This month we are celebrating the art, poise and strength of professional dancers...as the athletes they are.
We had a great opportunity to catch up with one of our friends, Lisa Johnson-Willingham, who has led an amazing career as a Professional Dancer, Instructor, and now Director of Ailey Extension at The Ailey Studios in New York City, home of the world-renowned Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater.
Lisa, a key spirit that we like to inspire with iON is that of passion. Can you share where your passion for dance was first sparked?
As a little girl, I danced around my home, performed in every school showcase, birthday parties, and summer dance camps, but I didn’t understand how to associate myself as a professional dancer outside of my world until I was introduced to Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. I can remember seeing a performance of Revelations for the first time and feeling a connection to Mr. Ailey, it was like he was speaking to me personally. Seeing these dancers perform work of the human spirit with such grace and precision inspired me to do the same. That was day I made up my mind that one day I would perform this remarkable work as a company member of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater.
Director, Ailey Extension
Can you share perhaps one of the more challenging things you faced over your career and how you overcame it?
This is a difficult question to answer because whatever we choose to do in our lives we will run into difficulties but to have opportunities to live your passion and create a life to support it is how we all should live. I believe, when you make the decision to become an artist you already know it’s a long and arduous journey. I’ve had days of not feeling good enough but I have never had days of rethinking my career because this is who I am.
What led you to Alvin Ailey?
I’ve always liked to choreograph so as a young dancer I think I connected with his choreography the most. I loved how his movement made me feel. He was a genius with his work and honest with his movement. Alvin Ailey discovered that dance was more than just movement so he showed the world how dance can heal spirits, inspire dreams, teach life lesson, change your way of thinking, and bring together a global community.
Can you give us a little background behind the history and purpose of the Ailey Extension?
Since its inception in 2005, Ailey Extension is making a global impact by making dance accessible to people of all ages, cultures and dance levels in a welcoming, non-competitive environment. The program provides dance and fitness classes, workshops, student performances, and panel discussions with prominent instructors and live music. Over 100 classes are offered seven days a week in the morning, afternoon, and evening at The Ailey Studios.
Ailey Extension exemplifies the legacy of Alvin Ailey by inspiring the human spirit and enriching the lives of the community around us.
Find out more about the amazing programs of Ailey Extension!
What is your vision for Ailey Extension in the future?
My plan for Ailey Extension is to keep Mr. Ailey’s vision alive, creating an environment where dance is accessible to all people; by being innovative and unique.
I will design new programs that will change the lives of the community around us, through master classes, workshops, family classes, and classes for seniors.