Alvin Ailey for All

Members of the world-renowned Alvin Ailey Dance Company lead a free class for the Memphis community before their performance

“Liberated,” “solemn,” “amazing” and “reverent” – these were just four responses that Jeroboam Bozeman received after asking a handful of participants in the sea of people how they  felt after learning and performing a section of the famous choreography to “I’ve Been Buked.” 

This morning about a hundred people of all ages, races and experience levels gathered at the Halloran Center to learn original Alvin Ailey choreography for “Revelations,” the most widely-seen modern dance performance in the world, including the section with the song “I’ve Been Buked,” from Company members Jeroboam Bozeman, Courtney Spears and Yannick Lebrun. 

Before hours of afternoon rehearsals in preparation for tonight’s show, the three company members led a free class for the Memphis community.

Photo: Snowden Farnsworth
A young ballerina practices the ‘bird arms’ in the “I’ve Been Buked” dance. After gaining some confidence, she made her way to the front row, bringing excited energy with her wherever she went.

Bozeman, who’s been a Company member since 2013, took the lead in teaching “I’ve Been Buked,” while Spears and Yannick migrated around the room demonstrating the dance so that even the back row could pick up the masterful choreography.

The three came together to the front to show everyone how it should look and how they should use tension and resistance to make the simple movements powerful.

An alarm quietly went off from inside someone’s bag, but no one turned their attention away from the dancers as they demonstrated the heart-felt choreography.

As they completed their final reach upward to end the section, everyone clapped and hollered, giving the phone’s owner a moment to turn off their ringer before rejoining the group unphased.

Everyone anxiously waited to get to try the movements out for themselves.

“Walk, walk, walk,” Bozeman said as he led the group.

By taking intricate choreography and breaking it up into terms as simple as walking, both a four-year-old girl and her grandma could dance.

Photo: Snowden Farnsworth
Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre Company member Yannick Lebrun, sits on the side watching the class try out the dance on their own. Upon their completion, he leapt to his feet clapping in support.

After watching from the side, giving the community members their turn, Lebrun, who’s been an official member of the Company since 2008 and has undoubtedly done these movements hundreds of times, leapt to his feet, enthusiastically applauding the group before joining them for their last run-through of the section.

Next they taught an excerpt from “Procession” and then “Wade in the Water,” a more upbeat song.

Three little girls in the front row clapped to the beat of the soulful song as Bozeman counted “five, six, seven, eight.”

Everyone moved fluidly and created shapes with their upper body that emulated water. Arching and contracting, the students focused on the more intricate choreography. Although this section seemed to be the most challenging for the group to pick up, the joy that Bozeman, Spears, and Lubrun radiated while they danced was contagious. 

Following “Wade in the Water,” Bozeman announced that they were going to do the dance with the fans. While many people did not know what he was referencing until a couple of minutes later, kids jumped up and down in anticipation.

Photo: Snowden Farnsworth
The class dances the choreography to “Wade in the Water.” They spent time practicing in the mirror to achieve the fluid movement that the dance calls for.

Spears passed around paper fans as the song “The Day is Past and Gone” arranged by Howard A. Roberts and Brother John Sellers played.

The limited number of props meant that everyone had to break off into smaller groups, swapping out the yellow fans with complete strangers so that everyone had the opportunity to take the stage. 

After the first group tried it with the music, Spears stopped them. 

“We have to remember when we are performing that as much as we are dancers, we are people on stage and to not let a dancer or performing too much come over the purpose of us being human,” Spears said.

She continued to set the scene that captivated her audience.

“In this section, it’s hot. We’re in the South. We’re in church. We’re fanning ourselves. We’re not ‘up here,’ Spears explains as she straightens up to an unnatural posture. “We’re just hot, and we’re in our Sunday best. It is our moment to come together and be with the ones in our community. So that’s the energy and the purpose that we’re coming into the sanctuary and it’s a beautiful, hot Sunday morning.”

The group went a second time, this time with soul in their movement, and everyone standing to the side applauded.

Members of the first group traded out, but an older woman wearing a yellow scarf and green peace-sign earrings continued to sway to the music and fan herself with an Alvin Ailey program that she’d transformed into a makeshift prop as the next group performed.

Photo: Snowden Farnsworth
A woman continues to dance freely on the side, fanning herself to the music of “The Day is Past and Gone.” She took the advice from Sears to heart and created her own character and story to tell through the short combination.

Bozeman reminded the final group of the sentiment Spears had shared. 

“It’s got to have some meaning to it. There’s a story behind it, right? We’re dancing to negro spirituals, so it has some weight to it,” Bozeman said. “So when you come in, you gotta really feel it. That’s a part of dance. We’re the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre. So you gotta put the theatre, you gotta put the drama into it.“

Wrapping up the class, everyone came back together to dance for the last time. 

Little girls and boys jumped up and down as they discovered a love for dance as an art form. Complete strangers high-fived each other. The company members bowed to the group in thanks for their time and respect. 

After taking a group picture, Bozeman, Sears and Lebrun left to go rehearse.

When you come in, you gotta really feel it. That’s a part of dance. We’re the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre. So you gotta put the theatre, you gotta put the drama into it.”

— Jeroboam Bozeman

The line to the box office grew longer as the participants wanted to get tickets to the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre performance at the Orpheum in order to see the entirety of the dances they were taught. 

People packed up their bags and headed out of the Halloran, but many of them along with hundreds of others will return to the Orpheum tonight at 8pm and tomorrow at 2pm to see the Company perform.

$20.00 rush tickets are still available to students, teachers and school staff members along with members of the military and first responders, as well as their families at the box office.