates to his adult students on a deeper level. He says of himself, “I still take class—in fact, I’m taking my butt to class tomorrow morning,” he says jovially. “So you’re never too old to stop learning as a dancer.”

I’ll always be a dancer, but teaching is in my blood

His youthful and playful spirit allows him to be open to learning new concepts and he encourages his adult students to do the same. “I’ve learned that beginners are only beginners in their head," he explains. “Sometimes it takes people 15 minutes to pick up choreography and other times it takes 45 minutes. The head needs to catch up to the body, but that’s just part of the process.”

Christopher has designed all of his classes to be essentially open level; more advanced dancers can delve into the theatrical aspects and beginners work on finding a greater connection between body and mind. Above all else, he preaches the importance of owning one's individuality. “You are your own individual and there’s no one else like you," he advises. “I say, capitalize on that because every dancer is made different and every single body is made different. That’s the beauty of it.”

Take Beginner Contemporary Jazz with Christopher Jackson on Sundays from 3:30-5pm.

Interview and blog post by Chandra Jackson.

As a young girl growing up in Harlem, NY, Kim studied jazz, African and creative movement under director Dianne McIntyre and instructor Mickey Davidson at Sounds in Motion on 125th Street.

As she recalled her early dancing days, an old adage from the most influential person in her childhood came to mind: “My grandmother always used to say ‘little girls need grace and discipline.’” For Kim, dance wasn’t just recreational; it was a vital part of her education. As she grew into her teenage years, she and her friends were intrigued by new dance forms that were not being taught in the classroom.

 “I was out in the street with a bunch of girlfriends and we were called the Culture Shock Posse,” she recalls, laughing, “which is hilarious to me now because at the time, we didn’t know that we really were a culture shock, especially for females in House dance.” And so the story of her artistic crusade begins.

Like many of her peers, Kim discovered House and hip-hop as a way to escape from working class oppression and the institutionalized pressures of being a young person of color in the 1980s. Starting at 16 years old, Kim would sneak into nightclubs with her friends—most frequently to a venue called “The World” on the Lower East Side—where the energy on the dance floor was exactly the opposite of what was happening on the other side of the walls. “We would watch people dance freely and just release,” she recounted. “It was amazing to me.” There were traces of African dance, jazz and even American modern dance in this new way of moving. The origins of the dancers would also influence the choreography and vocabulary; dances from Cuba and Jamaica, among others, were represented in the club. “You would see everybody,” she explained. But this wasn’t just a place to see and be seen. Unbeknownst to many, it was the beginning of a social and cultural phenomenon. As Kim explains, “So many people would come just to let go and be themselves without knowing that they were creating a technique that was going to go international, and that eventually everybody would want to learn it.”

House and hip-hop dance remained a constant in Kim’s life throughout her late teens, but she reached a turning point when she became a mother at the age of 21. It was a pivotal time which forced her to make decisions about how she would survive while still living a fulfilling life. Kim remembers thinking, “I don’t want to do a 9 to 5. I can’t do retail – I’m not working in Macy’s for the rest of my life.” She took a leap of faith and eventually made a lucrative career touring with the likes of Missy Elliot, Salt-N-Pepa and Jay-Z. When she wasn’t on tour, Kim taught dance classes in NYC. To this day, Kim finds it hard to believe that she can pay the bills by simply following her dream and sharing herself with the world. “I’m telling my stories to students, I’m giving them my vocabulary, I’m creating movement, people want to see me perform and I’m traveling the world with different artists.” She explains it as though she’s having an epiphany mid-sentence: “Oh–this is a living!”

When tour life proved to be too much time away from her daughter, who was then of school-age, Kim landed a job at Alvin Ailey’s Arts In Education & Community Programs department. “That was really a big step for me,” she asserts, “because I was able to share my story with kids that didn’t see their way out. I was helping kids that thought this was their last stop in life.” Kim describes the work she did for AIE as her “ministry” and loved having the opportunity to share that part of her life with her own daughter.  “You kids are the hope for the future,” she would say to them. “If I ever stop dancing, there’s a plethora of you that I have planted these seeds in.”

Kim now brings her wealth of knowledge to adults at the Ailey Extension, where she will teach open House dance classes and even have a live DJ once a month. Her advice for new students:  “Remember that you’re not auditioning. Some people feel like ‘I have to be the best and I have to be perfect.’ As soon as I come into the room my attitude is: ‘This is class. You paid for class. You’re coming to learn and open your mind and be receptive to it. You paid for the movements, so after this they’re yours – they’re not mine anymore. I’m sharing a piece of me with you. When you come in open-minded like that, it’s easier to have that exchange.”  As for music selection, Kim prefers an old school sound, such as Chuck D, Missy Elliott, Jill Scott and even John Coltrane and other various blues artists. Her eclectic taste in music keeps every class interesting. “That’s the great thing about House,” she explains. “You can use so many different types of music. You get some percussion, and you can have some Afro-Cuban, because it’s all mixed in. Everybody has planted a bit of who they are in this House community.”

After each and every class, Kim describes feeling exhilarated and grateful. No matter how she feels on the way to work, she doesn’t take any opportunity for granted. One expression in particular resonates with her: “Someone told me there are two things we don’t know in life: when we’re coming and when we’re leaving. So that dash in between? Make it the best.  That’s where I come in, by making you the best and feeling better about yourself. Because when you feel better, then I feel better and can take it to the next level.”

