In our third episode of The Freedom to Be video series, we spotlight the Black dance community in NYC. Choreographer and dancer Alvin Ailey founded his namesake company in 1958 to bring African American dance to all corners of the US—and, eventually, the world. The dance theater, which forged a space for Black creatives in times and places where it often didn’t exist, is now a fixture of New York City culture.
Meet two dancers from the troupe, Yannick Lebrun and Caroline Dartey, who emigrated from French Guiana and Switzerland, respectively, to pursue their dreams. Lebrun has been with the company for almost 15 years, while Dartey is just starting her journey. Both enjoy the sense of community and freedom of expression they’ve found at Alvin Ailey.
The Freedom to Be video series builds on the themes of The Black Experience in NYC, in which NYCgo celebrates unique Black subcultures, communities and affinity groups throughout the five boroughs. The series acknowledges the City’s abundance of vibrant ideas and cultures. A celebration of the diversity within Black culture in NYC, the Freedom to Be series underscores the contributions of these communities and groups to NYC’s dynamism.
In our first episode, we highlighted the Black surf community in the Rockaways.
In our second episode, we highlighted the Black cowboy community in NYC.
Yannick Lebrun: My name is Yannick Lebrun and I’m a dancer with the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. I learned ballet in Cayenne, French Guiana. When I’m dancing, I definitely feel a sense of freedom, this moment that no one can take away from me. To me, the dance community in New York definitely feels like a family. Their support was very visible, especially when we went through the pandemic. Everybody was going through the same challenges, and it’s amazing to be a part of such a supportive community.
Caroline Dartey: My name is Caroline Dartey. I am a dancer with Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. I was born in Geneva, Switzerland, and my family is from Ghana. When I first moved to New York, I was excited to live around such a big community of dancers. I loved dancing in Geneva, but I was missing something that I found in New York, which was the Black culture in modern dance. And this is what I found in Alvin Ailey.
Yannick Lebrun: So I met Caroline when she was in Ailey II. She’s such a talented dancer. I feel a sense of responsibility. Now that I’m starting my 14th season with Alvin Ailey, and she just got here coming from a different country, I want to give her the tools to succeed in this company, and she will.
Caroline Dartey: I wish people knew how much we go through with our bodies to perform, to rehearse.
Yannick Lebrun: What I love the most about being a member with Alvin Ailey is being a part of a rich and important legacy. This is a repertory company. We can go from Mr. Ailey’s work to modern, jazz, contemporary, ballet. So all of that is exciting to me. What I love most about living in New York City, you can achieve your dreams. I love the energy. I love the diversity and that reminds me of home.