This Day in Black History: Jan. 5, 1931

Dancer and choreographer Alvin Ailey was born.

Posted: 01/05/2013 08:30 AM EST

(Photo: Courtesy of the Library of Congress)

Famed choreographer Alvin Ailey, born on Jan. 5, 1931, in Rogers, Texas, was an artistic child. His mother earned a living picking cotton, doing laundry and working as a domestic, which left him filling many lonely hours drawing, writing poetry and playing the tuba.

At age 12, Ailey and his mother moved to Los Angeles, where he was introduced to the art of dance. He fell in love with dance after seeing his first live performance by the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo. In 1949, he began studying under Lester Horton, a modern dance teacher and choreographer.

"One day a friend showed me some movements from a class he was taking, and I nearly fainted," Ailey said of Horton's style. "I said, 'Oh, my God, what is that?' And he said, 'That's modern dancing.'"

Ailey joined Horton's company in 1950 and became director and choreographer in 1953 after his mentor's death. He later trained in New York City before forming the lauded Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in 1958. Ailey over the years earned many awards and honorary degrees, and his work also has been performed by other world-famous troupes, including the American Ballet Theater, the Joffrey Ballet and the Paris Opera Ballet.

He died in 1988 of AIDS, but his legacy lives on.

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