The process of teaching is mutually satisfying for Kim and her students, and it is evident that her energy is contagious and has the potential to grow exponentially. That kind of visceral connection with her students is what keeps them coming back. She says, growing emotional, “I’m overwhelmed sometimes when you see that person who had that hard day, and then they came in and they got the little choreography that you gave them and they say, ‘I thought I was never going to get this and you broke it down in a way that I can understand it.’ It’s really heartfelt for me.  Sometimes I have stuff in my own head where I say, ‘I don’t know why I’m here’ – and then moments like that happen and I think, ‘This is the reason why I’m here. Because that person, who wasn’t going to show up, showed up today.’”

Take House dance with Kim Holmes on Thursdays from 8:00-9:30pm.

Interview and blog post by Chandra Jackson.


With Father’s Day right around the corner, the Ailey Blog highlights three Ailey Extension instructors who are also father figures—Richard Martinez, Maguette Camara, and Finis Jhung—and whose lives have been enriched by both fatherhood and teaching.

Maguette Camara
West African Dance

One of the Extension’s popular West African Dance instructors, Maguette Camara, hails from Senegal, West Africa. For Maguette, the most fulfilling aspect of fatherhood, he says, is sharing the rich culture of his homeland with his two sons, 5 and 9 years old, who were both born in America. “We are so far away from my country, but I’d like to share everything that I am and everything that I know. Dancing, drumming and social living is a huge part of it. Every year, [my sons] go to Senegal with me, and they love it. That’s all they talk about at school. It’s nice to see that they are already soaking in their culture.”

When asked to impart some parental wisdom, Maguette shared, “I try my best to be real with them. I can be as up front as possible with whatever questions they are to coming to me with. I want to always be there to explain and talk to them.” Even though Maguette loves to share his Senegalese culture with his sons, who often come to class and drum alongside him, he is mindful not to force them to become dancers or musicians. “I don’t want to push it. I want them to find it for themselves,” he says.

Maguette with his sons.

Finis Jhung
Beginner Ballet

Beginner Ballet instructor Finis Jhung had a successful performing career prior to turning his attention to teaching, both on Broadway and as a member of Joffrey Ballet and San Francisco Ballet. It is not his impressive resume but rather his unconventional background, though, which provides the most insight into his tenacity and drive to inspire others. “When I was six years old, I told my parents, ‘When I grow up, I want to go to New York and Hollywood and become a famous dancer.’ Considering the fact that I was a little Korean-Scottish-English boy with bowed legs growing up in war-time Honolulu in a completely un-artistic family with little money, that came as quite a surprise.”

Though Jhung has taught advanced students and professional dancers all across New York City and throughout the U.S. after retiring from the stage, it was at the Ailey Extension where he discovered his passion for mentoring in the studio. “I have found my true calling as a teacher of adult students at the Ailey Extension,” said Jhung. “Most are adults who have never danced in their life but have always had a passion to learn ballet. I love them all, and learn so much from them—I consider them my ‘adult babies’ and look forward to each class knowing that we will be sharing ideas and becoming better people.”

Finis with his son, Jason.

For Jhung, this fatherly instinct runs deep. “My wife and I divorced in 1986, and I took the responsibility of single-parenting Jason. My son has always loved baseball (which I never could), and I allowed him to follow his dream in the same way my mother allowed me to follow my dreams.”

And for that, Jason is grateful. “He let me make my own decisions and watched me fall from afar, yet he was always there to pick me up without judgment. My dad let me be who I was and am, and isn’t it funny how the fruit doesn’t fall far from the tree? I consider myself a thoughtful and altruistic individual, and it’s really all because he showed me how you do things the right way and then left me to make my own decisions.”


Richard Martinez

“I want to lead by example. Growing up in the projects, education was never a true option. The goal was to get a job after high school and survive,” says Richard Martinez, Zumba instructor for the Ailey Extension. “In my household, education is mandatory. My wife and I knew that if we wanted our children to be successful, we needed to be successful ourselves.” Richard, who now has two daughters—Cristina, 26, and Lindsay, 19—realized early on that he wanted to create a better life full of opportunities for his future children. “I can’t expect anything from my girls if I don’t do it myself.”

Richard earned a master’s degree in Public Administration, but it wasn’t until much later in life that he discovered an interest in dance, one that would lead to a passion for teaching. Zumba classes gave him a safe space to express himself creatively and helped him to shed 75 pounds.

“Having a stressful corporate job led me to find something to do that I loved as a way to de-stress. I remember taking classes at Ailey and thinking, perhaps one day I will be good enough to work here. That day came in April of 2014,” he recalls, when he was given the chance to lead his own class at the Extension.

Richard with his daughters.

Having a career to provide for his family and still being able to pursue what truly makes him happy has had a long-lasting effect on his family dynamic, says Richard. “Being a manager in the corporate sector can be very demanding and stressful. Teaching dance at the Ailey Extension feeds my soul and allows me to have a work/play balance. I go home de-stressed and ready to be the best dad and husband I can be. My daughters are my greatest accomplishment, so I want to be there for them as long as I can be: Healthy, stress-free and happy.”

It is safe to say that Richard’s tactics have worked; Lindsay is preparing to enter Nursing School, and Cristina is currently finishing her Masters of Education. “My goal is to instill in them that anything is possible. Anything worth having requires work, and if you are not afraid to never give up, you will succeed.”

Inspired to get dancing? Check out some upcoming opportunities:
•    Throughout the month of June, bring your favorite guy to Capoeira every Thursday at 8:00pm for FREE!  
•    PLUS: Join us in Hearts of Men which brings together many generations of males, from elders to youngsters, in one circle of shared experience. Led by Earl Mosely and guest artists, this workshop will be offered starting Aug 23-Sept 4 and culminates with performances on Sept 5 & 6.

Interview conducted by Christina Daniels. Blog article by Chandra Jackson

Subscribe to The Ailey Extension